March 2, 2017

Pop Culture Reunion: Who's the Boss?

On October 5, 2016, the main cast of the 1980's sitcom "Who's the Boss" reunited 25 years after the show ended in 1992.  The reunion video appears on Time's (relatively) new streaming video service (which launched in September 2016) called the People/Entertainment Weekly Network.  A link to the news can be seen at http://ew.com/article/2016/09/30/whos-boss-ew-reunion/ and the video (and link to it) can be seen below.  The re-united cast dished on one of their show's most iconic episodes, "Samantha's Growing Up". The basic synopsis of that episode was Samantha was growing up fast, only Tony was reluctant to admit it. Reality set in when he had to buy her first bra.  When Samantha was upset over his purchase, Tony asked Angela for her help with shopping for Samantha's first bra.










In the reunion, Tony Danza (Tony Micelli), Judith Light (Angela Robinson Bower), and Alyssa Milano (Samantha "Sam" Micelli) shared how they could only say the word "bra" on broadcast television once at that time because the network censors were still very actively controlling what could (and could not) be said on the show.  Although all of the cast is present, the conversation was dominated by Tony Danza, Judith Light and Alyssa Milano, whereas Danny Pintauro (Jonathan Bower) and Katherine Helmond (Mona Robinson) are a bit quieter, although we don't really know how much was edited out of the final reunion video.  The video clip can be found below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/dTcTYKJy2Zc .



About Who's the Boss?

The title of the show refers to the clear role reversal of the two lead actors, where a woman was the breadwinner and a man (although he was not her husband) stayed at home and took care of the house.  It challenged then-contemporary stereotypes of Italian-American young men as macho and boorish, but wholly ignorant of life outside of urban working-class neighborhoods like Brooklyn where the character Tony was from, whereas Tony was depicted as sensitive, intelligent and domestic with an interest in intellectual pursuits.

The premise of the show was that former major-league baseball player (he was reportedly a second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals) Tony Micelli, who was forced to retire due to a shoulder injury, along with his young daughter Samantha, takes a job as live-in housekeeper at the suburban Fairfield, Connecticut household of advertising exec Angela Bower.  Angela was uptight and obsessed with her work.  But Tony was eager to move his daughter out of crowded Brooklyn, New York, so the gig in Connecticut seemed like a perfect place to raise his daughter.  Tony and Sam had to adjust to their new lives with the Bowers -- Angela, her son Jonathan, and her mother, Mona.  Mona Robinson was Angela's feisty, sexually progressive mother, and Mona dated all kinds of men, from college age to silver-haired CEOs. That portrayal of an "older woman" with an active social and sex life was also unusual for TV at the time.

In terms of sitcoms, Who's the Boss premiered at a time when broadcast TV was still king (1984), which was just before cable (and later, streaming) commanded a growing share of public attention and ratings (and therefore ad dollars), or industry creativity and awards.  As a result, it was somewhat unique because it shares something with true television classics like I Love Lucy which came from an era where TV was only broadcast over the airwaves and was still a relatively new technology.  While Who's the Boss? got mixed reviews from critics, it was a ratings success for ABC, and continued for an impressive eight seasons.

Cast of Who's the Boss?

The cast was also an interesting ensemble.


Tony Danza was a TV sitcom veteran (in addition to being a former professional boxer in real-life), having previously starred in the ABC sitcom Taxi roughly a decade earlier.  Judith Light was a veteran of the stage and of TV soap operas, having been a popular and longstanding cast member (playing character Karen Wolek) on ABC's One Life to Live for a number of years before stepping into primetime TV.  Katherine Helmond was another sitcom vet, having starred on the sitcom Soap among others.

Both of the children in the cast pretty much got their start on "Who's the Boss".  While Alyssa Milano (age 44 as of 2017) continued to work periodically in entertainment, as did Judith Light (age 68 and as of 2017, she regularly appears on Amazon's series Transparent), and Katherine Helmond played recurring characters on both the sitcom Coach and Everybody Loves Raymond, Helmond has since largely retired (she's now age 87), and Tony Danza (age 65) has also unofficially retired, while Danny Pintauro has basically left show business.

Life After Who's The Boss?

A year earlier, former child actor Danny Pintauro announced that he was HIV positive and had been living that way for over 15 years (see http://usat.ly/1KFryBK for more), making him one of a few celebrities along with Charlie Sheen and Magic Johnson to do so.  He broke the news when he told told talk show host Oprah Winfrey that at the advice of his former Who's the Boss? co-star Judith Light, he shared the story with the celebrity tabloid the National Enquirer, which threatened to out him, but instead, he said he felt that the Enquirer's coverage of his news was fair and balanced rather than salacious, and that was mainly because he was forthcoming with his story.   Catch his interview with Oprah for the OWN cable network on YouTube at https://youtu.be/GUCJgQndgGQ for more.


Because Pintauro's diagnosis took place a number of years after medications were developed to effectively treat the HIV virus, his story was quite different from earlier celebrities diagnosed in the late 1970's or early 1980's (think of people like Rock Hudson as the most notable example), and he's now a happily-married gay man, rather than a tragedy.  But he's also avoided staying in show business, preferring to live his adult life outside of the Hollywood spotlight, making him an anomaly among former child stars, which has a sordid history of leaving child-stars-turned-adults devastated with drug/alcohol addiction and ruin, or religious cult membership to give a few examples.

One need look no further than the cast of the 1970's sitcom Diff'rent Strokes as an example, where Dana Plato went from TV star to robbing convenience stores before her untimely death in 1999 at the age of 34.  She wasn't alone.  Her co-star Todd Bridges battled a crack cocaine addiction in his twenties, and the other child co-star Gary Coleman, struggled financially later in life.  In 1989, he successfully sued his parents and business adviser over misappropriation of his assets, only to declare bankruptcy a decade later.  Unfortunately, Gary Coleman died in 2010 at age 42.  But Coleman was also parodied in the Broadway show Avenue Q, which won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Musical, and a character presented as Gary Coleman in the show works as the superintendent of the apartment complex where the musical takes place.  In the song "It Sucks to Be Me", he laments his fate.  Initially, the producers intended for Coleman to play himself, but he never showed up to the meeting with them, and subsequently threatened to sue them, although the lawsuit never materialized.  Given the track record of child-stars-gone-bad personified by the cast of Diff'rent Strokes, the fact that Danny Pintauro left show business should be viewed positively.

As for the others in the cast, former child castmate and on-screen pseudo-sister Alyssa Milano is, perhaps due to her age, been one of the more active cast members still working on-screen (aside from Judith Light), but her work has also been more limited by comparison, consisting of  a number of made-for-television movies, guest-star appearances, occasional TV celebrity game-show and daytime talk-show appearances, as well as a few television commercials.

As already noted, Judith Light has likely had the most active acting career after her work on Who’s the Boss?  Having really begun her acting career on Broadway, Judith Light has continued to return to working on the stage, having received several Tony nominations and winning two Tony's (one in 2012 and another in 2013).  She's also played in a variety of different television roles since starring on Who's the Boss, including recurring roles on both the NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and on ABC's Ugly Betty (for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in 2007), and on the short-lived TNT reboot series Dallas.  Most recently, she's been starring as Shelly Pfefferman on Amazon's successful series Transparent, for which she received noms for the Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy, and Critics' Choice Television Award.

Although Tony Danza continued to work on television immediately following the conclusion of Who's the Boss?, mostly in made-for-television movies, and he briefly had his own syndicated daytime talk show known as The Tony Danza Show which ran from 1997-1998, as well as various standalone appearances, his work has been considerably less frequent in the past decade, and the consensus is that he is now semi-officially retired now (he may still work in entertainment occasionally, most likely when his agent brings something of interest to his attention).

As for the sitcom Who's the Boss, I think the reunion episode was cute (there had been previous reunions, but the timing seemed right this time around) and the length was right for an environment where short clips seem all the American attention-span can accommodate.  Whether the the People/Entertainment Weekly Network releases any others remains to be seen.

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