The Inner Sergeant Schultz

The other day I made a reference to people channeling their inner Sergeant Schultz.  The comment met with baffled silence, because the people to whom I made the comment had no idea who Sergeant Schultz was.  It was a sad but instructive moment.

Those old enough to have watched Hogan’s Heroes, of course, would remember the portly, bumbling prison guard who craved sweets and schapps, feared being sent to the Eastern front, and supposedly kept an eye on Colonel Hogan and his fellow prisoners of war who were actively working for the Allied cause even while incarcerated in Stalag 13.  Schultz’s catch phrase, always said with a cheesy German accent after Hogan’s band had blown up a munitions dump or snuck a valued escapee through enemy lines, was:  “I know nothing.  Nothing!”  And his comment usually prompted the equally inept Stalag 13 commandant, Colonel Klink, to squint through his monocle, frown like he had just smelled a fart, and say:  “Schuuultzzzz!”

Hogan’s Heroes has been off the air for decades; it probably isn’t shown in reruns even on the most cut-rate cable channels.  It was a ridiculous show with a ludicrous premise, of course, but Sergeant Schultz was a giant in the pantheon of ’60s sitcom characters.  Now he has vanished into the vast forgotten pool that includes the likes of Corporal Agarn on F Troop and Mr. Haney from Green Acres — and I’ll have to come up with another shorthand way of referring to know-nothingism.

Bad TV: F Troop

ORourke, Agarn, Captain Parmenter, and his girlfriend

O'Rourke, Agarn, Captain Parmenter, and his girlfriend

F Troop is one of those shows that was made during the 1960s and somehow stayed on the air for several seasons, despite being remarkably and consistently unfunny. The show revolved around the “antics” of the troop of soldiers at Fort Courage and a nearby Indian tribe. Sergeant O’Rourke ran an illicit moonshine operation with the Indians, and his constantly mugging sidekick Corporal Agarn was in a neck and neck race with Gilligan for the dubious distinction of being the single dumbest character ever shown on TV. In every episode their witless Captain would come close to figuring out O’Rourke’s schemes — usually because Agarn had said or done something idiotic — but O’Rourke would come up with some far-fetched explanation, usually with the help of the Indians, that would save the day. No character could top Agarn for sheer irksomeness, but the bugler who couldn’t bugle and the blind lookout came close.

F Troop is a good example of how bad TV probably reached its pinnacle in the ’60s and early ’70s, when there were only three networks and in most markets there were those three channels and a single UHF station with a weak signal that seemed to broadcast only I Love Lucy and religious programming. There is no way that such a foul show could have even made it to the airwaves, much less stayed on the air, if there had been decent competition from cable TV as there is now. In the meantime, F Troop no doubt caused a generation of Americans to form odd preconceptions about the American West and the customs, language, and culture of native Americans. It was insulting enough for the Indians to be out of shape and engaged in a criminal enterprise, but did they have to be totally unfunny as well?