Live television started in
- New York City shortly following the wrap-up of World War 2 in the forties. Southern impresario Fred Coe, a theater maven with connections to the new TV networks rising in the heart of the Yankee Empire, spearheaded the revolution of live TV. The surprising fact was that television had an immediate and deep impact, making atomized people happy and feel together. That was its power. One of Coe’s live shows featured an actor who was asked on the show, “What do you wanna do, Marty?” and the actor replied with a big shrug. The next day, on the actor’s walks through the streets of real-world Big Apple, early TV adopters in public would grin and shout out the television catchphrase. It was a way of forming community and of identifying with this magical image on the screen.
- There have been two generally acknowledged Golden Ages in television, from the mid-40s to the mid-50s and from the mid-90s to now. After live television died, and Coe burnt out from alcoholism, television reverted to masses of Westerns and treacly “family” shows like Leave It To Beaver. Brainless, insipid, the Married With Children‘s of their time, these shows did nothing to advance the medium and probably even retarded it for decades to come. The social explosion of the Sixties, which should have provided fertile ground for TV experimentation, instead provided nothing, singsong garbage. In a science fiction book called Alternities, by Michael Kube-McDowell, a nuclear explosion by hippie terrorists goes off in one of the six or so main parallel world Americas. If this sort of lucky (yes, lucky) thing had happened in our Sixties, it might have snapped TV out of its doze. Regrettably, the Flower Power era we experienced only deepened the malaise, providing the need for safe, predictable television. The viewer rewarded bullshit, so bullshit was dished up in big heaping piles for him.
- In the Seventies, this all changed. Brilliant satire and comedy All In The Family, starring Archie Bunker, Edith and Meathead and his girlfriend, plus assorted negroes and hangers-on, allowed liberals to coyly toy with social motifs and perversions while pretending to be good home entertainment. In one scene, old-bitch Edith touches her hair while writing a letter to President Nixon. In fact, Nixon supported Archie Bunker in real-life, like most moral helldamners missing the satire completely, not realizing the actor who played Archie was a notorious Lefty and the whole writing team was as crookedly Left as a Chicago Democratic municipal electoral team. But it was good, and along with Mary Tyler Moore and one or two other shows opened the door for further evolution.
- But it was only the peep of a beginning. The Eighties saw The A-Team (stupid but it had Mr. T), The Greatest American Hero (ridiculous) and eventually Stringfellow Hawke (excellent name, shallow but occasionally exciting aerial combat show) of A*I*R*W*O*L*F. Unlike Mash, I’m just putting asterixes in it to emphasize it.
- The dramatic intro theme song signaled this was going to be something special for you. Like the Knight Rider small-screen action flicks of the same rough period, Airwolf took you to a reasonably high-budget world of the kickthrusting assertive, combining small-scale drama with big-scale black helicopters rising from secluded canyon circles and mesas.
- Although Airwolf was to lead to an even superior form of drama, Miami Vice, it actually closed the door to many possibilities. But this was a golden age for excitement. But NOT for really top-notch TV. Shows like The Sopranos, The Simpsons, The Wire, and Breaking Bad with Mr. Meth Teacher were to come later, demonstrating that the long timespan of television could produce stories that glamorous movies could never plumb to such depths. Eventually, the sheer combat entertainment of Airwolf was merged with the intrigue of The Godfather movies, to form George R.R. Martin‘s GAME OF THRONES.
- A little word about this brilliant hybrid. Martin was the editor of many moderately successful series like Wild Cards, which I read as a teen. Fat and jolly in appearance, but with a mind like an evil Santa Claus, Martin was just waiting to write his One-Hit Wonder, his Masterpiece, A Song of Ice and Fire series, of which Game of Thrones was the first installment. His unique slant on world-building, conjoined with his near-whimsical killing-off of main characters, produced a unique vision. HBO execs had the good sense to follow the advice of real writers who saw the potential in another great writer’s vision.
- The lesson of Game of Thrones — or indeed Sopranos, or Simpsons, or any other long-lasting show — is that the writers are at the core of any success, and they must be worshipped. In Hollywood, and even in TV-Land Los Angeles, the writer is at the low end of the totem pole. NBC’s Tartikoff seemed to think Michael J. Fox mattered more than Family Ties’ writers. Indeed, even actress Justine was probably valued more highly than the writers.
- There is a view in the entertainment industry among execs that writers are interchangeable, automatic, and to-be-taken-for-granted. The great variety in individual writer’s capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and likings is universally ignored, horrifically. Personally, I Xwarper would rather see an orphanage burn down in flames with the loss of all life on hand than the loss of one great writer to an inappropriately positioned slot on the wrong show. It’s true, a great writer can NOT belong on some shows.
- Actually, it seems that the only reason American television crushes world offerings is because of the vast size of the home market and its predatory, product-dumping practices around the world, raising hair and hackles from Canada to Denmark. When you’re producing The Beachcombers on CBC in Canada, and America’s dropping slick Miami Vice episodes on your head like hammers, you’re inclined to screw your hands in your eyes and cry. Or cry out for protection and protectionism.
- Surprisingly, the lull time of the Eighties may have been indirectly to credit for the golden flowering and birth of the Second Golden Age. The First Golden Age drew on many purloined and copied scripts from the world of playwrights, but the Second Age was more truly indigenous to the world we live in, featuring TV-specific, square-screen-designed visuals and close-ups and storylines, moving away from imitation toward its own art form.
- TV has done its founders proud — but this is almost exclusively due to the reactive guerrilla actions of its running writers, backed by a few artistically sensitive actor-stars who understood good writing, no thanks to slimy execs. Although I love corporations, I must give the TV industry — and the wider media universe at large — a thumbs-down for its wan corporate leadership, resulting in far more misses than hits. If TV and movies had the genius leaders of the visionary tech industry, it’s guaranteed TV would be a brighter supernova still. When Seinfeld is only kept alive on the artificial life support of higher-income Nielsen ratings demographics, and when The Simpsons barely escaped from the cannibalistic clinging arms of the Tracy Cunt show, you can see how “great TV” is a near-death experience almost 100% of the time, and mountains of dreck constantly wait in the wings to avalanche little turds of poo on your head.
- But I look forward to the Third Golden Age of Television, coming to a screen near you in the 2030s. And let’s hope they add some oral creampie blowjobs and non-sarcastic, and non-liberal, political philosophies on it at the same time. Surely, true variety and exorbitant fun demand no less.