Saturday, March 1, 2014

Random Comment on Mid-century TV Drama

Rod Serling's teleplays--smart, taut, commercially viable--epitomized an era lasting from sometime in the 1950s to sometime in the 1970s when troupes of stage-trained thespians crossed TV screens to the strains of orchestra music that might have graced the production of the latest Tennessee Williams project. Much of the output was founded upon a disconnect with reality that was not quite decent, such as in the war dramas 12 O'clock High and the classy Combat! in which soldiers tracked down Nazis in barely-disguised Californian countryside and had plenty of time to muse about the meaning of humanity. (It's no wonder World War II vets scoffed at how the media portrayed the most important years of their lives, but who watched these blockbuster shows?) TV drama portrayed then, as it does now, a hypermasculine world of soldiers, cops and doctors then occasionally peppered with the murderers and mad scientists of Twilight Zone, Thriller and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The hardness in these programs wasn't only a masculine hardness; it was also literary and a result of craft, intelligence and coolness of distance they create, at least in the best examples. Pop TV then was a marvelous and slightly distasteful puddle of late-modernest trickle-down. Better than today's TV drama, with its slick production and dramatists born and bred for a medium others pioneered? Not really, especially not compared with cable TV fare. Classier? Depends on the definition of classy. Sentimental favorite: definitely... at least in one-hour doses and very dispersed.

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