What the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is to rock music, The TV Land Awards are to television -- an opportunity to enshrine the best of an entertainment legacy. Last night's 2012 edition was the 10th visit to the video vault.
The Host: Kelly Ripa
The inescapable Kelly Ripa dropped into the ceremonies dressed as Batman's Catwoman. "I'm gonna be honest with you," she told the audience of familiar faces. "We had 400 different cat jokes, absolutely none of them suitable for TV Land." Then she was less than honest, calling the gathering "TV's hippest party." Gimme a break. The TV Land Awards are flat out retro, and proud of it.
The Fan Favorite Award: Laverne and Shirley (1976-1983)
First presenter Katie Couric established the template for the evening: a brief tribute to the honorees ("They were the original Two Broke Girls -- like Lucy and Ethel before them, Laverne and Shirley were a classic pairing right from the start"), then a kaleidoscopic collage of clips, then the reunion of the cast members as they grabbed their barbeque grill-shaped awards.
Best acceptance speech: Cindy "Shirley" Williams ("When we were doing the show we'd all say to each other if it doesn't make us laugh during rehearsal then it's not going to make the audience laugh.") Less convincing was Penny "Laverne" Marshall's suggestion that working on a huge, many-seasoned hit was some sort of hard-scrabble existence.
The Ground-Breaking Award: In Living Color (1990-1994)
"In the early days, TV was in black and white -- but c'mon, let's be honest, it was really more white than black." With those words, Whoopi Goldberg introduced the show that truly deserved the name of its award. The clips that followed reminded us of how the sketches of In Living Color boldly went where comedy rarely had gone before -- race and racism and racial stereotypes and America's struggle with all three.
The whole huge cast descended on the oyster-cracker-sized stage, half of them seemingly creator Keenen Ivory Wayans and his family. Of the many speeches, Jim Carrey's was the most generous: "We laughed, we cried, we broke down walls -- and eventually we elected a president."
The Impact Award: Murphy Brown (19881998)
Dan Quayle was the presence hovering over the award for the only sitcom ever denounced by a vice-president. The clips included Quayle's 1988 attack on the single mother status of Candice Bergen's title character, the hard charging TV newswoman.
And Bergen did something truly unprecedented for an awards show -- she stopped in the middle of her acceptance speech, announced "This is way too long!" and ushered Diane English, the show's creator, to the mic. English dedicated the award to a late real-life TV journalist, saying she always described Murphy Brown as "Mike Wallace in a dress."
The Icon Award: Aretha Franklin
She sang. Is there anything more to say?
The Innovator Award: One Day At A Time (1975-1984)
The running cliché of the night was that every cast was like a family. But the talents of One Day At A Time really seemed to mean it. Even the endlessly self-dramatizing Mackenzie Phillips affectingly described Bonnie Franklin, who played her struggling single mother on the sitcom, as "a mom who actually held me to a higher standard than my own mother did."
Everyone acknowledged the contributions of the member of the family who wasn't there: socially conscious television emperor Norman Lear. As actor Richard Masur (Franklin's lawyer boyfriend) put it, "What Norman did was open up people's minds by first getting them to laugh."
The Pop Culture Award: Pee-wee's Playhouse (1986-1991)
The weirdest winner wound up the festivities: Paul Reubens, AKA Pee-wee Herman, the man-child who lorded over a surreal world that was perfect for both youngsters and potheads.
The eternally mischievous Reubens told the audience: "This is such an honor. I have to say that I did not see it coming. There was a press release announcing this with my name on it, there were lots of promotional materials saying I was receiving this award, TV Land flew me to New York City -- BUT I AM STILL IN COMPLETE AND UTTER SHOCK!"
That, of course, could not be topped, so the evening ended on a wacky note.