Leslie Nielsen, William Shatner and the power of re-runs

The affection movie audiences had for Leslie Nielsen clearly ran deep, judging by all the appropriately positive coverage of his career. (Why oh why do Academy Award voters laud great comic performances like Frank Drebin of Police Squad in retrospect but snub those same performances at the time they fill out their Oscar ballots?).

Nielsen spent the last 30 years of his career making brilliant fun of the first 30 years of his career. William Shatner has plowed similar terrain, as to a lesser extent did Robert Stack, Peter Graves and Lloyd Bridges. The level of comedic and popular success they achieved in self-parody would have been impossible in the era of live television. Due to countless re-reruns on TV, DVDs and videos, even people who were born well after these actors initially portrayed straight-laced authority figures get the joke.

I watched Star Trek endlessly as a child, and recently bought about a dozen DVDs of the original series. After I had viewed them, I took them to the home of some friends who have a 9-year old son. I said he might like them, and he responded, with evident boredom “I’ve already seen all those episodes”.

A YouTuber gave this clip a rather exaggerated title, but it is still worth 15 seconds out of your day to see the great Leslie Nielsen one more time

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

6 thoughts on “Leslie Nielsen, William Shatner and the power of re-runs”

  1. I can certainly see the humor Shatner's later career as working from his early characters. But never having seen Nielsen's pre-airplane, etc. work, I can vouch for it still standing as hilarious. These movies were an 8 year old boy's comedic dream! As Nielsen himself put in in an interview, he was likely making fun of the fact that he really was *that* guy off-screen. Whatever the case, he gave us all something to treasure.

  2. Nielsen's movies changed movie comedy by introducing rapid-fire jokes. The best pre-Nielsen movie comedy, such as Peter Sellers' Pink Panther movies, now seems too slow-paced.

  3. Henry

    Actually, the fast pacing of the Airplane series was really a throwback to the old days of screwball comedy. You want really fast paced comedy, take a second look at Bringing Up Baby, Room Service (or almost any Marx Brothers movie) and the Hope Crosby "Road" series.

  4. Rob: You are right, post amended.

    Redwave72: Yes indeed, Preston Sturges was the master of this in the 1930s and 1940s, Billy Wilder and Jimmy Cagney pulled it off very well in "One, Two, Three" a decade after Sturges faded and then the Coen brothers did a nice update of the style in 2003 with "Intolerable Cruelty".

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