“Jim Peck’s Cabaret”

February 6, 2006

February 4, 1980 I’ve always felt that Michael J. Arlen was one of the New Yorker‘s most underrated writers; he’s always been a favorite of mine. He was the New Yorker‘s first real television critic, and in my opinion he remains one of the best TV critics who ever wrote. He released three books of his New Yorker criticism: Living Room War, The View from Highway 1, and The Camera Age. He started reviewing TV in the 1960s, and many of the first reviews are really about the presentation of the Vietnam War on the news. In my opinion his best work came in the 1970s, when he covered more mundane fare — crime series like “Baretta,” miniseries like “Shogun,” stuff like that.

In 1980 he reviewed a game show called “3’s a Crowd” hosted by someone called Jim Peck. The show was a clear copy of “The Newlywed Game” — only with that extra tacit acceptance of extramarital affairs that makes you wonder how this show ever got put on the air. Arlen’s is an indelible piece that describes a truly ridiculous artifact of TV history. If you needed any confirmation that the battle of the sexes has changed, read this. I find myself wondering whether Arlen was making the show up, but he wrote plenty of satirical pieces, and he wasn’t generally shy about showing his hand in such cases.