This week I got to thinking about dogs and television. Don’t ask why. I don’t know why I think about this stuff or when I’m going to think about it. Some would say that’s part of my charm. My dad would have said, “It’s because you’re scatterbrained.” Whatever.
Now, let’s be clear from the start: While I do have a background in media and film criticism (my master’s thesis: The Wayne Persona: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Wayne Persona in Western Film), this isn’t a “best of” list formed via critical analysis and study. This is a personal list of TV dog characters, which have provided me with some of my most memorable TV moments.
I’d have done a Top 10 List, but Letterman’s got the corner on that. Besides, only five came readily to mind. So, without any further ado ….
No. 5. Lassie (Opening and Closing Themes)
I know what you’re thinking. Lassie is a no-brainer, but here’s my unique take. My favorite part of the show was, is, and always will be the opening and closing credits. The show itself was fine: Timmy getting into scrapes and Lassie getting him out of same –- pretty much the same plot with variations week after week. So if repetition is your thing, why not the credits? After all, they never changed! I loved the whole whistle-and-Lassie-comes-running routine in the opening titles. Pal never did that. We whistled, called, hollered, yelled, begged, and who knows how many more strategies. Pal’s response? He generally ran the other way.
As for the closing theme? Lassie square on to the camera? And then the raised paw? Come on! What’s not to love?
No. 4. Goliath, Davey & Goliath
Before you cry foul, I totally admit to Goliath not being a real dog. So what? In some ways he was more real than Lassie. After all, while Goliath may have gotten Davey out of some scrapes, like Lassie did for Timmy, Goliath made goofy dog mistakes and messed up in ways Lassie never could. Much more realistic, if you ask me. The link below is to the “Fire Department” episode filled with the usual clean-cut action, a moral lesson, and Goliath talking verrrrry slooooowly to Daaaaaaayveeeeeey.
No. 3. Tramp, My Three Sons
I was born in 1954, which means I pretty much grew up watching My Three Sons (1960-1972). The first season I entered first grade. The last season I graduated. We both had a 12-year run.
As far as I’m concerned, the unsung hero of the show was the family dog, Tramp. The argument can certainly be made that dogs played more of a role in other TV shows, but Tramp and My Three Sons was always there for me. I often found my life mirroring that of the boys as they dealt with the intricacies of growing up, and right in the middle of all those prepubescent crises you could always find loveable old Tramp.
In Holiday for Tramp (March 8, 1962), the shaggiest member of the family plays a more central role, as Tramp accidentally finds himself separated from the boys and headed off to parts unknown via a train. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I’m a sucker for trains. As for lovable ol’ Tramp? He just makes the ill-tempered society lady who finds him fall in love with him. You will, too.
No. 2. The Honeymooners, “It’s a Dog’s Life”
Confession: The dog didn’t have a regular role on the show and was merely a one-episode plot device to get bus driver and perpetual dreamer Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and his goofy pal, sewer worker Ed Norton (Art Carney) into another hilarious fix. Ralph’s wife Alice sneaks a puppy into the apartment, and when Ralph accidentally eats some dog food thinking it’s a snack dip for crackers, he and Norton come up with Kranmar’s Delicious Mystery Appetizer. By the end of the show, Ralph is ready to send Alice “to the moon!” and takes the puppy back to the pound, only he can’t bring himself to give the little guy up and ends up bringing home an armful of puppies.
I couldn’t find the episode online. Maybe one of you can send me the link if you find it.
No. 1. Eddie, Frasier (1993-2004)
He’s the dog that can win a staring match with anyone. He’s counselor and confidant to the household. Martin Crane says he understands English. And then the writers for this landmark sitcom do what they do best: flip everything upside down and show us how remarkably similar Eddie’s world is to Martin’s, and ours.
All right, that’s my top five TV dogs. Entirely subjective. Entirely personal. No rationale for their order other than my own warped sensibilities. Add now it’s your turn. Let me have it! Tell me I’m crazy because I missed that dog or this dog or how could I have not mentioned _____. Give me your top five TV dogs!