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The Platinum Age of Home Entertainment

Dave Randall

Posted on April 15, 2018 17:30

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The many choices we have present an embarrassment of home screen riches.

When I was a kid, I'd get the weekly TV Guide and absorb it, the same way I did the sports page. Three networks, four local stations, a few UHF choices with fuzzy pictures — that's what we had, and that TV Guide was like entertainment scripture. The medium was 20 years old, and the Guide dedicated a back page to what was happening 10 years prior, in what has commonly been called "The Golden Age of Television". I later studied this era in college, and though a great deal of the programming was lost, destroyed or not preserved, many outstanding representations of this Golden era are available to watch online. Then new and unrefined, some of the comedy, like Lucy, and Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows stand tall today. The black and white images may serve to obscure the hilarity of the material for those who cannot fathom monochrome. 

It was the dramatic presentations, though, that evoked the term "golden" and left bold impressions upon viewers and critics of the time. Aired live (there was no choice — videotape was introduced in 1956 and put to use in 1957, initially to delay shows for the west coast), stage plays for TV were a spawning ground for writers like Rod Serling and Paddy Chayevsky, directors Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer, and an honor roll of young actors (Paul Newman, Charlton Heston, Grace Kelly, James Dean, et al). The titles are as familiar as those of hit songs — Requiem for a Heavyweight, Patterns, 12 Angry Men, The Days of Wine and Roses, Marty.

It's not that there wasn't a glut of rubbish that surrounded these great shows. There was. It's that this excellence plowed virgin territory, and will forever be exalted by any who recall it. The truth is, sixty years later, we are experiencing more than a Golden Age of TV. This is a Platinum Age of Home Entertainment. 

In the '50s to have pictures come into the living room at the flip of a switch was miraculous. As is what we take for granted, today — streaming motion pictures, and content made for TV. Unfettered by standards and practices or the FCC, we have movie-quality HD images, drama, comedy, fantasy and documentaries that are unrivaled by anything we've known. It is an embarrassment of riches.

But, as was the case in the 1950's, there's the build-up of waste material — rubbish that must occupy the ample space of TV time and pay the bills. For every Game of Thrones, Homeland, Veep or Handmaid's Tale, there are mock-cinema verites of housewives or high maintenance, posh, pampered or peculiar families, made stars via their televised behavior; endless, spite-filled competitions to determine who's Lord of the Flies tactics will win the prize; and talent shows with panels of three that either school or excoriate contestants. 

Yet, the pyrite did not diminish the Golden Age. The blemishes surrounding today's Platinum, though viewed voraciously, don't obscure its gleam.

Dave Randall

Posted on April 15, 2018 17:30

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The Emmys are tonight. Award shows make me nervous (don’t ask) so I usually catch up on the good stuff later, but if pining...

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