August 2015 Bar Bulletin
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August 2015 Bar Bulletin

"Picket Fences": Can We Have Good Neighbors Like the Ones on TV?

By Robert WM Zierman


"It's hard to imagine getting that close to the people living adjacent to you, but in TV it's almost strange if you don't know your neighbors on a personal level."1 Why is this statement so true?

Well, neighbors these days seem more likely to quibble about noise, encroaching trees, view obstructions, property lines and easements than to invite each other over for a barbecue. This makes it rather unusual for most people to be willing to have their neighbors - or any friend for that matter - just pop in unannounced and be able to engage in whatever trivial matter just happens to be on the mind of the interloping neighbor.

While most people just want their privacy, in television this social boundary is often suspended. Suspended too is the reality - at least for sitcoms - that people might actually not be at home when the neighbor comes knocking (or not) on their door. Most of the shows in the below list have a knock (or not) and walk-on-in policy with respect to their closest neighbors and friends.

  • "The Honeymooners" (1955–1956): Ralph and Alice Kramden have upstairs neighbors Ed and Trixie Norton.
  • "I Love Lucy" (1951–1957): Lucy and Ricky Ricardo are constantly visited by their neighbors and landlords Fred and Ethel Mertz. For some reason, the Ricardos never seem to visit the Mertzes.
  • "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1970–1977): Mary Richards as a never-married, career climber had Rhoda Morgenstern as best friend and upstairs neighbor.
  • "All in the Family" (1971–1979): The original neighbors of Archie Bunker, an outspoken, WWII veteran bigot, and Edith Bunker are African Americans George and Louise Jefferson. When the Jeffersons move on up to the Eastside, they sell their place to counter-culture leaning Gloria and Michael Stivic - the Bunkers' daughter and son-in-law - who had been living with the Bunkers.
  • "Happy Days" (1974–1984): Richie Cunningham and his family ultimately have ladies' man Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli live as their upstairs tenant (apparently in Chuck's old room), after years of Fonzie letting himself in through the front or kitchen door.
  • "Married with Children" (1987–1997): Al, Peggy, Kelly and Bud have Marcy Rhoades-D'Arcy and either Steve Rhoades or Jefferson D'Arcy as her husband as next-door neighbors.
  • "Seinfeld" (1989–1998): Jerry, his ex-girlfriend Elaine and bosom pal George are joined by neighbor Cosmo Kramer, who lives across the hall from Jerry and bursts in uninvited any time, day or night. At least Jerry had to buzz in George and Elaine.
  • "The Simpsons" (1989–Present): Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie have the Flanders family next door, led by devout Christian patriarch - and eventual widower - Ned.
  • "Home Improvement" (1991–1999): Tim, Jill and their three boys have Wilson W. Wilson as their neighbor, who - with his face constantly obscured - imparts homespun wisdom to Tim over the top of the backyard fence.

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