December 20, 2013

Studio One, "The Nativity," 1952

This won't be the first time I've pointed out how much TV has changed since its inception, and how that change reflects similar shifts in American culture.  It's illustrative though, in that there's so much about this program that would be next to impossible on today's screens.

The date is December 22, 1952.  The program is CBS' legendary Studio One, and the episode in question is "The Play of the Nativity of the Child Jesus," based on the medieval mystery plays of the 13th and 14th centuries.  It's directed by Franklin Schaffner, who would later win an Academy Award for directing Patton, and features music by the famed Robert Shaw Chorale.  Hurd Hatfield is the narrator, and one of the Three Kings is a very young Lloyd Bochner.  The entire program, broadcast without commercial interruption, can be seen here:

My question is what is the most anachronistic about this program, the one thing most unlikely to be seen on commercial television today?  The obvious answer is the overt religious message, which emphasizes the status of Jesus as Savior, and is openly worshipful.  Beyond that, however, is the language - can you imagine a program today being based on plays from over six hundred years ago?  The warning at the beginning is that it may sound archaic, but that the ancient words serve to link us to the long-ago past.  I cannot imagine something like this today.  Add to that the medieval carols performed by the Robert Shaw Chorale, and you have a program that may have been unusual for the time, but is unthinkable for ours.  If you have a spare hour, check it out not only for the Christmas content, but as an illustration of how very far away fifty years can seem.

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