TV’s Stamp of Approval

Postal Service’s new "Golden Age" collection is fun but flawed.

By Jere Hester
|  Monday, Aug 17, 2009  |  Updated 12:00 AM EDT
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Dawn Moore models the new "Lone Ranger" commemorative stamp.

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Way back in 1975, during the debut of “Saturday Night Live,” Chevy Chase helped set the show’s irreverent tone in his first “Weekend Update” segment with a risqué joke about the U.S. Postal Service.

The Postal Service planned to release a stamp commemorating prostitution, Chase announced, adding, “It's a 10-cent stamp – but if you want to lick it, it's a quarter.”

All these years later, the joke is still good for a laugh, even if “SNL” has yet to get a formal stamp of approval from postal officials.

Last week, three months after the release of a stamp set featuring “The Simpsons,” the U.S. Postal Service issued a series called, “Early TV Memories,” saluting shows from the medium’s so-called Golden Age.

The 20-stamp collection includes some indisputable classics: “I Love Lucy,” “The Honeymooners,” “Burns and Allen” and “The Twilight Zone,” to name a few. (Check out the whole series here.)

But the set also is notable for its omissions. Where’s “The Jack Benny Show?” There’s no Sid Caesar and “Your Show of Shows,” an early “SNL” forerunner. And we suppose it was too much to even hope near-forgotten comedy innovator Ernie Kovacs would make it to the front of the envelope.

There’s an absence of diversity in the stamps, a reflection, in part, of the era, but also of missed opportunities. Why isn’t Cuban-born Desi Arnaz on the “Lucy” stamp? The stamp honoring “The Lone Ranger” pictures the masked man with his horse, Silver – but not Tonto, portrayed by Jay Silverheels, a Canadian Mohawk.

Silver, it should be noted, is among two horses (the other is Hopalong Cassidy’s steed, Topper), one dog (Lassie) and four puppets (Howdy Doody, Kukla, Ollie and Groucho Marx’ “You Bet Your Life” duck) pictured in the stamp set.

Sure, a Nat “King” Cole stamp was issued in 1994 – but a stamp noting his 1950s TV show would seem appropriate, as would one commemorating Diahann Carroll and “Julia,” the first TV show to star an African-American woman, even if the 1968 start date doesn’t fit the strict “Golden Age” requirement.

The Golden Age designation also seems a bit artificial – you can make an argument there have several over the decades. So will “Seinfeld” even be deigned stamp-worthy? Would anyone ever dare open an envelope with Tony Soprano’s mug on front?

Postal officials at least proved that shows don’t have to be distant memories to make it onto stamps –  “The Simpsons,” after all, are still going strong after 20 seasons. Stamp-less “SNL,” meanwhile, is headed to its 35th season.

We'll put it to you: What TV shows, past or present, would you like to see on a stamp? Use the comments section below to get in your 44 cents worth.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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