April 29, 2016

Around the dial

Another week, as they say, another collection of gems from the classic television blogosphere. And if someone hasn't said that, they should.

While looking something up, I came across this very good 2007 interview with George Maharis from Route 66 News, in which he talks some about his experiences on Route 66, what made the show successful, and why it wasn't quite the same after he left.

It's military sitcom week at the AV Club, and we get a look at a couple classics that transcend their settings: the hilarious Phil Silvers Show, with the wonderful Ernie Bilko pulling a con on everyone, and the sublime final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, where our heroes learn what paying the ultimate price means, and what it's all about.

I thought this was such a good piece from David at Comfort TV on people who look at his DVD collection and ask him if he's really watched them all. I have to admit that in my own case, the answer would be "no," but when I look at the state of today's television, I have no doubts that I'll wind up running out of DVDs to watch before I run out of time.

At Vote for Bob Crane, Carol has 20 things we didn't know about Bob Crane. I have to admit knowing some of them, but then I've read the book - and you should too!

Martin Grams talks about old-time radio (OTR), a foray we've taken from time to time here, with another of the shows that made the transition from radio to television, albeit briefly: Gangbusters. I have to admit I never warmed to this show either on radio or TV, but that's probably just me. By the way, Gangbusters was a top-ten hit on TV, alternating weekly with Dragnet, but only lasted one season - apparently, it was never intended as anything but a stopgap until enough Dragnet episodes had been made for that series to run weekly.

Tomorrow we'll be talking about the highest-rated programs as part of the TV Guide review, but TV Obscurities looks at the shows that were in the bottom 10 of the ratings in October, 1987. How many of these shows do you remember? I recall a couple of them, and actually enjoyed Max Headroom (which may have just been ahead of its time), but I daresay most of them earned their position.

Tune in tomorrow for another TV Guide, and you can let me know what position we've earned.

April 27, 2016

Early television: good or bad?

My friend Steve forwarded something to me the other day; he thought it might be worthy of discussion on the blog, and after thinking about it for awhile I think it's right. It's an exchange from an interview with Patton Oswalt (who's sadly in the news for other reasons these past days), and it pertains to the heritage, the legacy of classic television:

Question: I’d like to give you three options: Do you think the Internet is going to become more and more of a hellscape until it self-combusts, do you think we’re headed toward it becoming even worse and more and more annoying, or do you think people eventually get better?

Patton Oswalt: See, initially, I was in the whole “Oh, this will become and remain an even worse and worse and worse hellscape” camp. But then I was reading about the early years of TV — it was awful, it was so bad what television started out as — and then, luckily, more and more artisans began to be drawn toward it and it got better. So I think that right now, the Internet is sort of in its DuMont [Television] Network stage of development, and it will get better.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing the early crappy years. I mean, obviously there are glimmers of intelligence out there.. but, you know, the infant form of anything is going to be a lot of, uh, I guess, chaff if you will, and it’ll get better and better. So we’re here for the chaff years.

Now that's food for thought, isn't it? It's a question with, at heart, a provocative premise. I've been involved in more than one discussion on the "Golden Age of Television,", and it's reasonable to conclude that everything wasn't golden back then, no more so than during the age of Pericles. For every triumph such as Playhouse 90 (and that had its share of lemons as well), there were shows that just don't deserve the time of day.

What comes next might seem as if I'm ragging on Patton Oswalt a little bit, and that really isn't the case. At first blush some of what he says sounds elitist, or dismissive of classic TV, but I'm not convinced he meant all that, or that he intended to paint with a broad brush. Any man who knows about DuMont is not a fool when it comes to early TV history. But what he's done here is open the door to endlessly entertaining topics of discussion: is TV better now than it was then? Is it better to have more explicit shows, or ones that leave something to the imagination? Are we better off looking at shows as pure entertainment, or should they have societal value as well? And what about shows that advocate one point of view or another?

Oswalt's right, I think, to the extent that in the original days of television, anything went because you'd throw just about anything on the screen just to have something on, and a lot of that could be pretty bad. Of course, DuMont had a brief but noteworthy history - as the always-reliable Wikipedia puts it,

DuMont was the first network to broadcast a film production for TV: Talk Fast, Mister, produced by RKO in 1944. DuMont also aired the first TV situation comedy, Mary Kay and Johnny, as well as the first network-televised soap opera, Faraway Hill. Cavalcade of Stars, a variety show hosted by Jackie Gleason, was the birthplace of The Honeymooners (Gleason took his variety show to CBS in 1952, but filmed the "Classic 39" Honeymooners episodes at DuMont's Adelphi Theater studio in 1955-56). Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's devotional program Life Is Worth Living went up against Milton Berle in many cities, and was the first show to compete successfully in the ratings against "Mr. Television". In 1952, Sheen won an Emmy Award for "Most Outstanding Personality"

In addition, The Original Amateur Hour, The Ernie Kovacs Show and Captain Video were programs that first aired on DuMont. It's true that some of these shows were crude in comparison to today's smooth productions, while others were limited by the technological issues of the day. Some of them had particularly bad storylines and iffy acting - I've seen some of Captain Video, and it can make you cringe. When Oswalt critiques those early days, is that the kind of thing he's discussing? I suspect so. On the other hand, Amateur Hour (and talent shows of the time by Arthur Godfrey and Lawrence Welk) was really nothing more than the American Idol of its day, minus all the flash and glitz; that's an example of a show where the looks have changed in comparison to today's efforts, but at heart all talent shows are the same.

Does Oswalt mean that the content of the shows back then suffers compared to today? Interesting question. I'll admit that watching someone play the accordion or sing a corny song can look pretty hokey, but that relates more to the popular culture of the time than anything else. Is that what Oswalt is saying, that the pop culture of today is superior to what it was back then? I hope not, because if he is, I'd have to disagree. Strongly.

What about the subject matter of those shows? Many of them concerned domestic family life. Is that part of it? Well into the '60s, TV produced series from Donna Reed and Father Knows Best to Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet. The intelligentsia tend to roll their collective eyes at them nowadays, talking about the fanciful portrayal of a time that never really was. Is that what Oswalt is saying here, that these shows were successful, well-acted and written, but that the content is too simplistic, not cool enough for today's audiences?

What about educational and cultural television? The early years of TV had classical works of drama and music, and public broadcasting started out as a truly eclectic mix of education, rather than a warehouse for British drama. And dating back to the very beginning, the pioneers of television worried about their responsibility to present such programming to the audience, and whether or not ratings should enter the discussion. Does Oswalt consider that time to be part of the good time for TV, or not?

And then there's drama, and when it comes to that there is some true brilliance that literally does date back to television's infancy. Studio One debuted in 1948; the Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1951, the aforementioned Playhouse 90 in 1956. Gunsmoke, an adult Western that often raised provocative questions about society and its mores, premiered in 1955; Naked City, one of the first police dramas to introduce social relevance as well as gunplay, started in 1958; Route 66, which often presents a vivid picture of American life of the time, debuted in 1960. The Defenders, one of the most provocative of the legal dramas, came along in 1961. Most if not all of these shows were known for the richness of the writing as well as the strength of the acting and directing talent.

Are these the artisans that Oswalt refers to?We've talked about the era of live television recently, to the effect that the loss of live TV meant the loss of an entire genre of programming. Would he consider these shows to be from those "early days" because of their lack of polish, the rough edges and errors that were not uncommon in live TV? Or would he point to the writers, people like Serling and Chayefsky and Rose who were legitimately recognized as artisans in their own time, and cite this as evidence of television's positive evolution? Is this when it got better, the days when drama was considered a writer's medium? Or is it when television began to tackle complex and controversial issues, ranging from abortion to equal rights to war? Do those kind of issues constitute the entrance of the artisan? Does he think that talent began with Aaron Sorkin? I doubt it, but it's just kind of fun to throw a snarky comment like that in there.

As I said, the whole thing is fun, because it gets people to really talk about TV and what's it's about. Are the heavily-serialized shows of the last fifteen years or so, the "new" Golden Age, better than the dramas of the '50s and early '60s, many of which tackled heavy issues without resort to sensationalism? Was St. Elsewhere better than Ben Casey? How do they compare to ER? And what about Naked City vs Hill Street Blues?

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this discussion is the part we haven't touched on at all: Oswalt's comparison of today's internet to those early days of television, with the presumption that the internet will evolve into a more mature product, as he believes television has. I'm not sure about that; if you were to tell me that the quality of the internet product will continue to follow the same arc as television programming, I don't know if I'd laugh or cry.

I think Oswalt's comments open the door, and I think this gives us the opportunity to defend classic television, to point out both its strengths and flaws, and to look at TV's role in the wider culture. I'm sure everyone's got opinions on these questions - I know I've got mine, but how about yours?

April 25, 2016

What's on TV? Wednesday, May 1, 1968

After a fairly lengthy break, we're back in the Twin Cities this week, and I for one am grateful for being able to look at the listings without needing a magnifying glass. There were interesting programs scattered throughout this week, most of which you read about on Saturday. Here's a look at what Wednesday had to offer.

April 23, 2016

This week in TV Guide: April 27, 1968

No big features this week, so we'll just start in and see what comes up.

We begin with Melvin Durslag surveying a troubling trend in sports - the possibly of labor disputes. "Player unions are flexing their muscles, threatening management with just about everything, including strikes." There's no doubt that professional athletes are receiving more money than ever before (baseball's minimum wage has just been increased from $7000 to $10,000), but with this security, players "are coming to assert themselves in the establishment of ground rules in their crafts." A strike just before the start of last year's NBA playoffs was narrowly averted, golf pros threatened to pull away from the PGA and run their tour themselves, and unions are demanding a say in everything from the annual schedules to air travel (they want only first class) to the abolishing of the dreaded "reserve clause."

Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, explains that rising TV exposure plays a major role, making instant heroes out of athletes and increasing their perceived value. In addition, the stupidity of some owners, throwing ridiculous sums of money after stars, has poisoned the well, so to speak, for everyone. The creation of the American Basketball Association has introduced the specter of bidding wars for the best talent, and the problem is sure to crop up with other leagues as well.

ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDES
Not surprisingly, the players counter that the owners can't exactly plead poverty. If payrolls have expanded, the value of teams has as well, increasing by three or four times over the last decade. Having been treated as indentured servants for so many years, the players are eager to get their slice of the pie, rubbing the owners' noses in it while they're at it.

Looking at this from nearly 50 years' distance, it's amusing how naive this sounds. It was amazing that the Cleveland Browns were worth $12 million in 1968; today's most valuable franchises, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees, are now worth over $3 billion. Every professional sports league has undergone multiple work stoppages, with both the World Series and an entire NHL season cancelled in the process, and multiple seasons shortened due to games missed. The minimum salary in baseball, an astounding $10,000 in 1968, is now $500,000. TV contributes so much money to the process that it's incredible anyone can disagree over it.

One thing's for sure, though. Melvin Durslag predicted that over the next few years, "the liveliest shows in sports could be quite removed from the field," and he was right.

◊ ◊ ◊

As the regular television season winds down, Cleveland Amory presents his year-end awards, The Amorys. In a change from years past, and due to popular demand, this year's awards feature not only the "best" performances and shows of the year, but the "worst" as well. This is a recipe for fun if ever there was one. Herewith, some of the winners - and losers.

Best Dramatic Series: Ironside. Honorable Mention: Insight.
Best Comedy Series: The Flying Nun. Honorable Mention: Get Smart.
Best Variety Series: The Smothers Brothers Show. Honorable Mention: Laugh-In.
Best Drama Series: CBS Playhouse. Honorable Mention: NET Playhouse.*
Best Late-Night Show: The Joey Bishop Show. Honorable Mention: Les Crane (syndicated).
Best Educational Show: The French Chef. Honorable Mention: Book Beat.

*See, Amory gets it. He uses "Drama" vs. "Dramatic" to distinguish between the two different styles we discussed on Saturday and Wednesday of last week.

Best Dramatic Actor: Raymond Burr (Ironside). Honorable Mention: Ron Harper (Garrison's Gorillas).
Best Dramatic Actress: Barbara Bain (Mission: Impossible). Honorable Mention: Barbara Anderson (Ironside)
Best Comedian: Jonathan Winters. Honorable Mention: Tommy Smothers.
Award for All-Around Merit: Robert Culp and Bill Cosby (I Spy)

Worst Dramatic Series: The Guns of Will Sonnett. Honorable Mention: Cimarron Strip.
Worst Comedy Series: He & She. Honorable Mention: Good Morning World
Worst Variety Series: Operation: Entertainment. Honorable Mention: The Jerry Lewis Show.
Worst Late-Night Show: The Joe Pyne Show. Honorable Mention: The Weather
Worst Dramatic Actor: Gentle Ben (Gentle Ben). Honorable Mention: Maya (Maya).

And finally,
Worst Critic: Results suppressed in the interests of national unity.

These are always fun, and in a couple of weeks we'll be seeing the responses in the Letters to the Editor section. I do know that Amory took a lot of flack from readers for giving He & She a bad review earlier in the year, so I suspect we'll be hearing more of the same from the letter writers. But as Amory would always say, don't show me letters - show me viewers.

◊ ◊ ◊

No "Sullivan vs. The Palace" this week, even though we're in the right era, because The Hollywood Palace is preempted, whether locally or by the network I'm not sure, for a "Doc Evans" jazz session featuring Harry Blons, Geraldine Mullaney, Eddie Tolk, Don Thompson and Jim Morton. Given that virtually all the musicians were from Minnesota, I'm guessing it could have been a local production.

Ed quite likely would have won the week though, with guests like Ella Fitzgerald; actor Richard Harris; comedians George Carlin, Milt Kamen and Stiller and Meara; the Doodletown Pipers; Korean violinist Kyung Wha Chung; and illusionist Richiardi. A strong lineup, particularly at the top.

As far as other variety shows, the lineup begins Saturday night on CBS with The Jackie Gleason Show, with guests Milton "I used to be Mr. Television!" Berle, Frank Gorshin, Vikki Carr, and Sammy Kaye and his orchestra. Andy Williams is on Sunday night on NBC with the horrific-sounding "The H. Andrew Williams Kaleidoscope Co." featuring pop stars Simon and Garfunkel, Cass Elliott, Ray Charles and Burt Bacharach. The picture of Andy shows him wearing a neckerchief with a wild pattern. Fans of the guests (and I know you're out there) will forgive me if I'm underwhelmed. Earlier in the night, over on CBS, the Smothers Brothers have Carl Reiner, Hamilton Camp, Jennie Smith and the Happenings.

Leslie Uggams, who's featured on this week's cover, welcomes Robert Morse, Noel Harrison and the Young Rascals as guests on her ABC special Wednesday night. And Dean Martin's Thursday NBC show has comedians Buddy Hackett, Minnie Pearl and David Steinberg, and singer Rosemary Clooney.

◊ ◊ ◊

Some notable programs this week, headed by a rare Hallmark Hall of Fame comedy, "The Admirable Crichton," on NBC Thursday night, written by J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan) and starring the husband-and-wife team of Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, best known for their roles in the movie Born Free.

I'll be covering this in more detail in Monday's piece, but Wednesday night's highlight, in addition to the Leslie Uggams special, ABC presents a commercial-free showing of the 1957 movie Paths of Glory, starring Kirk Douglas, written and directed by Stanley Kubrick.

A CBS news special on Tuesday raises, I think, a question for our times. It's called "The Trial Lawyers," hosted by Harry Reasoner. The topic is "the fiction of presumed innocence," featuring five of the most prominent trial lawyers in the world: F. Lee Bailey, Melvin Belli, Percy Foreman, Louis Nizer and Edward Bennett Williams.*

*But where's the world's greatest trial lawyer - Perry Mason?

I think there's also an interesting program on Danny Thomas' Monday night anthology series on NBC, "The Measure of a Man," starring Richard Kiley as a West Virginia coal miner, illiterate, unskilled, middle aged, who's lost his job due to technology and now has to find work in a hostile employment environment.

◊ ◊ ◊

This week's sports lineup is quiet, and expected. NBC's Saturday Game of the Week is Baltimore at Boston, ABC's Wide World of Sports features Indy car racing from Trenton, the North American Gymnastics Championship, and a preview of tonight's WBA heavyweight title fight between Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis. CBS' Saturday afternoon entry is the season opener of the old North American Soccer League, a contest pitting the St. Louis Stars and the Kansas City Spurs.

A programming note on Sunday alerts us of the possibility of an NBA finals game on ABC, and indeed there is one. It's Game 4, and the Los Angeles Lakers' 119-105 victory over the Boston Celtics ties their series at 2-2. Alas for the Lakers, it's their last gasp - the Celts win the next two games, the last by 15 points, to take yet another NBA championship.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing, and CBS covers Game 5 of the Eastern Division Finals, with the Montreal Canadians defeating the Chicago Black Hawks 4-3 in overtime to win the Eastern title, en route to defeating the St. Louis Blues to take yet another Stanley Cup. (Note a trend here?)

ABC Sunday entry is the final round of the inaugural Byron Nelson Classic from Preston Trails Golf Club right here in Dallas, named after the legendary golfer and won by Miller Barber.

And a sports-related note: Rafer Johnson, former gold medalist in the Decathlon and current sportscaster on KNBC in Los Angeles, will not be violating equal-time standards by continuing to appear on TV while being part of Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign. Sadly, this is only an issue for six more weeks; he and football star Roosevelt Grier are the two men who tackle Sirhan Sirhan after Sirhan fatally shoots RFK.

◊ ◊ ◊

Finally, the Letters section provides us with the line of the week, perhaps the line of the year. It refers to the recent departure of Diana Rigg, the delectable crime fighter Mrs. Emma Peel, from The Avengers, Speaking of Patrick Macnee's character John Steed, M. Goetz of Jersey City, New Jersey simply writes, "I bet John Steed Mrs. Emma Peel." I couldn't have put it any better.

April 22, 2016

Around the dial

A very enjoyable spin around the classic television blogosphere awaits, so let's get right to it, shall we?

Here's a great reminder from The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland - a book depicting television as "The Magic Window." It's amazing how quickly we come to take something for granted, isn't it?

One of the recurring characters in Hogan's Heroes was Tiger, the beautiful underground agent. At Vote For Bob Crane, Carol has a nice piece on the actress playing Tiger, Arlene Martel, who had some very interesting insights into Bob Crane's true character.

Whether old television series or sporting events of the past, it drives me crazy that so much of our TV heritage has been lost due to tapes being lost or simply destroyed. Cult TV Blog gives us another example of what we're missing in his discussion of the lost Avengers series one episode "Nightmare."

In the category of "the more things change, the more they stay the same," Lincoln X-ray Ida takes a look at a 1971 episode of Adam-12 entitled "The Militants." The quality of the episode is debatable; it's relevance to today's headlines isn't.

Speaking of episode recaps (and Adam-12!), Recap Retro recaps one of The Twilight Zone's early, disturbing episodes - "The Mirror," starring the lovely Vera Miles and Sgt. Pete Malloy himself, Martin Milner. A great recap of a sinister story, indeed.

In yet another reminder of the staying power of classic television - and my irritation at cable systems that don't broadcast digital subchannels - Television Obscurities looks at getTV's new weekday lineup. They're not all winners, but shows such as The Jimmy Stewart Show don't get much airplay anymore, and any reminder is a good one.

Finally, at Those Were the Days, it's the cover of the April 21, 1956 issue of TV Guide, one of many issues I don't have. It features a very young Nanette Fabray, as well as a reminder of how real life intrudes, with Fred Allen's final interview, a reminder that Allen had died on March 17.

April 20, 2016

When television was live - and living

CBS CONTROL ROOM, MID '50S
You'll recall that in Saturday's review of TV Guide's top shows of all time, I mentioned in passing the thought that anthology series such as Playhouse 90 should perhaps have had their own category, rather than being lumped in with the rest of TV's dramatic series.

I wrote that primarily because I thought there was a distinct difference between an anthology, in which different actors and actresses tell different stories each week, and a "orthodox" series in which regulars tell a continuing story that may or may not also be serialized. However, there's another reason to think of anthology shows as their own genre, as noted in the book Fifties Television, written by William Boddy - for the most part, at least in the '50s, they were live.

Today, aside from sports and breaking news, there's very little live television, aside from the occasional network musical or other big event. In TV's early days, however, many shows were live - not only the anthologies, but series television as well. I think it was I Love Lucy that finally turned the trend once and for all, but I could be wrong about that.

So why do we think live television is special, worthy of being considered its own genre? Let's start with a definition of live television, one that goes beyond the obvious, that the show is happening as it's broadcast. Just what does that mean, and why is it relevant? Jack Gould, the television critic for The New York Times, wrote in 1956 that

Alone of the mass media, it removes from an audience's consciousness the factors of time and distance. . . . Live television . .  bridges the gap instantly and unites the individual at home with the event afar. The viewer has a change to be in two places at once. Physically, he may be at his own hearthside but intellectually, and above all, emotionally, he is at the cameraman's side.

Gould's point, Boddy continues, is that "both the player in the studios and the audience at home have an intrinsic awareness of being in each other's presence." Who knew interactive television went all the way back to the '50s?

Seriously, though, I think there's a real point to be made here. Boddy goes on to quote Gil Seldes, one of television's early pioneers:

The essence of television techniques is their contribution to the sense of immediacy. . . . The tension that suffuses the atmosphere of a live production is a special thing to which audiences respond; they feel that what they see and hear is happening in the present and therefore more real than anything taken and cut and dried which has the feel of the past.

Here we begin to get to the heart of it. There's a natural tendency to think of live programming not just as quaint, but as necessitated simply because video tape had not yet come into vogue. As we know, one of the main advantages to using tape (or film) is the ability to edit out rough spots, to do repeated takes of a scene until it comes out just right, and to preserve the performance for repeated viewings; therefore, pursuing this line of reasoning, we think of a recorded performance as something desirable, in that it gives us the best possible production. But is this always the case? And is it even desirable to have a presentation that's that spot-on? Seldes, as we have read, thinks not.

Gould, in a 1952* article entitled "A Plea for Live Video," describes the benefits of live programming as opposed to recorded, saying that a live broadcast contains a "sense of depth and trueness" which recorded programs cannot match. Carrying it through to the 1956 piece referenced above, Gould states unequivocally that "In their blind pursuit of artificial perfectionism, the TV film producers compromise the one vital element that endows the home screen with its own intangible excitement: humanness. Their error is to try to tinker with reality, to improve upon it to a point where it is no longer real."

*In 1952, more than 80% of all television shows were broadcast live.

We shouldn't be surprised by Gould's insistence on the humanness of television - after all, we say the same things about movies and music. We compare"human" epics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Ben Hur with SFX-driven spectacles such as Titanic and The Lord of the Rings, and even though we're impressed by the artistry and incredible technology of the latter, we also acknowledge that it just doesn't seem quite "real." We hear people talk about the crackle and imperfection of phonograph records, but at the same time we understand that digital music, despite its superior sound, is "sterile." It's the same thing.

We already know that television is the most intimate of mediums; as Seldes puts it, "Every television program is in a sense an invasion; you turn on your television set and someone comes into your living room." The magic of live television was that there was that interaction between actor and viewer. For those acting in a live production, there was a constant awareness of the audience "out there," that they were seeing your movements and hearing your words at virtually the same time as you were making them. For the actor, the camera was not the important thing; that performance was being delivered for the viewer, out there in the great darkness beyond the lens. Writer Donald Curtis put it well when he wrote that "There is no place for acting here. He must 'be' what he represents. . . . The television camera goes inside of an actor's mind and soul, and sends the receiving set exactly what it sees there."

"Requiem for a Heavyweight", 1955
For the viewer's part, having invited the actors into the living room, attention must be paid. It is more like going to a Broadway theater and watching a stage play than it is going to a movie theater and watching a movie. They know that what they are seeing is real, genuine, not a product of special effects or clever editing, but the actor's actual performance. Furthermore, they know that millions of others are sharing this experience at the exact time. It becomes fodder around the water cooler the next day, or at the dinner table that night with friends. Gore Vidal, who wrote 70 TV plays in the '50s, said "If you did a good show on 'Philco' [Television Playhouse, one of the prestige dramas], you would walk down the street the next morning and hear people talking about your play."

There's something very ironic about all this, although it isn't apparent right away. But think about it: the crucial elements of live television could be boiled down to three: the actor, performing for the viewer; the director, broadcasting what is taking place in front of him and not from the editing room later on; and the viewer, sharing the experience with cast, crew and other viewers.Today, our technology has managed to eliminate all of this: the actor plays to the camera, as he must, and often finds him or herself performing in front of a green screen, imagining what will be edited in afterward. The director relies on computer programmers as much as, if not more than, live acting; even with an animated feature like Toy Story, the end product, although the result of human work, doesn't feel quite as human as it would have been if it were hand drawn. The viewer can watch all of this whenever and however he or she pleases - on a television, phone or computer screen, as it happens or recorded to watch later, one episode at a time or all at once. It's the very opposite of the experience produced by live television.

Lest you think that we're just talking about the aesthetic component of live television, there were also many who felt the subject matter itself was influenced by the format. The divide between live and prerecorded television came to be seen as the difference between the "New York" and "Hollywood" schools. Live television, with its basis in the Broadway stage, tended to emphasize character development, whereas the Hollywood school, born of the motion picture industry, made plot the key element. Seldes felt that character-driven programming was more appropriate for television, where the "casual environment and attitudes of viewers" detracted from complex plot structures.

Such character dramas were perfect for live television, with its intimate relationship between performer and viewer, and the stripped-down, basic staging required by the small confines of the TV studio. In the meantime, Hollywood was busy producing half-hour action dramas, many of which starred either policemen or cowboys; many critics felt, as did Vance Bourjaily, that "the half-hour show is too brief, and it is interrupted by a commercial too soon after it begins, to be anything but a hook, a gimmick and a resolution." Gould said it "inevitably puts a premium on the contrived plot and on action for its own sake." The hour-long live drama was a writer's medium, and the writers were the stars: Rod Serling, Reginald Rose and Paddy Chayefsky were among the best and the best-known. As long as they continued to work in New York, the Hollywood school was left with weaker scripts; the emphasis on half-hour programs followed.

Times changed, of course, as did finances. Most of the prestigious live dramas were underwritten by sponsor dollars: Philco, Kraft, Hallmark, Westinghouse, and others. As the sponsor's role receded following the quiz show scandals, the networks gained control and based their decisions increasingly on the bottom line. Serling, fed up with interference from both network and sponsor, moved to a genre that required recording, while Chayefsky and others (including Serling) moved increasingly to movies. Talent began to shift from the East Coast to the West, movie studios started to work with television rather than against it, viewer tastes changed. It's hard to see live drama, or live television of any kind, returning to TV unless it's a special event.

However, there's more than enough reason to look at live television as a genre in and of itself. It required different production values, different styles of acting, different types of stories. TV Guide, which played such a role in the advocacy of quality television - including live drama - should have known better than to put Playhouse 90 in the same category as St. Elsewhere. To compare live TV to recorded programs is foolish; they're like apples and oranges. It may be long gone, but the era of live television was a unique and glorious, moment in history, and its memory lingers on long after the tape machines took over the control room.