Jews of Prime Time / Edition 1 available in Hardcover
Beginning his investigation in the early days of television with Gertrude Berg and The Goldbergs, Zurawik, an award-winning journalist, shows how the Jewish founders of the three major networks—William S. Paley (CBS), David Sarnoff (NBC), and Leonard Goldenson (ABC)—dictated the kinds of shows Americans would watch from the late 1940s until they sold their broadcast empires in the mid-1980s. Under the auspices of these incredibly powerful men, the television industry either distorted or eliminated entirely images of Jews from prime time at the very moment when television came to hold center stage in mainstream American life. In fact, creating a cookie-cutter image of American life was so important to the top Jewish executives that they fabricated a brief, which circulated among the networks and became legendary in the industry. It claimed that CBS had “research” that indicated Americans were not interested in seeing Jews (or divorced people, people from New York, and men with mustaches) on the small screen. Zurawik convincingly argues that Paley and the others were ambivalent about their own Jewishness, and fearful, in the post-Holocaust, pro-assimilation, red-baiting 1950s, that their shows not appear “too Jewish.” The ironic result: with few exceptions, shows like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver came to represent American family life, while Jewish identity was presented as something that had to be obscured or hidden away.
Only when the moguls sold their interest in the networks and moved on did things begin to change in a sustained way. Serious shows with leading Jewish characters began to appear in series like thirtysomething and Northern Exposure, which dealt with issues of tolerance, intermarriage, and assimilation. But in many of the programs that followed, particularly the sitcoms of the 1990s, Jewish men and especially Jewish women fell into stereotypical roles that Zurawik describes as “nebbishy boyfriends lusting after non-Jewish women” or “Jewish-American princesses and smothering mothers.” And, although Jewish characters are now plentiful on television, many are very nominally Jewish, or Jewish in name only. Despite the best efforts of the successors of Paley, Sarnoff, and Goldenson, the culture of Jewish self-consciousness and censorship lives on in network television today.
Based on more than one hundred interviews gathered over ten years with network executives, producers, and actors, Zurawik’s book gives voice to these insiders—who reveal, for the first time, how and why the depiction of Jews on television has followed such a strange, unpredictable course.
|Publisher:||Brandeis University Press|
|Series:||Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life Series|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"[This book explains] how such censorship was enforced as it chronicles the lengths to which the founders and their network lieutenants went in trying to keep Jewish characters off the air lest their networks appear 'too Jewish.' One of those lengths involved executives at CBS telling producers that the network had 'research' clearly showing that American viewers did not want to see 'men with mustaches, people from New York, or Jews' on television. The first documented mention of such 'research' by a CBS executive came in 1969. Thirty years later, Hollywood producers and executives were still citing that CBS 'research' in interviews with me."
Table of ContentsAcknowledgements xi
Introduction: On Being "Too Jewish" in "This Weird Loop" 1
1. Learning to Be "More American" - The Goldbergs 17
2. "Write Yiddish, Cast British" - From Dick Van Dyke to Mrs. G 48
3. Prime-Time Intermarriage I - Bridget Loves Bernie 78
4. The Dramas - thirtysomthing and Northern Exposure 104
5. Intermarriage II (Shiksa Goddesses Transforming Jewish Guys) - Anything But Love, Flying Blind, Mad About You, Brooklyn Bridge, and More 140
6. Intermarriage III (Some Jewish Women Get Gentile Guys) - Rhoda, The Nanny, Dharma & Greg, Friends, Will & Grace 172
7. A "Too-Jewish"/Not-Jewish-Enough Jew for the '90s - Seinfeld 201
8. Looping Back, Breaking Ground, and Calculating Loss - 100 Centre Street, The Education of Max Bickford, State of Grace 218
What People are Saying About This
“For TV critic and historian David Zurawik to get people to talk at all about such a sensitive subject is impressive. To get so many to talk so revealingly is closer to amazing. Meanwhile, his own thorough and thoroughly entertaining insights about so many TV shows, from The Goldbergs and Rhoda to Seinfeld and The Nanny, make this one of the most important, well-researched and addictively readable television books ever written.”