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What Would Jeannie Do?

Moderated by NED MARTEL

Published: November 30, 2003

The endless rerun capacity of cable TV has switched on the lights in the attic of American design. The deep trouser pleats on ''Thirtysomething,'' the Moroccan flourishes inside Jeannie's bottle -- who knows what will inspire the next retro trend? To help us rummage through all this junk (and find a keeper or two), we sat down with three designers at the Museum of Television and Radio to watch clips of old shows. Participants were the interior designer Miles Redd, the fashion and housewares designer Cynthia Rowley and the ceramics and furniture designer Jonathan Adler.

'Green Acres' (1965-71)
First episode, the apartment of Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert before they leave for the country.
Rowley: That's so stylish. Look! The Mondrian painting. It's what everybody dreamed New York life was like.
Redd: And some 18th-century French furniture.
Adler: It is a kind of weird eclectic interior that does seem very today. Classical architecture with some modern bits. How fun is that bedroom?
Rowley: It's a mix of really clean and then the chandelier and then a simple Renoir on the wall.
Redd: Rococo and Modernism come together.
Adler: Look at the colors. Fun! Pink and purple.
Rowley: There are only three objects in that room
Redd: A palm torchiere, a Louis XIV bed, a chaise.
Adler: It's total Philippe Starck. The juxtapositions are great.
Redd: Look at that doorknob in the middle of the door.
Adler: Total Regency freakout. Why did she go to the country? Why?

'I Dream of Jeannie' (1965-70)
Jeannie and Major Nelson conclude a spat by going separate ways.
Adler: Do we get to the bottle? Here we go!
Redd: This is the Moroccan-tented number.
Rowley: I did my bedroom like that when I was in college. I made it look all cushy.
Adler: When I was growing up, my brother and sister had a club called the Phantom Club, done up like Jeannie's bottle. I wasn't allowed into it. I snuck in when they weren't there, and my brother beat me up.

'Bewitched' (1964-72)
Samantha Stephens mollifies her mother, Endora, and father, the dapper warlock Maurice.
Adler: I like the house. It's colonial, like Americana meets Modern. I feel like Colonial is coming back.
Redd: It's like the sort of Francis Elkins 1930's interiors that are so rubbed-worn with a little Sheraton table and a Jean-Michel Frank chair. And the three-panel doors.
Rowley: No plaid upholstery. And the caftans. Endora made caftans.
Adler: I think the sensibility, especially Endora and the father, is so camp. That to me was more influential than the decors. The campiness.
Rowley: Yeah, it's so over the top that it seems normal that you would go out at night with eyeliner out to here.
Adler: To me, it always symbolized a gay sensibility. I could never understand Darrin, who seemed like this drab straight guy who was denying the fun and the electricity of the gay lifestyle.

'Lost in Space' (1965-68)
Will Robinson descends to a spaceship deck where Dr. Smith is playing chess with the robot.
Rowley: Watch the elevator. See, this is hot!
Adler: That's the Prada elevator. You can imagine Rem Koolhaas knocked this off.
Redd: The chess set's great!
Rowley: In the meantime, it's like Tupperware containers hot-glue-gunned to the wall. All this futuristic stuff!

'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In' (1968-73)
Heads pop out of a garish, psychedelic backdrop. Then the hosts, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, arrive in tuxedos.
Rowley: I like this -- it's homemade and colorful. It's like, put up the wall and cut holes in it.
Redd: The untied tie, I think that's a look. I like how they always used to wear black tie in the 50's and the 60's, too.
Rowley: And now bands like the Hives, they're wearing those little suits. You can mix all that stuff with a ratty old T-shirt, a mix of high and low.
Adler: I want everything to have stayed all shrunken like it was back in the day.
Redd: When men's suits were cut to fit.
Adler: Cynthia, have you had a clothing collection inspired by TV?
Rowley: Definitely pieces. I can remember a total Cher moment. I would also say Mary Tyler Moore. All her stuff was beautiful and classic.

'Thirtysomething' (1987-91)
Michael Steadman, with skinny suspenders, and Elliot Weston, in pink bowling shirt, relax in their office.
Rowley: These clothes could come back, these drapey, trousery things. The vibe can be a little sexy.
Adler: To me, this kicked off the dot-com boom. Even though it was set in Philadelphia, it seemed like it could have been San Francisco: we're-kooky-we're-young-we're-taking-over-the-world kind of thing.
Rowley: The Nerf basketball at your desk.
Adler: This is one of the first things I can remember where work was supposed to be fun.
Redd: It seems very Banana Republic, the advent of acorn-colored shirts and khaki and Levolor blinds and Mission furniture. Things being restored rather than redone.
Rowley: This is more how people live now. Melanie Mayron's asymmetrical haircut, to show how artsy she is. The big earrings. I have a feeling for all this. Next fall, the style could be a little bit 90's preppy. But still sexy.
Adler: I feel that this show has blood on its hands for telling people it's O.K. to be a mess. And Hope was considered the great beauty of that time. How could that only be a few years ago? Do you think she wore a jog bra with a ponytail hanging out of the back of a baseball cap? That's not washable silk, is it? It's so depressing.

'Knots Landing' (1979-93)
Opening, with montage of suburban California homes and the faces of the stars.
Adler: This is a total McMansion thing.
Redd: They all started out nice, and then Donna Mills got all that blue raccoon undereye.
Rowley: See, I like that makeup. I think it could come back.
Adler: With fashion you can be ironic, have an 80's pastiche thing, a throwaway. But interiors are more permanent, so you can't do the same pastichey irony.
Redd: Oh, my God! Look at those dolphin shorts!
Rowely: It's Juicy Couture, isn't it? Look at how short those shorts are!
Adler: Do you think it was a look people were aspiring to or more a reflection of reality?
Redd: Well, my sister had that haircut. It's nothing she's proud of today.


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.In the Democracy Of Design, Even Bad Taste Is O.K.  (October 25, 2003)  $
.BOLDFACE NAMES  (October 17, 2001)  $
.DESIGN NOTEBOOK; Instant Aeries For TV's Eyes  (August 17, 2000)  $
.PUBLIC LIVES  (May 16, 2000)  $
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