Glued to the Set

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In this entertaining and informative book, journalist and political commentator Steven Stark takes us on a guided tour of the tube, and charts with unique wit and intelligence how America came of age, so to speak, in a box - watching everything from I Love Lucy, All in the Family, The Brady Bunch, and Saturday Night Live, to the CBS Evening News, Roots, MTV, and ER. Glued to the set asks the simple question - What has TV done to us? - and answers it with startling revelations about the power of its sixty most ...
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Overview

In this entertaining and informative book, journalist and political commentator Steven Stark takes us on a guided tour of the tube, and charts with unique wit and intelligence how America came of age, so to speak, in a box - watching everything from I Love Lucy, All in the Family, The Brady Bunch, and Saturday Night Live, to the CBS Evening News, Roots, MTV, and ER. Glued to the set asks the simple question - What has TV done to us? - and answers it with startling revelations about the power of its sixty most important shows and events. From Beaver to Roseanne, from Ed Sullivan to Oprah, from the blanket coverage of the early space program to the hearings for Watergate and the Clarence Thomas nomination, television has done more than simply record history and echo our culture. It has made us who we are, and Steven Stark has managed to catch in bright focus this hilarious, strange, and thrilling image of ourselves.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Imagine using a remote control to zap through television history, surfing from program to news event, catching provocative glimpses of American society over the past five decades. Journalist and pop-culture commentator for NPR, Stark provides such an experience in this collection of 60 essays on seminal television moments. He supplies a wealth of behind-the-scenes details and offers incisive commentary on topics as diverse as "Space Television" in the Sixties, "Masterpiece Theatre and the Failure of PBS" in the Seventies, "Dallas and the Rise of Republican Mythology" in the Eighties, and "How Wheel of Fortune Won the Cold War" in the Nineties. Stark demonstrates how each program or event influenced America in fundamental ways. His elegant prose is laced with wit and supplemented by a bibliography of sources for each essay, making this a sterling purchase for any library.Neal Baker, Dickinson Coll. Lib., Carlisle, Pa.
Kirkus Reviews
From Uncle Miltie to the moon launches to Wheel of Fortune, a briskly intelligent decade-by-decade analysis of the TV programs that have indelibly shaped American culture.

Now that cable television is in a majority of American homes and 500 channels are in the offing, the once unassailable cultural hegemony of the three networks is rapidly disappearing. Will 7 out of 10 TV sets, for example, ever again be tuned to the same miniseries, as happened with Roots? As Stark, a writing instructor at Harvard Law School and pop-culture commentator for NPR and CNN, makes clear, television has played an enormous but subtle role in molding our perceptions and attitudes, often in unexpected ways: "Television's ubiquity makes it a pop-culture version of the air we breathe." Comedies have been particularly influential. Making up more than a third of his list, they have dealt with everything from women's entry into the workforce (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) to prejudice (All In the Family) to multiculturalism (The Cosby Show). As Stark notes, "By packaging troubling cultural shifts in the guise of comic fantasy, these shows made it easier for Americans to come to grips with rapid social change." While one could quibble with a few of his omissions (Soap, The Simpsons, Cops, any of Aaron Spelling's oeuvre), Stark has done a remarkable job of compilation, sifting the millions of hours of fluff and dreck to find what really mattered. This is also some of the best and most informed writing on television around. Stark is always looking for explanations beyond the usual explanations. For example, TV is frequently criticized for its violence, yet Stark believes that shows like Dragnet helped shape overly positive and uncritical attitudes about the legal system.

A vital and engaging analysis of the television "canon."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385324113
  • Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/8/1998
  • Pages: 488
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven D. Stark is a regular commentator on public culture for National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday and The Voice of America.  A former lecturer on law at Harvard Law School and columnist for The Boston Globe, he has written extensively for The Atlantic Monthly, the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times.  He lives near Boston, Massachusetts.
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Read an Excerpt

Today, Barbara Walters, and TV's Definition of News (NBC: 1952-Present)

For the Today show, January 14, 1952, was not an auspicious beginning. At the time, television scheduling was much like the movies: There were prime-time and weekend shows broadcast when everybody was home, but there wasn't much else on at other times of the day, and there was nothing at all on early in the morning. This was also a full decade before the news became a significant TV institution. As conceived by Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, the NBC executive who also created The Tonight Show (and the father of Sigourney), Today would fill this early-morning dead-air time by mimicking radio, and thus steal its audience with a mixture of news, light comedy, conversation, and music--while exploiting television's ability to give the public a "window on the world." The program was originally supposed to be called The Rise and Shine Revue.

Running on 26 stations, the first Today show went according to plan--more or less. Host Dave Garroway, a low-key former Chicago radio personality, called London and Frankfurt, played some records, reviewed the weather, showed scenes of the New York skyline, displayed a few newspaper headlines, had someone review the day's news, and chatted up some guests. ("How's the Navy going these days, Admiral?" "Guess it's all right. It was there last night all right, when I left it.") "I really believe this begins a new kind of television," said Garroway as he introduced the show, though it wasn't readily apparent what kind that was. "We tried to do pure television as against translating vaudeville to television," Garroway would saylater.

He was right, of course. The program had its roots in a garrulous style known as "Chicago talk." In the very early days of television, local Chicago TV had Garroway at Large on one station, writer and interviewer Studs Terkel on another, and the kids' show Kukla, Fran and Ollie, as well as Hugh Downs. Terkel described the unscripted, easygoing, conversational style as "nonformula." "It was as fresh as jazz," he once said. "It had an air of improvisation to it."

Yet the New York critics--used to formal theatrical scripts and vaudeville--reacted with scorn to that style on Today, a response that was ratified by early advertisers and audiences. Today premiered with only one sponsor, the Kiplinger newsletter, while John Crosby, in the New York Herald Tribune, described Today as "an incredible two-hour comedy of errors, perpetrated as 'a new kind of television.'" "Do yourself a favor, NBC," wrote another critic. "Roll over and go back to sleep." The problem for the network wasn't simply that the show's concept was so new. This was an era when most households had only one television, so a program like Today had to offer something for everyone in the house in order to gain an audience in the early morning. That problem was solved a year later when the show added to its cast of regulars one J. Fred Muggs, a chimpanzee owned by two former NBC pages. Muggs appeared in skits, and pretended to read the morning papers. It was said that he was added to the cast in order to appeal to children, but the undeniable effect was to convert Today almost overnight from an iffy proposition into a network institution. "His charm," said Garroway, "is his unpredictability--same as any animal's." To his credit, Muggs did once bite Martha Raye.

And so, by and large, the show has remained true to its conversational origins--"[A]s American as Frosted Flakes," Newsweek once wrote. The show's cast has been a kind of "Who's Who" of television, or at least of the various types of personalities who have populated what passes for television news. From Jack Lescoulie, Garroway, and Muggs (who stayed four years, leaving--as the network's release put it--to "extend his personal horizons"), to Frank Blair, Betsy Palmer, Hugh Downs, former Miss America Lee Ann Meriwether, John Chancellor, Barbara Walters, Frank McGee, Tom Brokaw, Joe Garagiola, Jim Hartz, Gene Shalit, Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumbel, weatherman Willard Scott, and on to Katie Couric, Today has always represented television's uneasy attempt to balance journalism and entertainment, public service and ratings.

This, let it be remembered, was the show famous for presenting an interview with a senator, next to a scene from Caesar and Cleopatra, next to a kidney-transplant operation, next to the filmed sinking of the Andrea Doria, next to the recitation of 100-year-olds' birthdays, next to consumer and health news, next to the once-ubiquitous ads for Alpo and other products that often were presented by Today personalities such as Willard Scott--a former Bozo clown.

Forty-odd years later, some things are different: Women obviously have more of a role on the show than in the days when they were allowed only limited appearances on camera. The evolution from the quirky Garroway--with his famous daily goodbye, "Peace"--to the pugnacious Gumbel and the perky Couric is a story of how TV talk moved from true conversation to an exchange of sound bites. The comic skits were eliminated in 1961, when the newly formed news division took over the program. And, over the years, the show has been allowed to travel more from its New York base: The show's first out-of-studio trip was to Miami Beach in 1954, and it's been just about everywhere else since, becoming a kind of Wide World of Sports of news.

Yet the wonder of the show, and its clones, like Good Morning America, is not that they have changed so much, but that they have changed so little. Television is a visual medium, but Today--designed to be heard more than watched, and at that in sound bites and snippets, by people on their way to work or school--has always been essentially a radio show with a few pictures, making its influence and continued appeal all the more astonishing. In the end, it may only prove that the distance between J. Fred Muggs and Willard Scott is smaller than one might think.

The show's significance in television history is not merely that it had an almost virtual lock on its time slot for almost 25 years, a rare enough occurrence in the annals of television. (CBS certainly tried to challenge it in the fifties, with shows hosted by Walter Cronkite, accompanied by a puppet lion, and Dick Van Dyke.) Nor is it merely that this show ended up defining practically the only type of programming that the networks will try during the morning hours, not just here, but abroad, too. "The package of news, culture, and entertainment is like the first cup of coffee," Chicago Sun-Times radio-TV critic Paul Molloy once said. "The hardest part was getting stations to start in the morning," Weaver told a reporter, but once they did, they never broke the habit.

Instead, the show's principal contribution to television was its style, which became a paradigm. There were the bite-size programming chunks with the repetition of news and weather every half-hour: Today set the country on a road that led to its current case of attention deficit disorder. Moreover, by giving the locals five minutes every hour to insinuate their own news, and thereby sell more local ad time, the show's producers provided many markets with their very first taste of local news--an institution which would change the country markedly, beginning in the 1970s.

This was also the show that made the world safe for news chitchat (the hosts all sitting around a mock living room, joking and drinking coffee), thus launching the format that would come to dominate the local news in the seventies and beyond. The show's mingling of news and entertainment--later dubbed "infotainment"--soon became the model for virtually all TV news except the staid evening variety, and even that would eventually fall prey to some of its charms. Indeed, from Entertainment Tonight and Larry King Live to Prime Time Live and The Oprah Winfrey Show, it's hard to think of a television newslike show which doesn't have its roots somewhere in Today. It's not an exaggeration to contend that perhaps no show in the history of TV news has ever been so influential.

"You had to make it entertaining," Weaver once said. Describing the show's origins, he continued:

"I was trying to make the news department do it, but I finally threw them off the show because they yelled and screamed at me for putting on people who were not totally newsmen. Jack Lescoulie did sports, but he was there to be funny."

This was the show that had Lescoulie wear a certain famous New York baseball Giants hurler's uniform and demand that the real pitcher, Sal Maglie, interview him; the show also, Ó la David Letterman, once put a $20 bill in a glove, then dropped it onto a New York sidewalk, to see what would happen when people picked it up. "Weaver didn't like the news department, and the news department hated the Today show with a venom," Gerald Green, the show's news editor once said--and that Weaveresque zeitgeist lived long and prospered, even after the news division took over Today in the early sixties.

The program's influence even spread far beyond television. Consider the one person who best symbolizes the Today definition of news, Barbara Walters--who is to TV news what Lucille Ball was to TV entertainment. Edward R. Murrow didn't change television, but Walters did big-time--taking the Today approach of mingling the personal and the political, hard news and showbiz news, and turning it all into a prime-time institution. The perennially underestimated Walters joined Today in 1961 as a writer-assistant, and by 1964 had made it onto the show. Soon she joined host Hugh Downs in interviewing guests, and she went on to cohost the show for years with Downs, Frank McGee, and Jim Hartz.

Walters' dual trademark was her preparation and persistence--Variety called her "a victory of brains over mannequin beauty." (Her speech impairment would have certainly prevented her from becoming a superstar on radio, but it became almost endearing on the small screen.) Walters soon became known for asking the kind of impertinent, personal questions that viewers at home (particularly women) really had on their mind: whether Mamie Eisenhower had heard the rumors that she drank too much; whether Lady Bird Johnson knew the stories about her husband's infidelity. "Were you made fun of as a child because you were different?" Walters inquired of Truman Capote, while Ingrid Bergman was asked, "What's it like for great beauties to grow old?"

Walters, with television's first million-dollar news contract in hand, left Today in 1976 to coanchor The ABC Evening News, amid a flurry of charges that network news had sold out to the entertainment division. "When I first heard the offer," said CBS's Morley Safer, "a wave of nausea was my first reaction--with my second reaction being a spasm of nausea." Yet, as a news anchor, Walters wasn't allowed to act much different from other news anchors, and her talent was hidden. "The days of the Olympian commentator are over," she said (mistakenly), and she ended up holding the anchor job for only several years.

Walters' contract, however, also called upon her to do four prime-time specials a year, and they ended up, in one ABC executive's words, as "the tail that wagged the dog." In her first ABC prime-time appearance, Walters interviewed the reclusive Barbra Streisand ("Why don't you get your nose fixed?") and the newly elected Carters--thereby invoking the old Today formula of mingling hard news with entertainment. She made TV and political history of a sort by asking the Carters if they slept in single beds or a double. "Double bed," Carter replied, opening the way some 15 years later to another president to reveal his underwear preferences. "Be wise with us, governor. Be good to us," she implored at the end of the show--a kind of mirror image of Edward R. Murrow's old salutation, "Good night and good luck." (Now she ends every 20/20 broadcast with "We're in touch--so you be in touch.") Critics lambasted the show for its "banality," but as the ratings showed, the show had garnered an unbelievable-for-a-news-show 36 rating in prime time.

Neither television nor public life would be the same, as Walters helped lead the way in personalizing our politics--intermingling the status of its stars with those of the show-business celebrities with whom they shared top billing on her specials. First ladies, like Eleanor Roosevelt, had been political figures in their own right before Walters, but by giving these women such prominence and exposure, Walters helped push them to the forefront. By 1996, Elizabeth Dole and Hillary Clinton were the virtual stars of their husbands' political conventions, assuming roles that no one would have predicted before Walters arrived on the scene.

For her part, Walters went on to host more than 75 specials and display her brand of journalism on 20/20--one of the first of the successful magazine shows. Over the years, she would become the queen of the celebrity interview, racking up every big Hollywood star imaginable, as well as Boris Yeltsin, Desiree Washington (the victim in the Mike Tyson rape case), Fidel Castro, and the Shah of Iran.

Obviously Walters wasn't everyone's cup of tea. Over time, in fact, a number of interviewees and critics alike gave her strong feedback. The Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko once described her as "a hyena in syrup." And critic Mark Crispin Miller would come to dub Walters' shows "The Theatre of Revenge" for the way she would abuse the stars, acting out an elaborate hostility play which embodied the jealousy and occasional loathing with which Americans view their entertainment and political royalty. "Can you have sex?" she asked singer Teddy Pendergrass, severely disabled since an auto accident. She inquired of Katharine Hepburn what kind of tree she would choose to be. One of her favorite questions, according to TV Guide, was this: "If you had to spend three weeks in a hospital, who would you want in the bed next to yours?" ("The best damned doctor in town," said Johnny Carson.)

Walters' success in prime time helped convince the networks that the Today approach to news could sell to the masses, in the evening, on a scale which morning TV, with its limited audience, never could. Until recently, news and public affairs had been television's loss leaders. Except for 60 Minutes, prime-time documentaries and news shows were almost always at the bottom of each week's ratings until the networks stopped doing them. Once Walters proved otherwise--with an approach which was far less expensive than the average dramatic show (no actors or crews to hire; no exotic settings to stage)--it was only a matter of time before TV became overrun with news magazines in prime time that aped both the Today format and approach. Conventional newscasts took note of her ratings success as well, and became Waltersized. "As this society becomes the celebrity society, she is the progenitor
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 What's So Funny About Milton Berle? The Unacceptable Ethnicity of The Texaco Star Theater 8
2 Howdy Doody and the Debate Over Children's Programming 14
3 Meet the Press: Television's Anachronism 20
4 I Love Lucy: The Woman as TV Superstar 26
5 Dragnet and the Policeman as Hero 31
6 Bishop Sheen's Life Is Worth Living and the New American Religion of Television 37
7 Resistance to Reality: Why Edward R. Murrow's See It Now Didn't Change Television More 42
8 Today, Barbara Walters, and TV's Definition of News 47
9 Disneyland and the Creation of the Seamless Entertainment Web 52
10 The Secret of The Lawrence Welk Show 56
11 The Ed Sullivan Show and the Era of Big Government 59
12 Gunsmoke and Television's Lost Wave of Westerns 62
13 American Bandstand and the Clash of Rock and TV 68
14 Twenty-One, the Quiz Scandal, and the Decline of Public Trust 73
15 Leave It to Beaver and the Politics of Nostalgia 81
16 The Twilight Zone: Science Fiction as Realism 85
17 The Rise and Fall of the Televised Presidential Press Conference 92
18 Perry Mason and the Criminal Lawyer as Brief Television Hero 96
19 The Dick Van Dyke Show and the Rise of Upscale Television 100
20 Space Television 104
21 The Beverly Hillbillies and the Rise of Populist Television 107
22 Assassination Television 111
23 Mister Ed: How Real Were TV's Escapist Comedies? 115
24 The Dating Game, Game Shows, and the Rise of Tabloid TV 119
25 Walter Cronkite, the CBS Evening News, and the Rise of News on Television 123
26 The Monkees and TV's Subversion of the 1960s 130
27 Mission: Impossible and Its Cold War Fight to Save America 132
28 The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and the Fate of Controversy on TV 137
29 Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and Acceleration as a TV Style 142
30 Sesame Street: The Last Remnant of the Counterculture 150
31 TV's Biggest Show: The Super Bowl 155
32 The Brady Bunch as Television Icon 160
33 All in the Family and the Sitcom "Revolution" 162
34 The Mary Tyler Moore Show and America's Newest "Families" 167
35 Masterpiece Theatre and the Failure of PBS 172
36 Television's Biggest Scandal: The Local News 177
37 The Tonight Show and Its Hold on America 182
38 60 Minutes and the Evolution of News to Entertainment 188
39 TV's Most Self-Congratulatory Hit: Saturday Night Live 194
40 The Miniseries as History: Did Roots Change America? 199
41 All My Children, Soaps, and the Feminization of America 203
42 The Oddly Winning Dark Sensibility of M*A*S*H 209
43 The Hostage Crisis as Metaphor 216
44 Dallas and the Rise of Republican Mythology 218
45 Debating Our Politics: The Ronald Reagan Show 222
46 CNN and the Changing Definition of News 231
47 Hill Street Blues and TV's New Elite Style 237
48 What MTV Hath Wrought 242
49 Bob Newhart as the Embodiment of TV Culture 247
50 Entertainment Tonight and the Expansion of the Tabloid, Celebrity Culture 249
51 The Forgotten Promise of The Cosby Show 254
52 The Star Trek Galaxy and Its Glimpse of TV's Future 258
53 How Roseanne Made Trash TV Respectable 261
54 How America's Funniest Home Videos Tore Down Our Wall 268
55 Hill-Thomas and the Congressional Hearing as Miniseries 271
56 The Oprah Winfrey Show and the Talk-Show Furor 276
57 A Tale of Two Sitcoms 282
58 Home Shopping: Commercialism as Salvation 287
59 The Innovations of ER and the Fight for Health-Care Reform 291
60 How Wheel of Fortune Won the Cold War 295
App How I Came Up With the 60 Shows 301
Bibliography 305
Index 331
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Interviews & Essays

On Monday, August 11, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Steven Stark, author of GLUED TO THE SET.


Moderator: Welcome to the barnesandnoble.com Live Events Auditorium. Tonight we are pleased to host Steven Stark, author of GLUED TO THE SETTHE 60 TELEVISION SHOWS AND EVENTS THAT MADE US WHO WE ARE TODAY.Hello, Mr. Stark. Thanks for coming online this evening to discuss GLUED TO THE SET.

Steven D. Stark: Thanks for having me.



blondie59 from aol: What was your criteria in selecting the shows you discuss in GLUED TO THE SET?

Steven D. Stark: I wrote about that in the appendix of the book. Basically, I tried to pick the shows that I thought affected the country the most. I tried to include a show or two from every genre on TV, on the theory that any genre which had been popular on the medium probably told us something about ourselves. And, I included certain historical events as "shows" -- the space program, the weekend of the Kennedy assassination -- on the theory that such "shows" had also had a major impact.



Marley from Dayton, OH: Overall, has television had a positive or a negative effect on American society? Does GLUED TO THE SET make any sort of comment on that?

Steven D. Stark: Not to duck the question but I think it's had both. This is a medium with over 5,000 shows over the last 50 years. Some of them, overall had a positive impact Sesame Street, some a negative one the local news; others were mixed say Laugh-In. I'm not sure you can generalize.



Kate from Colts Neck, NJ: Have you always been fascinated with television? When did you begin researching/exploring the evolution of tv with respect to its influence on society. By the way I think it's fascinating. I read a book on TV and how it influenced politics that really got me thinking. I can't wait to read your book

Steven D. Stark: Like a lot of other people, I grew up in front of a TV set, so I guess you could say I began researching this book from my earliest years with Howdy Doody and Winky Dink. But this book itself, formally, took me about 3 years, though I had been writing about pop culture for some time for the Boston Globe and NPR.



Gail from Queens: I am a big fan of Public Broadcasting. Why is it always under threat of going under? Will it survive these sensational times?

Steven D. Stark: I'm a fan of some of the shows on PBS too and I think PBS will survive. But I think PBS has an obligation to provide programming that Americans can't find on the commercial networks. I think their children's programming has lived up to its promise and I have nothing but praise for many of their documentaries and cultural programming. But what are shows like "The McLaughlin Group" doing on PBS? Why is Riverdance shown so often that it practically has its own network? Why was "The Lawrence Welk Show," until several years ago, one of the most popular PBS shows in the country? I like Lawrence Welk but the show doesn't belong on PBS.



Samuel from echo: What influence do you think talk shows have had on American values and individual/family privacy?

Steven D. Stark: Not as much as people think. To me, the real stars of those talk shows are the studio audiences. The fact is, they embody a rather conventional view of morality. I don't especially like those shows but I think they've had nearly the impact people think. Besides, I think they're beginning to fade as people seek out more "wholesome" alternatives like Rosie or Oprah.



Tom from New Orleans: What do you consider the best television show of all time? What do you consider the worst?

Steven D. Stark: The worst? There are too many contenders -- many of which were so bad that we cannot remember them. The best? It's obviously in the eye of the beholder but right now, I'd say "The Twilight Zone." But ask me tomorrow, and you'd probably get another answer.



sandi arnold from tacoma: I haven't read glued to the set, but I did read the information in community. Most of the shows discussed seem to be about family relationships or about friends as family. Do you find that these types of shows have the greatest effect on cultural development. More so than say a shoe like "Cops".

Steven D. Stark: I do, if only because these shows change over time to reflect changing social mores. The think about any cop show is that it's hard to do it much differently than it's been done before -- unless you decide to make the criminals the heroes which TV will never do But if you look at "Dranget" or "Hill Street" or "NYPD Blue" or "Cops," you 'll find the message is pretty much the same.



Jack Ruhl from Philadelphia: LEAVE IT TO BEAVER has left a lasting mark on American culture. Do you think it's because America refuses to let go of its puritanical ideals?

Steven D. Stark: I don't know about "puritanical ideas" but Beaver endures because it's a very good show -- told from the standpoint of the child -- and because it presents to Americans what they perceive as a portrait of an historical age they revere. People still watch Beaver for the same reason they still listen to 50's oldies stations on the radio. Nostalgia -- especially for that era -- is practically the state religion.



anastasia from port washington: What's your feeling about the current children's programming, which tends to carry much more adult content and innuendo than say, fifteen or twenty years ago? Nickelodeon shows, seem a far cry from Sesame Street and more appropriate for adults in many cases. Do you think this is damaging or just a reflection of how culture has changed?

Steven D. Stark: I'm surprised to hear you say that. I actually think Nick's programming for kids is some of the best stuff on the medium, and most of what I've seen is fairly wholesome. In fact, I have to say that if I were to start adding shows or networks now to my original list of 60, I'd included Nick's programming for kids. I think it's quite sharp, and VERY INFLUENTIAL, given its audience.



Amy G. from Manhattan: What do you think of ABC's ads for their fall line up? "It's a beautiful day, what are you doing outside?"

Steven D. Stark: I think ABC should pay more attention to their programming and less to their advertising. The fact is the 4 major networks right now are in a major funk. They're losing their audience and their reaction -- rather than trying something new or better -- is to resort to these sorts of gimmicks. It's a mistake. People often say that cable is cutting in to the network audience and that's true, to an extent. But we had cable in the 80's too, but the network s did better because their programming was better -- Hill Street, and so on. The networks today keep trying to do the same things they were doing 15 years ago. They should try something new.



eric from nashua: What do you think would classify as the best written drama/comedy on tv today?

Steven D. Stark: I think there is writing today in TV dramas the equal of anything we've seen in the past on shows like "homicide and "picket fences." In comedy, I think Seinfeld wins the writing award hands down.



Jose from Albuquerque: If you had to pick one show in the 90s that will prove to be the most influential, which would it be?

Steven D. Stark: That's tough but let me pick an odd one "America's Funniest Home Videos." It was a seminal show in "democratizing" TV by letting us see ordinary people, like ourselves, on TV all the time. Plus, ordinary people like ourselves get to vote on what's the best video. When you think of these things, the show is revolutionary. It takes a product that was once controlled by the networks and puts it in the people's hands. AS TV becomes every more interactive, and features more and more ordinary people think again of the daytime talk shows we talked about previously, this show had a major impact.



Mitchell from Chicago: Okay, Mr. Stark... Two questionsWhy was The Twilight Zone the best show? And what other shows would you add to your list of 60 if you were to do a GLUED TO THE SET Volume Two? Thanks.

Steven D. Stark: I think the Twilight Zone was well written and well-acted; it's very hard to pull off weekly show on TV that doesn't have a regular cast. And it was the first show -- and still, unfortunately, one of the only ones -- that dealt with existential questions What does it mean to live? To die? To be a moral person? The fact that it did all these things while still being entertaining was a heck of a feat. But that's my choice I'm sure others could defend theirs equally as well. But to add one other thing The Twilight Zone has stuck with me far longer than other shows. I still think of some of them. A 2nd 60 would include some shows I didn't put in because of space or other reasons -- the Kennedy-Nixon debates, Sid Caesar, Ernie Kovacs, the Simpsons, Cheers, and the aforementioned programming of Nickelodeon. But it's a hard question to answer because if you read the book, you'll find that I do talk a lot about the major shows I didn't include in the chapters of the 60 I did. For example, I talk a lot about Bonanza in the Gunsmoke chapter. So I'm not sure, if only for that reason, exactly what I'd put in Volume 2.



Chris from Ithaca, NY: Everyone talks about the effect of I LOVE LUCY on America. My mom told me that on the nights that the show was on, nobody went out -- restaurants were empty, movies were unattended. Why was it so popular?

Steven D. Stark: Tv was a phenomenon then, but she was funny; the show was good -- after all, people still watch it over 50 years later. It was the lst sitcom to be Number 1. And it was about a woman I wouldn't underestimate that factor. If you look at the founding super stars of most pop culture genres, they tend to be men. TV was different, which told you a lot, I think, about what its appeal and impact would be in America. I discuss a lot of this in the Lucy chapter.



Kyle Loomis from Dallas: Hello Mr. Stark, Okay, I'm curious -- why do you think Oswald would not have been shot if television didn't exist? I appreciate you taking my question.

Steven D. Stark: This is really not a controversial assertion; many people commented on it at the time. The Justice Department had wanted Oswald transferred secretly. But the Dallas police, which had been trotting Oswald out in front of reporters several times that weekend, decided to make it into a media event, to be covered live. The scene in the basement of the headquarters as he was transferred was chaotic, as newsmen milled and rushed about. In just such chaos, a gunman could sneak in and Ruby did.



Randy from Holt: It seems to me that the "Ellen" hyperbole was really overdone. I don't believe that entertainment television really changes anyone's view of life. I think basically that prime-time TV follows American mores, not lead them. What do you think?

Steven D. Stark: I think TV does both. Obviously it follows American mores; otherwise a show wouldn't be a hit. But if a show lasts a long time -- like, say, "I Love Lucy" -- then I think we can say that there's something in that show that tells us something about the future, and therefore the show leads us. If you think about it, in a very primitive way, "I Love Lucy" was a comedy about 2 women -- Lucy and Ethel -- bonding again the men. The show was called "I LOve Lucy" but who really loved her more, Ethel or Ricky? Thus, in an odd way, the themes of this show foreshadowed what I think would become the culture's greatest obsession in the latter part of the 20th century. In the post-feminist age, how are men and women going to get along? Lucy told us something about that. And so it goes with other shows as well. As I try to demonstrate in the book, "Dragnet" helped change the way people thought about police in American culture. That not only changed TV;it eventually changed our views about how to fight crime as well.



Jolene from Norman, OK: I read somewhere that you think Saturday Night Live is overrated. Why? What do you think about live television in general -- is it more unpredictable, immediate, etc. Thanks for taking my question, Mr. Stark.

Steven D. Stark: I don't think Sat Night Live is the worst show in the history of TV by a long shot. I've often watched it and liked it. But I do think it's terribly overrated. You often read things about how American culture has been radically transformed by the show. Please tell me how. I think after the wonderful innovations of the lst few years, that this was a show that essentially took the same routines -- wild and crazy guys or Rob Schneider by the xerox machine, Ed Grimley, and doing them again and again and again. Was it funny? I think so, at times. But repetition of the same sophomoric jokes doesn;t qualify in my definition as something revolutionary. Besides, any show that launched Chevy Chase's film career got be all good.



Shawn Lyons from Hightstown, NJ: Which shows in the upcoming fall season do you anticipate as influential shows in the scheme of American culture? Did you read the article in the New York Times about infidelity and temptation -- do you think "Nothing Sacred" will break the boundaries?

Steven D. Stark: I can't judge the new shows until I've seen them. Sorry.



Mary from colgate: How do you think web TV or a marriage of internet/television in some other format will affect future programming?

Steven D. Stark: I can't predict what technology will bring, but right now, I don't see much of a marriage between the two. TV is entertainment It's designed for an often tired and stressed out audience that just wants to have fun and/or veg. The internet is a great information source, but it requires a lot of work and it's not that much fun for most people. I guess the two technologies can be linked but I don't see it happening in a meaningful way any time soon.



Louis from Brooklyn: What about the proliferation of news magazine shows on television these days -- "Dateline," "Primetime Live," etc? What sort of effect do you think they have on our culture?

Steven D. Stark: Most of those shows are there for a simple reason -- they're relatively cheap for the networks to produce and therefore they have a much better chance of making some money for the networks in an era of cost-cutting. I don't think they have any impact that wasn't already established by the grand-daddy of those shows and still the best one in my opinion, 60 Minutes.



Jennifer from Palo Alto: Do you think that television's role in American culture is unique? Does television have as much of an effect on other countries?

Steven D. Stark: I'm not an expert on TV in other lands, though it's something I may want to look into with a future project. In other nations, TV didn't have as strong an impact because I don't think people spent the 5 hours a day people spend here watching the tube. But as more people around the planet have access to TV -- and especially our programs -- I think its influence will continue and in some ways grow.



NPR Fan from NYC: Mr. Stark -- What's next for you? Are you working on another book?

Steven D. Stark: Not yet -- but I'm happy to hear any suggestions anyone might have.



Moderator: Thanks for taking the time to field our questions about GLUED TO THE SET, Mr. Stark. You've certainly shed new light on a topic to which most Americans can relate. One question, what's on the Starks television set this evening?

Steven D. Stark: It's Monkees Monday! In my house, it's my family that controls the channel selector.


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