[EDITORIAL NOTE: The university study cited in yesterday's story on humor and elders caught a lot of people's attention including David Wolfe's at Ageless Marketing. He published a much more informative piece on age and humor than mine. Definitely worth reading.]
Many people who read this blog are old enough to remember what is known as The Golden Age of Television, that period from about 1949 to 1960 when, in particular, the quality of serious drama – live and later, filmed - was superb.
Such luminaries as Rod Serling, Paddy Chayefsky, Reginald Rose and even Gore Vidal were writing for such programs as Playhouse 90, Studio One, The Philco Television Playhouse, Kraft Television Theater and, a bit later, the original Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The scripts were rich and complex, as good as the best theatrical films had to offer, and some stories were so compelling they still stand out in our memories.
Then television took a dive becoming what Newton Minnow referred to as “a vast wasteland.” That is not to say that there were not good dramas and sitcoms here and there, but the quality definitely declined from television’s earliest years. Ever since then it has been de rigeur for anyone with pretensions to intellectualism to decry the quality of prime time TV.
I beg to differ. These days, our quality drama cup runneth over, most within the context of ongoing series rather than stand-alone, one-hour features of the past, but they are no less excellent.
An early leader in the renaissance is Law and Order which for nearly 20 years has served up its combination of police and courtroom procedurals that take on serious social issues ripped (as they say) straight from the headlines, and they do it without bogus easy answers at the end leaving a viewer with something to think about. The other two flavors of L&O are not shabby either.
Although the Miami and New York versions lack the pizzazz of the Las Vegas setting CSI does so well with its flashy, neon nightlife sensibility, the stories of the Vegas original and the acting are well worth viewing.
A series that snuck up on me over time is Without a Trace. The characters, with the exception of one who is now gone anyway, are well drawn and consistent over time. Plus I like the overhead and odd-angled shots of New York City that display the town in interesting ways I never noticed during 40 years of living there.
I became a fan of The Closer in its first season and it’s even better in this new summer season.
All these years later, I still like Star Trek: The Next Generation and I just recently discovered that it airs regularly on one of the more obscure cable channels. Either my memory is shot to hell or there are a lot of episodes I missed when it was in first run, and lately, I’ve been thinking Captain Picard should run for president.
Another series now in repeats on cable is an early entry into the TV drama renaissance, the stunningly good Homicide: Life on the Streets shot in Baltimore. Its network run was canceled long before it should have been, but in an interesting program innovation, the Richard Belzer character, John Munch, was "hired" by the New York Police Department in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit where he still "works."
There are others that if not entirely first-rate, are nipping at the heels of the best: Shark comes to mind along with a new entry, Heartland, and some people tell me ER should be in this group, which may be true, but I never found the actors compelling.
This idea of a new golden age of television came to me after watching a full-episode preview of a new series, State of Mind, that I mentioned a few weeks ago in a story about an increase in the number of older actors in starring roles on television.
I intended to watch the first ten minutes or so to see what the buzz is about and got sucked in for the entire hour. I’m not going to review it for you except to say that if subsequent episodes match the premier, it will join my list of top-drawer dramas – which I really don’t need. It premiers Sunday night on Lifetime or you can view the entire first episode now here on your computer.
You may wonder – and rightly so – how I watch this much television while still doing all the research and writing for this blog and maintaining a reasonable facsimile of a life.
The answer is, I don’t watch that much. I worship at the god of DVR (Tivo for some of you), set my recordings and catch up with one per evening at bedtime or by zipping through the commercials during personal marathons on rainy or brain-dead days. I miss a lot of episodes, but that just gives me new ones for the months of summer repeats.
Watching television in this condensed manner - only what I consider the best without surfing through the detritus in moments of boredom – has convinced me that we are in a new Golden Age of television drama. There is stunningly good and original work being done on the traditional networks and on cable channels.
I never get tired of being told a good story and there is now a gold mine of them to choose from on television.
[Speaking of good stories, you'll enjoy a terrific tale of parental ingenuity from Darlene Costner at The Elder Storytelling Place today. It is titled Grounded.]