When the new comedy cable channel HA! starts up on April 1, its primary programming will consist of reruns: reruns good (SCTV), reruns bad (CPO Sharkey), reruns relatively obscure (remember The Betty White Show?).
At this point in comedy-channel history, this seems like a relief: The channel's original programming doesn't start until May, so for a while, at least, HA! won't assault us with lousy new shows and shticky, unfunny hosts. Or more charitably: We have all these nice reruns to tide us over until HA!'s wonderful new shows and witty hosts appear.
Here's a guide to HA! shows with high ha-ha quotients.
Car 54, Where Are You?
(Mon.-Fri., 12:30-1 a.m. and 6-6:30 a.m.)
An insomniac's dream: Begin and end those long dark nights of your soul with Bronx police officers Toody (Joe E. Ross) and Muldoon (Fred Gwynne). This 1961-63 show, created by Nat Hiken, is a rare sitcom: It actually has become funnier and more interesting with time. Shot in black and white, Car 54 often was filmed on location in New York, and thus provides glimpses of pristine streets, now-vanished buildings, and a touching sense of neighborhood. The series was one of the first sitcoms to use black actors regularly without calling attention to their race, and it dealt with New York Jewishness in a casual, knowledgeable way that has yet to be equaled. And did I say it's funny? Ooh-ooh: It is. A
(Mon.-Fri., 6:30-7 a.m. and 10-10:30 p.m.)
As The Phil Silvers Show, this 1955-59 half-hour defined hipster TV comedy in its day quite an achievement for a show about an Army motor-pool staff. But Silvers' finger-snapping, loudmouth Sgt. Bilko and his rambunctious costars were wily, crapshooting insurrectionists-in-uniform. A-
The One and Only's
(Mon.-Fri., 9-10 a.m. and 9-10 p.m.)
This is how HA! is packaging an hour's worth of full-length sketches from old TV series such as Your Show of Shows and The Red Skelton Show. Transitions between the segments are bound to be jolting, but it's safe to assume a decent amount of rarely seen, first-rate TV comedy. B
(Mon.-Fri., 11-11:30 a.m., 11:30 p.m.-midnight)
Second only to Fawlty Towers as the high point of contemporary television comedy. Has modern entertainment yielded a more resourceful, hypnotic comedian than Catherine O'Hara? I think not. Isn't Rick Moranis' video maven Gerry Todd the most underrated comic creation in a series filled with great ones? I think so. A+
Saturday Night Live
(Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and 7:30-9 p.m.)
Videat emptor: These are shows from 1980 to 1990, the always-uneven Saturday Night Live's most uneven period. If you yearn to see the not-ready-for-prime- time oeuvre of Charles Rocket, Gail Matthius, Gary Kroeger, and Anthony Michael Hall, this is the place to go. On the other hand, the 1984-85 season, anchored by Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest, is worth watching for. C
(Mon.-Fri., 1:30-2 a.m. and 2-2:30 p.m.)
Until recently, Marlo Thomas' kicky, perky Ann Marie defined the sort of fluff-head that feminism made irrelevant. In 1990, That Girl is something else: a fantasy of New York City life, a sitcom version of Breakfast at Tiffany's, with underrated Ted Bessell's Donald Hollinger its nerdy, neurotic George Peppard. Look for a shockingly earnest, polite Dabney Coleman as Ann's neighbor Dr. Leon Bessemer. B
(Mon.-Fri., 2-2:30 a.m. and 2:30-3 p.m.)
The only truly satisfying Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off, Rhoda (1974-78) softened Valerie Harper's yammering character just enough to make her watchable every week, gave her an amiible lunkhead of a husband (David Groh) until slipping ratings decreed divorce, and provided a showcase for two actors who have gone on to better things: Ron Silver as Rhoda's neighbor and Julie Kavner as her sister. Carlton the Doorman (Lorenzo Music) can still be heard as part of the studio audience laughing too loudly during Tracey Ullman tapings. B