Last month a cartoonist chased a blonde, mini-skirted figment of his imagination around the living room and launched the 1969 television season. Subsequent TV fantasies have come in a variety of sizes and shapes, though their color is still predominantly white. Few of them are as artistically and imaginatively done as “My World and Welcome to It,” based on James Thurber’s writings and cartoons. And few, happily, are any more violent—at least before 9:00, when, apparently, the television industry thinks children should go to bed. The National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, which last year chided TV, recently applauded the nonviolent trend, particularly in Saturday-morning cartoons. Still in need of disarming, however, are some Sunday-evening “family” shows.

While producers were lopping off violence, mediocrity was putting down deeper roots. This year it has blossomed in saccharine vignettes of cute kids and their widowed parents doing quasi-comic things and in soap operas offering escape into a frothy, make-believe society like “Bracken’s World” and in simulations of past successes like the counterfeit “I Love Lucy” that is “The Debbie Reynolds Show.” “Mediocre” rarely applies to Bill Cosby, but the comedian who can find humor in ghetto life emerges strangely unfunny on his TV show. His fans laugh loyally but perhaps wistfully, hoping their hero will make his situation comedy humorous before the network makes it legendary.

A few shows earn chuckles and even an occasional peal of laughter. Two funnier-than-average hits of recent seasons—nearly discarded when NBC decided their ratings were wilting—reappear ...

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