Monday, November 18, 2013

TV in JFK's Day and Now

I was trying to think of what TV was like before Kennedy was shot, and my first thoughts were of Howdy Doody and the Lone Ranger and various Disney things. That probably says more about me than it does about the times.  More about my age, anyway.  Me I was in high school and my English class was interrupted by somebody coming in and whispering to the teacher, and the teacher telling us the President had been shot.  Baloo's story is a bit more interesting:

I was in high school, too, but I was also taking a Russian class at the local college. A friend in I had just entered that classroom and a girl already there was listening to news of the assassination on the radio. Right after that, the professor, who was Polish, came in and said to turn the radio off.  The girl said, "But, the President's been shot!"  The professor, without missing a beat, answered, "In Poland it happens all the time — turn the radio off."

Well, Jim Goad has made a study of the TV of 1963 in comparison to our much vaster wasteland.  He writes:

TV Since JFK

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination.

Putting that aside, the most important question for the average American would be: How does the modern primetime network TV lineup differ from that of 50 years ago?

I don’t own a TV—yes, I’m one of those people—so most of what I’ll say about today’s fare will be based on inferences drawn from online synopses. I couldn’t even bring myself to watch sample clips on YouTube—I’m usually willing to bleed for you, dear readers, but there are some things I simply won’t do. Eating live insects is one. Watching modern TV or movies is another. We all have our limits.

I was a mere 29 months old when JFK got capped in the bean—like all good Catholic families in my neighborhood, we had pictures of JFK and Frank Sinatra displayed prominently in the house—yet it’s frightening how many shows from the 1963-1964 network television schedule I still remember. It was eerie to go back 50 years and crack open my musty memory vaults to witness images that have been filed away since I was in diapers—haunting sequences such as the scary silhouettes running amid shadows in the intro to Kraft Suspense Theatre or the “We are controlling transmission” opening narrative to The Outer Limits.

In the Nielsen ratings, so-called “rural sitcoms” reigned supreme for the 1963-1964 season, notching three of the five top-rated shows: The Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, and Petticoat Junction. Even though there was a mocking undercurrent to the nation’s #1 show, The Beverly Hillbillies, it was clear that Jed Clampett was a better man than Mr. Drysdale. And although everyone suspected it, Miss Hathaway did not dare browbeat anyone with her obvious lesbianism. This was back when rural white Americans were still deemed to be the nation’s backbone rather than either tea-bagging enemies of the state or demoralized food-stamp sucklings. Whereas back then we had the apple-cheeked and presumably super-fertile girls of Petticoat Junction, now we have the brain-dead lumps of trans fats gleefully passing gas on the cable hit Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

Many of the shows back then evinced an innocent wholesomeness so sweet, you’d need a root canal. Americans have become far too jaded to swallow cathode-ray rock candy such as Lassie, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Sing Along with Mitch, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Lawrence Welk Show. We have replaced the corny with the trashy and called it progress.

No one dares to smoke on TV anymore. No white man would dare play a bumbling Mexican named Jose Jimenez nor employ an obsequious black manservant named Rochester. And if there’s a woman on TV today who’s foxier than Suzanne Pleshette or Joey Heatherton, I haven’t seen her, but like I said, I don’t have a TV.

There were also entirely surreal shows in 1963 such as Mr. Ed and My Favorite Martian that would never be aired today. And this is back when pretty much the only person doing acid was Timothy Leary.
(Keep reading HERE.)

1 comment:

  1. I think one factor that enters into it, is that many of the TV writers in the '50's & '60's were drafted in WW2 & Korean war and were exposed to many in flyover country. I call that batch the Carl Reiner generation.

    When the Rob Reiner generation, they thought they were so much smarter than their parents not to mention flyover country whom they saw as bumpkins and white trash simpletons. And it shows.

    Succeeding generations got more spoiled and dumber.

    That's my take at least.

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