Comedy is a very broad genre, and it can be delivered in so many ways - from multi-cam blandfests with saccharine Stepford smilers where the only one laughing is the audio track, to deep-thinking introspective pieces where the humor might be a little too surreal to fully appreciate. Chris Thompson may not have been everywhere, but he’s been at both extremes and between and he left his own satirical mark on Hollywood. Chris Thompson was found dead at the age of 63 this past Friday, June 26 from causes yet discovered - though he was an infamous drinker and it’s not unreasonable to suspect it might have something to do with it. Here’s a quick run-down of some of his most memorable shows.
Laverne & Shirley hardly needs an introduction, and almost anybody with a passing familiarity with classic television has at least heard of it if not seen at least one episode. One of a myriad of Happy Days spin-offs, it promoted Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams into the first ladies of comedy. Many sitcom writers today claim Laverne & Shirley as an influence, especially when it comes to “buddy” sitcoms. Chris Thompson didn’t get his start on Laverne & Shirley but it’s where he truly go an opportunity to cut his teeth and establish himself as a behind-the-scenes TV icon, starting as a writer and producer and closing out the series as executive producer.
Bosom Buddies is perhaps best remembered for being the launch pad for Tom Hanks’ career, it’s short run and for using Billy Joel’s My Life as the theme song. Despite less than 40 episodes (barely enough to string out two seasons) it managed to gain a cult following and can often be found on late nite broadcast TV or UHF stations much like the nearly 180-episode juggernaut that is Laverne & Shirley.
Another two examples of Thompson shows that have gained a cult following despite short and tumultuous runs, The Naked Truth and Action are showcases for the type of satirical Hollywood-insider humor Thomspon became well-known for. With only 55 episodes in the can, The Naked Truth struggled on both ABC in its first season and later NBC where it was killed after an additional two seasons on that network and a hefty retool. Action received only a limited 13-episode run before disappearing from the FOX Network, and is perhaps best notable for having a pre-SNL Will Forte behind the camera including serving as a writer for two episodes.
Chris Thompson had served as a producer and writer for HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show. Sadly, it seems that while Thompson was able to find major success as being a part of the whole, his own creations toiled and failed to find their own audiences.
Perhaps Thompson’s most unusual series of all was the last one to air during his lifetime, Shake it Up, a dance-driven multi-camera comedy produced by, of all things, Disney Channel. Called everything from thinly-veiled TV-friendly child pornography by Breitbart.com to an instruction manual on how to be a “kickass friend” by HuffPo, Shake it Up is often considered to be one of the most subversively funny and intelligent series in the kid-centric network’s history and never shied away from biting the corporate hand that fed it. The show is also notable for being one of Thompson’s rare independent ratings mega-hits, eclipsing even Disney Channel stalwart Hannah Montana and for having no less than over half of its main cast be persons of color, including both leading actresses Zendaya and Bella Thorne whose exploding careers were launched by the show (though Thorne portrayed a white person on the show).