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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."
|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|
|21||The Beverly Hillbillies and the Rise of Populist Television||107|
|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|
On Monday, August 11, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Steven Stark, author of GLUED TO THE SET.
Steven D. Stark: Thanks for having me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Steven D. Stark: I can't judge the new shows until I've seen them. Sorry.
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.
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.
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.
Steven D. Stark: Not yet -- but I'm happy to hear any suggestions anyone might have.
Steven D. Stark: It's Monkees Monday! In my house, it's my family that controls the channel selector.