April 2, 2018

"When Did You Realize TV Could Be Art?"

Asked Matt Zoller Seitz, back in 2012. Seitz was born in 1968, so he didn't live through "The Twilight Zone," 1959-1964. I was 8 to 13, in those years, and even today, seeing that question — "When Did You Realize TV Could Be Art?" — I'm inclined to say, I never "realized" it, because I don't remember a time when I didn't know "The Twilight Zone." I immediately thought of the episodes "Eye of the Beholder" and "The Monsters Are Due on Main Street." And just the opening credits.

But maybe you think "art" is more about serious adults in complicated, serious situations and rule out anything that accepts the label "science fiction." That's a conventional viewpoint adopted by Seitz:
As an American boy in the seventies, I saw plenty on TV that scared, disturbed, or upset me: the bigotry and brutality of Roots; naked prisoners being led into a gas chamber on Holocaust; Farrah Fawcett's torment in The Burning Bed. But I didn't realize commercial TV could be art, or even aspire to artfulness, until I started watching Hill Street Blues.
Seitz was 13 when that show premiered (in 1981, the year Ronald Reagan became President).
In many ways the godfather of today's melancholy, morally ambiguous cable dramas, the Steven Bochco series imported seventies movie values to NBC. There were content restrictions, some of them jarring (the cops never used any curses milder than "damn" or "hell" )...
TV meant, for nearly all of us, broadcast TV, subject to government censorship, despite the First Amendment....
... but for the most part, the show's situations were rougher and rawer than TV's norm. The stories dealt with adult issues — sex, race, class divisions, petty office turf wars, political chicanery, alcoholism, drug addiction, you name it — and while some of the characters were more sensible and ethical than others, the show never seemed to judge any of them. There were no bad guys on the show, just people living their lives according to whatever personal code they'd cobbled together....
I'm reading that this morning — and thinking about TV art — because it's quoted — sad to say — in a tribute— written by Fred Barbash in WaPo — to Steven Bochco, who has died (at the age of 74). The most interesting material from that tribute is quoted from Bochco (from this book):
“The idea of almost every other cop show was that the private lives of these folks was what happened the other 23 hours of the day that you weren’t watching them,” Bochco told the New York Times, “and we turned that inside out. 'Hill Street' was a show where their personal lives kept bleeding profusely, hemorrhaging if you will, into their professional lives. Where you had ex-wives coming in inappropriately and disrupting proceedings. You had Furillo’s lover getting into horrible arguments with him about the law. And you had an alcoholic, J. D. LaRue. All of this stuff just kept intruding and informing how these men and women went about their business.”...

“On our scripts,” Bochco once said in an oral history, “we had double columns of dialogue, ’cause we scripted everything in the background. EVERYTHING in the background. We realized we had so many characters that the only way to service all those characters was to have multiple story lines. The only way to service multiple story lines was to let them spill over into subsequent episodes. So half the time, things that were going on in the background were in fact the elements of stories and character relationships that would emerge in the foreground two episodes from now.”

In “Trial by Fury,” for example, the rape of the nun and the confessions weren’t enough for Bochco. When Bochco first saw the script — featuring only that sequence — he felt there was something missing, “some sense of how life isn’t fair.... So we added a small story about another murder, of a bodega owner named Rodriquez, who had been gunned down in a robbery. It happens every day on the Hill....and is far less sensational than the rape-murder of a nun, which is why the bodega murder doesn’t get the cops’ full attention.... What we come to realize is that the bodega murder will go unsolved: the price of catching the killer of the nun …. The kind of systemic cynicism that the two stories, side-by-side, exposed dramatically made the hour terrific conceptually."
Topics I'm inviting you to discuss: What is art? Is cynicism or complexity or density the key to answering the question? Does it matter whether television can be art and whether a particular show was art or do you only want to talk about whether television is great? When is television art, but bad art? When is television not art, but nevertheless great? Was there ever a TV show that made you think, like Seitz, hey, wait a minute, this isn't just TV, it's art!? What's your favorite episode of "The Twilight Zone"? Is it the same episode that would make you say, that one was art!? Did you watch "Hill Street Street Blues"? What impact did it have on you? Did it open up new vistas of what television could be? Do you realize now — with our endless access to complicated, adult dramatic series on HBO and Netflix and Amazon — how different and important "Hill Street Street Blues" was in its time? Do you think it had anything to do with Reagan?

I'm interested enough in that last question, that I just bought Bochco's book so I can see what he says about Reagan. If the answer's interesting, I'll do a separate post. If it's not, I'll update here, very soon.

UPDATE: Bochco never mentions Reagan in his book. I did a separate search for the word "President," and what I got were lots of mentions of various corporate presidents, a risky Obama joke...
I have been pissing, vomiting (lot of dry heaving — almost as much fun) and leading from the rear (apologies to the President) for about three or four days.
... and something about the TV show "Commander in Chief," in which Geena Davis played the first female President of the United States. Bochco was asked to take over, 2 years into the show's run (in 2007). I'll make a separate post out of this part.

CORRECTION: Bochco was asked to take over after 6 or 7 episodes had been filmed and only 4 had aired. The show had been getting great ratings, but there were production problems, that the original show runner couldn't handle, which is why they brought in Bochco, who replaced the writers and changed the show, and the ratings crashed.

90 comments:

Fritz said...

Anybody remember the Bochco show "Cop Rock" which featured a cop show as a musical? It wasn't a big hit. But was it art?

David Begley said...

Last night’s live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar was high art.

The young adults who I were with had little interest and stopped watching. They missed the Hamilton of the 70’s.

Mazo Jeff said...

Yes, the television shows back then were art. In addition, I remember Omnibus Theater, live production of Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella (Leslie Ann Downs). And of course, Twilight Zone. Monsters Are Due On Maple Street is the basis for our Russian Collusion.

But most of all, I had a crush on Joyce Davenport

exhelodrvr1 said...

Art if it makes you think/provides insights that are otherwise difficult to access

tim in vermont said...

There were no bad guys on the show, just people living their lives according to whatever personal code they'd cobbled together....

The Dude abides.

I guess the last show I can remember watching regularly before I dropped out of TV completely for a few years when I left for college was The Odd Couple. It was all neatly crafted comic situations, and if anybody's inner life was examined at all, it was pretty much only as comedic fodder, with just the tiniest daubs of pathos thrown in. I never cared for Hill Street Blues or any cop shows for that matter, but TV was sure different when I started watching again. Reno 911 and The Naked Gun? Now those are cop shows!

tim in vermont said...

Last night’s live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar was high art.


When Alice Cooper came on as King Herod, I had to think of Endora on Bewitched. And the singers in the '70s were better.

Rory said...

Hill Street Blues had wonderful dramatic moments, but it seems forgotten that it was probably the funniest show on TV from the time it premiered until Cheers showed up a year and a half later. Art doesn't have to be gloomy.


tim in vermont said...

I remember somebody in an interview making the comment that after Blazing Saddles, the old style westerns could no longer be made. But Mel Brooks gave us a model for the new western with The Cisco Kid. Maybe I will watch that one again today.

Roger Sweeny said...

Of course, that assumes there is something called "art".

"Duchamp? Monsieur Duchamp, please pick up the white courtesy phone."

Ron Winkleheimer said...

I loved Hill Street Blues, and looking back on it I would say that it was art, but at the time whether or not something was "art" wasn't on my radar. Looking back, I remember the cops inviting gang leaders to summits in order to try to control crime, which was a reflection of the leftist view at the time that the US was in decline and the best the authorities could do was manage the decline as well as possible. Reagan was the antithesis of that world view, so yep I would say that the debut of Hill Street Blues and Reagan becoming president were related.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

At least two geniuses, Nietzsche and Peter Gabriel, have said art emerges not from complete freedom, but from overcoming constraints--even if they are self-imposed. Michelangelo hurting his health by painting a ceiling, etc. TV has a history of hiring very bright people to work within a very confined medium: limited time, cheaper sets and production than the movies. (The movies have always had the resources to throw a fortune at nonsense, like a lot of the MGM singing-dancing-swimming movies; OK, some of that is art). In my mind, Hitchcock's TV show stands out more than Serling's Twilight Zone. Later Kolchak the Night Stalker. David Chase, the Sopranos show-runner, is now given a lot of credit for making that series as good as it was. In the 60s, if I'm honest, I think mainly of comedies, especially Get Smart. Wise-cracking, bordering on standup comedy, can pack a punch in the very constrained setting of TV. What about Dick Wolf, who worked on both Miami Vice and Hill Street, later taking police procedurals "back" to very few glimpses of personal lives? Is there art in "just the facts," unravelling a mystery?

Roger Sweeny said...

Art is like God. Everyone says God exists and is good. But no one can prove God exists or precisely define who exactly God is. (Cf. "omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent")

Virgil Hilts said...

I think I first realized what TV could be with I Claudius, which showed in the late 70s. I watched it with my parents. I cannot think of anything as good that was on television prior to 1980. It had better acting and more violence and sex than anything else you could see on American TV.

surfed said...

I quit watching tv in the mid 70's. I remember the moment distinctly. The show M.A.S.H went from semi-dark and cynical humour to a broader more SJW comedic form - and trite too. That said, Seinfeld was a revelation when I finally got around to it in reruns 10 years ago.

rehajm said...

I thought Homicide was better television than Hill Street Blues. Hill Street's characters were melodramatic...

'Iced Coffey' wins the award for best title for a TV episode.

FleetUSA said...

"Art" depends on the beholder -- eyes, ears, touch, smell...

We can all have different things which are artful to us, e.g. your art may be my trash.

tcrosse said...

We must distinguish between what is Art and what is Artsy.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

I actually haven't seen that many episodes of The Twilight Zone, but I have seen The Monsters Are Due on Main Street and it always struck me as bullshit. It is preachy and its message, "Don't give in to the paranoia about communism trying to take over the country" was wrong because:

1) Communists were trying to subvert the country's institutions covertly.
2) During a crisis people don't usually start shooting each other and generally acting irrationally, especially towards their neighbors who they actually know. In fact, people are very good at self-organizing to help each other out.

I think the episode with Billy Mumy,It's a Good Life," is brilliant though. You can feel the absolute terror and underlying anger that people would feel in such a situation. The acting and script are amazing.

I found some clips on youtube.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkJcFGvNgcY

Robert Cook said...

"At least two geniuses, Nietzsche and Peter Gabriel...."

??!!!

Tommy Duncan said...

"What is art?"

Where are Socrates and Euthyphro when we need them?

Robert Cook said...

"Anybody remember the Bochco show "Cop Rock" which featured a cop show as a musical? It wasn't a big hit. But was it art?"

It's all art. The question is, is it good art or bad art?

Fernandistien said...

...Ron Winkleheimer said...
The Monsters Are Due on Main Street and it always struck me as bullshit.


Yeah, the the fact it keeps getting mentioned is weird; we watched, or started to watch, a bunch of old T-Zones recently and they were mostly pretty embarrassing.

I think the episode with Billy Mumy,It's a Good Life," is brilliant though.

That, the one with Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery, and the one where the US Air Force lands in the old lady's attic.

Darrell said...

Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery

The episode was called "Two."

Most realistic male/female fight--for the canned goods--that I had ever seen up to that point.

Xmas said...

Oh...I forgot about "Commander in Chief". That was another "prepping us for a female president" show that Hollywood put out to get us psyched for President Hillary. Too bad Obama stole all her thunder in the 2008 election cycle.

"Madame Secretary" wasn't a bad show either...

Ralph L said...

Like SNL, Hill Street was new and different, but art?

Now all cop shows but the original L&O degenerate into soap opera eventually. Partly to get and hold a female audience, partly to give their overpaid regulars more to do, partly because the writers run out of gas and invention.

Robert Cook said...

The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street may be the most profound and timeless of many memorable Twilight Zone episodes. It depicts human psychology accurately, and illustrates the manipulated psychology of the American public from the end of WWII up to today. Of course, in real life, the manipulators behind the scenes are not aliens softening us up for invasion, but our government and its intelligence/propaganda apparatus.

Ralph L said...

Who can forget Peggy Fleming at Sun Valley? With Karen Carpenter on drums.

AllenS said...

United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio.[1][2][3] In explaining why the material at issue in the case was not obscene under the Roth test, and therefore was protected speech that could not be censored, Stewart wrote:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that


Art to people is just like obscenity -- they'll know it when and only when they see it.

Darrell said...

Most people didn't realize that Twilight Zone (and others) was a left-wing propaganda show. If the US would have adopted their point-of-view, like unilaterally disarming, we would not be here today. Cookie could live with that--if he were alive.

The Germans Have A Word For That. said...


I would say that a lot of TV has been done artistically: Sopranos, of late being an obvious example.

It can have the trappings of art: great cinematography, acting, themes, resonance.

It can have the pretensions of art: edgy, so-called ground-breaking, etc.

Mow, would I call it art?

Usually, no.

TV is episodic. There is rarely an arc that is made holistically: there are stories to fit a specified block of time that click together like Lego blocks. If a show is popular, there are a lot more Lego blocks. If a show is popular and chooses to end on it's own terms there may be a resolution of sorts, but that resolution is rarely encompassing of all that came before it.

(I am not using 'Twilight Zone' as an example because each episode was an entity to itself, and able to be evaluated as such.)

Characters may evolve, but incrementally -- to change too much undermines the stability needed for a show to continue in Lego Block chunks. Love interests come and go. Cast members may disappear due not to storylines but to salary demands.

And, as far as arc and resolution: was everything that came before it necessary? If you were to miss a few episodes have you missed anything essential to understanding the whole? Is the knowledge of a resolution informing the actor from the start?

Which, in the case the Sopranos*, is No. Sorry. Episodes were done artistically, and episodes may have been interesting, but if the show had gone on two years shorter or two years longer the effect would have been the same. Gandolfini's performance might be considered art, but the show itself is not.

(*Maybe 'Breaking Bad' would fit, but I have not seen the show, so will not hazard a guess.)

Perhaps an individual episode may work as art, but even then it's story is confined to the series' parameters: the unexpected can rarely be expected.

Don't even get me going on 'Game of Thrones'.

One show that might curiously fit the idea of art is 'Seinfeld'. Being that its theme is that people don't change, and everything is pretty much about nothing, every episode works as a piece of that framework. And you can miss an episode because nothing really matters, anyway. In that way, Senfeld is a variation on 'Waiting for Godot.' Which may or may not be art, depending on the observer.

The Germans Have A Word For That.

Michael K said...

I watched Hill Street Blues and was disappointed when it was cancelled. My understanding at the time was that it was too expensive to produce, with all the outdoor scenes. Cop shows moved indoors after that and I pretty much gave up TV.

rehajm said...

The Star Wars Holiday Special. It's bad but is it bad art?

Camp: bad art or good art?

SeanF said...

There were content restrictions, some of them jarring (the cops never used any curses milder than "damn" or "hell")

Say what?

tcrosse said...

NBC did a lot of very Artsy TV back in the early 1950's, in the golden age of live television. A lot of it is lost in the ether. I date the decline of TV from when production moved from New York to LA.

The Germans Have A Word For That. said...

I figured the Senfled/Godot connection was pretty obvious, and Google confirmed that. From the internet:

"What even *is* this?" was the general reaction at the premiere of Waiting for Godot in 1956, as fancy theater-goers stumbled about at intermission after an hour watching two men sit on a stage dressed in rags, with a lone tree the only set decoration, bantering back and forth like so:

VLADIMIR: Well, shall we go?
ESTRAGON: Yes, let's go.
They do not move.

Where theater had always been about the epic, about rises and falls, and deaths and marriages, Beckett purposefully staged a show in which nothing really happens at all. The main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, go through the show diddling about on stage, talking about doing something—leaving, hanging themselves—but always resigning themselves to simply wait longer for "Godot," who may or may not ever come.

Does it remind you of anything?

JERRY: What do we got?
GEORGE: An idea.
JERRY: What idea?
GEORGE: An idea for the show.
JERRY: I still don't know what the idea is.
GEORGE: It's about nothing.
JERRY: Right.
GEORGE: Everybody's doing something, we'll do nothing.

and

GEORGE: It became very clear to me sitting out there today that every decision I've made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat - it's all been wrong.

It's a comment on all of us: What are we doing? What does this all mean? Why do we feel guilty? What should we be doing?!

VLADIMIR: There is man in his entirety, blaming his shoe when his foot is guilty.

_____

Which makes me think of a comment Althouse wrote yesterday, about wanting to see rhhardin and The Crack Emcee in a movie like "My Dinner With Andre."

Along those lines, I'd love to watch those two do a performance of "Waiting for Godot."

What isn't said would be a play in itself.

The Germans have a word for this.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street may be the most profound and timeless of many memorable Twilight Zone episodes. It depicts human psychology accurately, and illustrates the manipulated psychology of the American public from the end of WWII up to today. Of course, in real life, the manipulators behind the scenes are not aliens softening us up for invasion, but our government and its intelligence/propaganda apparatus.

You only believe that because you have been manipulated into believing that. Wake up Cookie!

Bay Area Guy said...

AA returns to full Law Professor mode:

"What is art?"

A creative expression of beauty or ideas. Or maybe that's too facile - I know it when I see it.

"Is cynicism or complexity or density the key to answering the question?"

None of the above. The precise definition of "art" is uninteresting.

"Does it matter whether television can be art and whether a particular show was art or do you only want to talk about whether television is great?"

Yes, a TV show can be art, and Hill Street Blues was a great show, hence, good art.

"When is television art, but bad art?"

When the creative expression gets supplanted by Leftwing political expression.

"When is television not art, but nevertheless great?"

The old Crossfire tv show on CNN with Pat Buchanan and Michael Kinsley wasn't art, but was pretty great.

"Was there ever a TV show that made you think, like Seitz, hey, wait a minute, this isn't just TV, it's art!?"

Charlie's Angels - those 3 angels, particularly Farrah Fawcett, were definitely artistically beautiful.

"What's your favorite episode of "The Twilight Zone"?"

The one with Robert Redford as the angel of death, posing as a young cop.

"Is it the same episode that would make you say, that one was art!?"

Sure.

"Did you watch "Hill Street Street Blues"?"

Yes, was a huge fan.

"What impact did it have on you?"

Made me think cops were good, criminals were bad, and Frank Furillo was the standard for the most "reasonable" man in America.

"Did it open up new vistas of what television could be?"

I thought so. It made me care about the characters and care about criminal justice.

"Do you realize now — with our endless access to complicated, adult dramatic series on HBO and Netflix and Amazon — how different and important "Hill Street Street Blues" was in its time?"

Realized it then, realize it now.

"Do you think it had anything to do with Reagan?"

Not really. First, Hill Street Blues started slightly before Reagan, (as I recall). Second, Reagan was more about cutting taxes, fighting communism and projecting positive American values. HSB didn't really much of those 3, although it did project positive values of the police. Didn't push racist cop memes or Trayvon Martin type conflict.

Robert Cook said...

"I actually haven't seen that many episodes of The Twilight Zone, but I have seen The Monsters Are Due on Main Street and it always struck me as bullshit. It is preachy and its message, "Don't give in to the paranoia about communism trying to take over the country" was wrong because:

1) Communists were trying to subvert the country's institutions covertly.
2) During a crisis people don't usually start shooting each other and generally acting irrationally, especially towards their neighbors who they actually know. In fact, people are very good at self-organizing to help each other out."


The show was a fable, and wasn't specifically about "paranoia of communism trying to take over the country," (though that was certainly part of its sub-text). It was much broader: it was about how people can be easily manipulated by appeals to their fears to suspect any designated target as the enemy who, if not stopped now and with any means necessary, will destroy us!

The American people have been quite deftly manipulated to fear the Russians and the Vietnamese and the Iranians and the Iraqis and the terrorists (who are anyone we say they are, but, right now, mostly middle-eastern Muslims), etc. We have embarked on an ongoing half-century of murderous, criminal, and financially ruinous wars for no reason other than that our government has wanted to do so for its purposes, and has compelled the American people (through fear) to cheer them on.

The neighborhood in the show was a metaphorical microcosm of America, and, yes, we have been atomized and divided by appeals to our fears and biases.

Communists were never the danger to our country we were told they were, and there was no chance they were ever going to subvert our institutions. That had already been successfully accomplished by the CIA. The "commies" were just the handy amorphous everywhere-but-always-invisible-enemy-who-cannot-be-stopped that was replaced post-cold-war by "the terrorists," who, now subsiding in the public's mind as a fearsome enemy, are being supplanted by "the Russians," (again).

Roughcoat said...

M Squad and Naked City were two very good social realism cop shows that presaged Hill Street Blues. Twilight Zone was very left wing which makes sense because Rod Serling was a lefty. When I was kid it enthralled because of its science fiction/horror aspect; I didn't recognize the politics. The "Monsters" episode is indeed bullshit for reasons others have accurately articulated, and "High Noon" which had a similar theme was bullshit too. Americans don't act that way, they help each other. When I first saw "Monsters" as I kid I did not recognize the political allegory but I did think the characters' behavior was weird and unusual compared to the people in the neighborhood where I grew up. As for the Sopranos, I will commit heresy by saying I got bored with it after the first season, it became a soap opera.

Ralph L said...

"Shetland" has some beautiful and dramatic Scottish scenery. Does that count?

bolivar di griz said...

Of course they were, but they followed the gramscian method of institutional subversion, so subtle you don't even know it, this or the business, William Ayres went into through the Joyce foundation (that sponsored the chilsrens crusade) and the annemberg initiative.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Seriously, if you think that "in real life, the manipulators behind the scenes are not aliens softening us up for invasion, but our government and its intelligence/propaganda apparatus," then how do you know you're not the one being manipulated? I'm not saying you're wrong, but it seems to me that its pretty obvious that a lot of The Twilight Zone's episodes were propaganda and that "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" was one of those. Furthermore, the fact that it is always listed in "the best of" Twilight Zone episodes shows that it continues to be used for propaganda purposes. After all, wouldn't getting people to distrust their neighbors as irrational louts be a top priority for organizations wanting to increase their own power?

Darrell said...

Craith (Hidden) is even better than Shetland. Better storyline and equal scenery. The network was even letting foreigners (like us) watch legally on their webplayer.

Roughcoat said...

"Monsters" (Twilight Zone, and it was Maple Street not Main Street) was an early example of the liberal/leftist entertainment establishment (i.e., Hollywood) slandering Middle America people and values. The truth is, the pusiillanimous treacherous characters who lived on Maple Street were reflective of the attitudes and behavior of Hollywood not Middle America. In actual Middle America people would gotten out their firearms and banded together to fight the common threat. Same goes for High Noon which I mentioned in my previous post. The treacherous stab-in-the-back behavior of the suburban Americans in Monsters was really a description of Hollywood people and their corrupt ethos.

bolivar di griz said...

Michael burleigh in sacred causes, shows how TV and other media accelerated this pattern of unbelief in the UK for instance.

Roughcoat said...

I like Shetland, but where are the trees?

Ron Winkleheimer said...

The neighborhood in the show was a metaphorical microcosm of America, and, yes, we have been atomized and divided by appeals to our fears and biases.

RC, you claim that we are being manipulated by shadowy forces, which, once again, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with, but then you start citing an episode of the Twilight Zone as fable showing us how we are being manipulated. If that is true, then how did the show ever get aired in the first place?

The Cracker Emcee Classic said...

In my youth the idea of TV as art (or more succinctly, quality) was inextricably linked to Masterpiece Theatre. I, Claudius, certainly, but the show that completely changed my ideas of what television could be, and left me dissatisfied with what it was at the time, was the miniseries version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Blew my socks off.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

The first thing you need to do is ask yourself, "sure, I'm paranoid, but am I paranoid enough?" You look at The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street and see a fable about how we are being manipulated to distrust each other, I see propaganda designed to make us distrust each other.

Roughcoat said...

Does anyone else feel that "High Noon" and "Monsters" are similar in their themes and also because they have the take the same leftist arrogant elitist disparaging stance toward ordinary Americans? It's worth saying again: the communities depicted in High Noon and Monsters struck me, even as a kid, as exceptional in the worst way -- insofar as people (adults) I knew when I was a kid and the Midwestern communities in which I grew up were not at all like those depicted by Hollywood.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

@Roughcoat

Completely agree. The way the townspeople in High Noon acted never made any sense to me. They went west as settlers so you know they weren't cowards and had to have some familiarity with guns and violence. And working together for the common good. I don't care how bad ass an outlaw you are, you get met at the train station with 20 or so armed men, with some more with rifles positioned on rooftops and 2nd story windows, and you are going to turn around and get the hell back on the train.

Roughcoat said...

One of the most memorable (and, for me, artistic) television dramatizations was "Montserrat," a 1971 film adaptation of the Emmanuel Robl├Ęs play, starring Rip Torn.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

I mean, what was their plan? Let the one guy get killed, and expect the outlaws to go away and leave them alone? I guess the message of High Noon is that most people are cowardly and stupid? They won't even come together when they need to for self-preservation? Including people who have already shown by their actions that they are not afraid to take risks, dangerous risks?

William said...

Carney won an Academy Award, but his best role was on The Honeymooners. It was great Art.

tim in vermont said...

Seinfeld was the TV treatment of The Big Lebowski.

Roughcoat said...

Ron Winkleheimer:

All the tough-guy fathers I knew as a kid would have met Frank Miller and his gang at the train station and blown them to smithereens. What's more, they would have relished the opportunity to defend their community and stand up to the bad guys.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

I think a pretty good parody of High Noon would be the situation that I just described. Outlaws arrogantly get off the train, see the armed to the teeth and prepared towns folk, say, "oh shit" and get right back on the train. While on the train they could discuss the utility of ambush and not telling people you intend to kill when and where you are going to do so.

Roughcoat said...

Ron:

LOL!

Ron Winkleheimer said...

The word vigilante comes from "vigilance committees" which were formed in the Western Frontier by citizens to enforce the law when there were no law enforcement officers or they were ineffective or corrupt.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_Committee_of_Vigilance

Ralph L said...

I like Shetland, but where are the trees?

The sheep ate them.

William said...

Hill St Blues had the sprawl of a Dickens novel written for serialization. There was a kind of spontaneity to the way the plots unraveled and the characters developed. I think Dickens had only the most general idea of where the road would take his travelers in The Pickwick Papers.. Perhaps Hill St Blues was all scripted, but it seemed like real life, only with more drama and with more resolution to the drama......I was a big fan, but the show doesn't seem to have survived in reruns. The shows that have travelled between generations are mostly sitcoms and sci-fi shows. Police procedurals don't seem to make the cut.

bolivar di griz said...

Of course graves based I claudius on tacitus and Cassius dio two roman senators

William said...

The citizens of Northfield gave Jesse James and the Dalton brothers a hard time. The story has never been told from their point of view.

Darrell said...

I like Shetland, but where are the trees?

A better question is where are the ponies?

William said...

Courtesy of Amazion Prime, I recently watched a French show from the 1980's about the French Revolution. It was expensively produced and some scenes were filmed at the actual locations where they took place. It made some effort to be historically accurate and to use the real words of the protagonists involved. To dramatize the lusty nature of some characters like Mirabeau and Danton, they were shown getting handy with the serving wenches and maids. Nowadays, this would be dramatized as a "me, too" moment of exploitation and not as a sign of their high spirits. The French Revolution is no longer politically correct.

Roughcoat said...

The French Revolution is no longer politically correct.

Part of it is: The Terror.

tcrosse said...

I like Shetland, but where are the trees?

Aberdeen. But never mind that. How about the Cultural Appropriation of a Glaswegian actor playing Jimmy Perez ? Maybe Michelle Gomez was not available.

tim in vermont said...

I think as far as police dramas go, I went right from Flipper (OK, it's a stretch), Dragnet, and Adam Twelve, to Reno 911. Nothing in between.

Robert Cook said...

"The truth is, the pusiillanimous treacherous characters who lived on Maple Street were reflective of the attitudes and behavior of Hollywood not Middle America. In actual Middle America people would gotten out their firearms and banded together to fight the common threat."

What was the common threat? There was just a nebulous apprehension, and the neighbors were manipulated to believe first one, then another of their neighbors were possibly complicit in this non-specific "danger." There was no opportunity for them to band together, as, right from the start, each person's trustworthiness was impeached before the rest.

Actually, "The Monsters Are Out On Maple Street" is as much about Nazi Germany as about any sub-text having to do with the communists, (possibly more so). Germany was a highly advanced society shattered after the Great War and ridden with political strife and economic problems. Hitler was able to advance his power seeking by focusing on the Jews as the cause of Germany's problems. Enough Germans were able to be convinced of this, (aided by commonly shared anti-semitism) that they allowed their fellow Jewish citizens to be demonized, persecuted, rounded up, and shipped off to concentration camps. Why? What threat did the Jewish citizens of Germany pose, all of a sudden, to Germany as a nation? None, but Hitler was able to make them into a threat great enough that they needed to be removed from their society, merely by playing on the biases and fears of the citizenry.

William said...

One of the things I admire about great art is that it is not interrupted every fifteen minutes for a deodorant commercial. I watch a lot more television than ever before. I don't know if it's gotten better, but it's a lot easier to consume now that you no longer have to deal with tv ads. God bless Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Robert Cook said...

"The first thing you need to do is ask yourself, 'sure, I'm paranoid, but am I paranoid enough?' You look at The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street and see a fable about how we are being manipulated to distrust each other, I see propaganda designed to make us distrust each other."

No, I see a fable about how people can let their fears lead them into suspicion and hostility and rash actions. In this case, their fears were being manipulated by an external agency for its own purposes, and this does happen. However, I think the real point is that we must each look at the world around us rationally and clearly and try to determine, as best we can, what the known facts are, and refuse to let our fears direct our actions.

How is"Monsters" designed to make us distrust each other? Because it depicts the neighbors as each (except for Claude Akins) being so timorous and easily aroused to impulsive action? I think it's more to point out that we must, in fact, not allow our fears to divide us, but must work together to arrive at a considered, rational, unified response to dangers that are real, rather than react chaotically to phantasms of danger.

Kevin said...

Monty Python's Flying Circus. Probably I, Claudius too. Then not again, to that extent, until the new Golden Age of Television started with Buffy, the Sopranos, and The Wire. There were hints through the years with shows on the edge like Twin Peaks, China Beach, and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.

Sarah from VA said...

Was there ever a TV show that made you think, like Seitz, hey, wait a minute, this isn't just TV, it's art!?

I'm dating myself here as much younger than the regular Althouse-ian, but the first thing that came to mind was the Avatar: The Last Airbender Cartoon. I remember being STUNNED by the beauty of certain segments. The final battle (Agni Kai) between siblings Zula and Azuko is a prime example.

I first encountered that show in my late teens. We didn't have cable growing up, and I have lots of younger siblings, so my TV consumption until then was mostly of the less-art-like Saturday Morning Cartoon variety.

I was shown a few Twilight Zone episodes in my high school classes, but they failed to make a serious impression on me at that time. Sitting in a desk, smelling the gym smells wafting down the halls, etc, probably didn't help.

Saint Croix said...

Twin Peaks, I think. If I had to pick the most artistic show I've ever seen. The Decalogue is another one. That's Polish television, though.

Also the music video for Sabotage

David Lynch, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Spike Jonze.

Interestingly, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is horrible. Even the episodes he directed are really bad. I was shocked at how bad that show is. And I think he's one of the greatest artists who ever lived.

Saint Croix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

As an American boy in the seventies, I saw plenty on TV that scared, disturbed, or upset me: the bigotry and brutality of Roots; naked prisoners being led into a gas chamber on Holocaust; Farrah Fawcett's torment in The Burning Bed. But I didn't realize commercial TV could be art, or even aspire to artfulness, until I started watching Hill Street Blues.

Comedy, too, is art.

I'm sure Mr. Serious watched Sesame Street at least once. And Road Runner. He just wasn't paying attention.

Saint Croix said...

The big screen is better for visual artists, because it's a bigger canvas. Writers have way more control over the production in television. So if you think words are more important than images to the art of moving pictures, you could easily argue that television is way more artistic than big screen cinema today.

Television seems like a short story, since the episodes are so brief. But if you think about it, television is way closer to an epic. You can follow characters over many, many hours, way longer than you stay with any characters in a film.

And there used to be commercial interruptions, although that has largely disappeared from my watching.

Howard said...

Robert Cook: The response to your interpretation of "Monsters" is a manifestation of the ideological brainwashing required to convince people to send their children off to foreign lands to slay dragons that are actually paper tigers.

William said...

People seem to be taking the view that tv shows they like a lot are great art. I've got bad taste. The things I like the most are rarely great art.......@Robert Cook. There Have been any number of shows about anti-Communist hysteria. I've never seen a show about pro-Communist hysteria. Ethel Rosenberg, for example, laid down her life to further the ideals and goals of Josef Stalin. She wasn't evil in the way that Benedict Arnold was evil, but she was a damned fool. I'd like to see a treatment of her that dramatizes her wrong headedness and the pro Communist hysteria of her supporters.

rcocean said...

Martin Zietz - what a pretentious liberal wanker. What 13 y/o Boy was being "deeply touched by" the Holocaust (check Jews box) Roots (check black box) and the Burning Bed (check Feminism box) in the 1970's?

Its typical that he thinks "Art" is political propaganda or showing sex or excessive violence.

And I hated Hill Street Blues, except for Franz and the black-white detective team. Everyone else was boring or pretentious. Especially, that awful Captain Trillio and his horrible wife.

rcocean said...

TV occasionally does something of lasting value, which I suppose is art. But it seems to occur mostly by accident.

How many people are watching Hill Street Blues or ER today?

Ann Althouse said...

"what a pretentious liberal wanker"

LOL.

But I'm more pretentious in that I think his selections are melodrama and middle brow.

JimT Utah said...

It has always seemed to me that whatever in movies can be called art was done first by Charlie Chaplin and subsequently became the standard approach. In a similar manner, I am convinced that TV is hugely in debt to Ernie Kovacs, especially live TV. He mastered the capabilities of the small screen just as Chaplin mastered the capabilities of the large, marking the path the rest have followed. Far too many TV shows are just radio with pictures. You can get it all, even if you are in a different room, just listening. Ernie Kovacs was not so. You had to watch, or be left wondering what was going on for minutes at a time.

tcrosse said...

Low-res monochrome live TV was an entirely different medium from today's hi-res colour recorded product. As with silent movies, some artists managed to do great work within its limitations.

grimson said...

"Topics I'm inviting you to discuss . . ."

Sorry, but that cannot work in the comments section of Althouse, because it does not use threads, where different topics could be addressed in different threads.

Having a single thread leads to a different kind of comment section--neither better nor worse, but definitely different.

tastid212 said...

Funny, I was just thinking about the character Sipowicz while out walking this morning. He was a good man and a good detective, who wanted to do the right thing but he was usually impeded by his alcoholism and prostate trouble and all the lazy-ass pencil pushers he had to contend with. So it was wonderful when Franz the actor was cast in one of the Die Hard movies -- as a lazy-ass pencil pusher. The contrast of his past and present roles was perfect.

langford peel said...

If you ever saw an episode of "The Honeymooners" you would never ask if TV could be art.

Jim at said...

Hill Street Blues had wonderful dramatic moments, but it seems forgotten that it was probably the funniest show on TV from the time it premiered until Cheers showed up a year and a half later.

Indeed. Never missed the show when it first aired and now introducing it to my wife on Heroes and Icons. There is subtle humor along with outright hilarious stuff. Things that would never make the cut today.

A serious show that could - and did - cover every emotion. Still holds up after all these years.

Deanna said...

Mazo Jeff said...

"Yes, the television shows back then were art. In addition, I remember Omnibus Theater, live production of Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella (Leslie Ann Downs)." LOVED that prod. of Cinderella as a child and still do today. I would add Masterpiece theater and the made-for-TV Hallmark specials to the list, especially Barabbas.

tim in vermont said...

"I remember somebody in an interview making the comment that after Blazing Saddles, the old style westerns could no longer be made. But Mel Brooks gave us a model for the new western with The Cisco Kid. Maybe I will watch that one again today."

I looked, and didn't see a Mel Brooks/Cisco Kid connection so I thought perhaps tim was referring to The Frisco Kid, but no Brooks connection there either; so I'm confused, though the Frisco Kid is a great movie.

Rory said...

I think maybe he meant "The Waco Kid," played by Gene Wilder.