Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Web Secret #329: the Golden Age of Television

Growing up I was told over and over that there had been a Golden Age of Television. This always pissed me off because The Golden Age of Television began sometime in the late 1940s and extended to the late 1950s/early 60s, and I was just young enough that I missed it.

Thanks to YouTube, cable and Netflix, I can experience many of the programs from that golden age:

The Twilight Zone - the iconic sci fi series

Playhouse 90 - a weekly series of live hour-and-a-half dramas. Think "Requiem for a Heavyweight", "The Miracle Worker," and "Judgement at Nuremberg."

The Bell Telephone Hour - a long-run concert series which showcased the best in classical and Broadway music.

But to experience the essence of that era, all you need to do is watch "What's my line?." What’s My Line? was a guessing game in which four panelists attempted to determine the line (occupation), or in the case of a famous "mystery guest," the identity, of the contestant. It ran from 1950 to 1967.

They don't make'em like that anymore. The host, the panelist and the guests were beautifully attired. Men wore jackets and ties. The women were elegantly dressed, coiffed and bejeweled. The host John Daly was an American journalist, who had been the vice president of ABC during the 1950s. Panelists included various members of the intelligentsia, people like Louis Untermeyer, a poet and Poet Laureate, Bennett Cerf, one of the founders of the Random House publishing firm, and Fred Allen, a comedian who was famous for his absurdist, topically pointed radio show.

The guest list was not confined to movie stars like Groucho Marx, Elizabeth Taylor and Sammy Davis Jr, but other major cultural and artistic figures. See:
The shows expected a great deal from its viewers. It expected them to appreciate smartly crafted, witty and literate questions from the panel. It expected them to know or want to learn about the major artists of the times.

When the Golden Age came to a close, we endured decades of increasingly inane television with some occasional breaths of fresh air.

Finally, with the 21st century came a second streaming golden age of television.  Welcome:
  • House of Cards
  • Orange Is the New Black
  • Mad Men
  • Game of Thrones
These shows also expect a great deal from their viewers. They expect them to love a show in which the protagonists may be old, African-American, bisexual or transgendered. They expect them to see a bald, dying, female, Hispanic convict as a hero in the mold of Cool Hand Luke. They expect them to follow complicated plot threads. They expect them to tolerate stories with unhappy endings.

Both the first and the second golden age of television expect viewers to be intelligent.

Now that's subversive.

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