Classic TV is Bad TV

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.

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158 Responses

  1. Pyre says:

    No, it doesn’t when you think about it.  Yes, there have been some cultural shifts (Transformers was one of the first cartoons that said “Kids DO have the attention span to follow a multi-part show.” which may be why it holds up relatively well.) but, for the most part, I doubt that TV has gotten any better as a whole.

    Pre-90s, we had three channels to four channels.  The cable stations were mostly movies or video games.  Sure, MTV was experimenting a bit with shows but, until Beavis and Butthead/the anime explosion, MTV’s shows were in the same category as Sci-Fi originals in terms of how good they were.

    Now, we have a thousand channels with a corresponding increase in shows.  Given how many channels/shows there are, there will also be a lot more good shows which makes it seem that TV has gotten better.  However, it’s very likely that the ratio of good to bad is probably about the same.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Pyre says:

      Maybe that’s true. 2% of all shows are always non-crap, or something.

      But I’d think it’s much easier to get a show on the air now, with more channels. With fewer gatekeepers. Back when you could only have a few shows, why didn’t they pick better ones? In a situation where you can only have a few shows, you’d expect a higher percentage of them to be quality, not the same.Report

      • Pyre in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        *shrug*  Why don’t we do that now?

        Some of it is societal/cultural shifts.  Back then, the teenage daughter on the show might complain “Mooommm!!!  [Younger brother] looked at my diary.”  Now it’d be “Mooommm!!!  Noone is looking at my online diary.”  The 80s pushed a lot of dystopian cyberpunk notions that Megacorporations would rule the earth.  Then the 90s said “No, the truth is out there but the government is the real big bad.”

        Some of it is timing/luck.  Star Trek did horribly initially but eventually became what it is today.  Brimstone (This one was admittedly a 90s show) was criminally underappreciated and was cancelled way too early.  (Would Brimstone have been able to get the fan support/second chance that Firefly did if the internet had been active at the time?)  Shows used to see the time slot as a life-death struggle.  If you got a bad one or, worse, a shifting one, you were doomed.  Tivo has eliminated a little of that but it is still a big factor.

        Sometimes shows are eliminated for unrelated reasons.  Mortal Kombat:Konquest, while not a classic, was a highly entertaining show which had great ratings.  It didn’t get a second season solely because of corporate politics.

        But most of it is what the perceived ROI of the show is.

        Why does reality TV flourish?  Are we really going to look back ten years from now and fondly remember that crossover episode where Snooki and Kim Kardashian hooked up and were totally BFFs?

        No.  However, it’s cheap to start a reality show.  It’s cheap to produce one.  It’s cheap to eliminate one.  If you throw enough of them at a wall and combine it with American voyeurism, you may get another Jersey Shore.

        Quality, on the other hand, is a big gamble.  JMS had to shop Babylon 5 around for years and a lot of his rejection notices centered around the proposed cost of the show and the reliance on an audience to follow a semi-continuous story for 5 years.  In less determined hands, the show would never have aired a pilot episode much less gotten the run that it did.  As it stands, JMS had to nearly kill himself to get the whole run done and, even then, some of fourth/fifth season had to be compressed because he was told during fourth that he wasn’t going to get a fifth.Report

      • Fnord in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Not necessarily.

        A high bar discourages risk-taking. It pushes everything towards safe, standardized pablum.Report

      • Barnum in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        You’re asking this question in an age when network TV has become largely the home of completely terrible “reality tv” shows.

        They still don’t pick good ones.Report

    • Devlin Thompson in reply to Pyre says:

      Actually, a fair percentage of kid’s shows of the fifties and early sixties (and a majority majority of action/adventure shows) were serialized, from Time For Beany to Captain Video to Bullwinkle. Plus, local stations ran actual theatrical serials frequently up until the shift to all-color programs in the seventies. Transformers was something of a throwback, really, though, even at that point, there had been a good many imported shows from Japan that were serials, notably Battle of the Planets.Report

  2. Chris says:

    When TV signals switched to digital back in June of ’09, the networks suddenly had extra channels (instead of just 42, they have 42.1, 42.2, 42.3, and so on), and initially tried a lot of things to make money on those extra channels. One local channel created a 24-hour weather channel, for example, but most just ran syndicated networks. In Austin, most of these are now Spanish-language networks, but for the first few months after the conversion, the local CBS affiliate gave us Retro TV. With Retro TV, I could watch shows from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, including Leave it to Beaver, Adam 12, Emergency! (properly pronounced “Emergency, exclamation point”), Daniel Boone, Ironside, The Incredible Hulk, Knight Rider, The A-Team, and so, so much more. I loved every minute I watched of that network, and I miss it terribly now (though its lineup has apparently gotten pretty less interesting since ’09). But I also learned that 60s television was awful, just plain awful, while 70s television was significantly better, and 80s television somewhere in between (I think you’re underselling The Cosby Show, but then the 80s did give us shows like Hunter and Full House). I think this is probably a cyclical thing: the early 90s may have given us Twin Peaks, X-Files, Homicide: Life on the Street, and Seinfeld, but the late 90s gave us late seasons Seinfeld, the dominance of Friends, X-Files after it had jumped the shark, and little else. Even the early 2000s, with a few notable exceptions, sucked ass TV-wise, especially since reality TV came to dominate during that period. Now TV is back, in part I think because of the relatively new popularity of basic cable network shows like those on FX, USA, AMC, etc. I hope the quality keeps up, but if Retro TV taught me anything, it was to expect that TV to suck ass again pretty soon.Report

  3. Mike Dwyer says:

    I admit I am a sucker for many of the 80s sitcoms and also some of the late 70s shows. I used to love Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

    I also believe 100% that this is a Golden Age of American television. My DVR can barely keep up. AMC alone has much credit to claim for this but there are also many other great shows out there. It’s also nice that you can say you love TV now without feeling slightly embarrassed.Report

    • Bad-ass Motherfisher in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      I was disappointed to see that Rose left Hill Street Blues off her list of great shows, because it let her to date the beginning of the quality, ambitious network show to Twin Peaks, a show that didn’t appear until 10 years later.

      Hill Street was incredibly ambitious–it was the first cop show to portray police with nuance, moral ambiguity, and empathy.  It was the first television show of which I’m aware that had the density of a feature film;  and it was the first show to have non-pat, non-episodic narrative arcs.     In the first season, in particular, it was absolutely groundbreaking television, and I believe that it was the true godfather of all of amazing cable shows that followed fifteen or twenty years later, including the Sopranos.

      If you have the opportunity, try to rent  (or stream) the first season of Hill Street Blues.   It really did redefine what television was capable of, in 1981.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Bad-ass Motherfisher says:

        Hill Street Blues was an exception and belongs on the list, yes. And better than Twin Peaks for that matter.

        But I’m thinking it’s an exception, not a turning point. Because most other stuff on TV in its wake (as in the whole 80s) was still mostly crap.Report

        • Bad-ass Motherfisher in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

          There was a little mini-renaissance on television around the time of Hill Street Blues — largely driven by Grant Tinker’s production company,  MTM  (Tinker later became president of NBC).

          Among the very good shows from the period (none quite up to the standard of Hill Street Blues) were:

          St Elsewhere  (MTM, very much modeled on Hill Street Blues)
          Buffalo Bill  (Dabney Coleman was one of the gems of that period)
          The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd
          The Duck Factory

          Also, television of that day also had:

          Miami Vice   (the first couple seasons were quite good)
          Max Headroom (as ambitious as anything on TV today)
          Star Trek:  The Next Generation (yes, I’m serious)

          In fact, I remember the critics of the day opining that television was having a second Golden Age.    There were a lot of good shows from 1981 – 1988.     And a lot of bad ones, too (Manimal, anybody?)Report

  4. JohnQ says:

    I kind of have to say “bah” to your over-generalization of pre-1990 TV.  You do a good job of picking out quality TV shows from that time period, but then you lay claim to “classics”/”quality shows” from more recent years by listing some commercially viable shows that really aren’t that good.  The Office – US version is pretty much unwatchable (“hey – look…. he did something awkward again!  brilliant!).  30 Rock?  Funny, but I don’t believe it will be included in the same tier as Seinfeld in a decade.

    In fact, looking at the lists of quality shows from pre-1990 and 1990-on, those pre-1990 shows will remain on the “top shows ever on TV” list for many decades to come, yet I’d be willing to bet over half the newer shows will drop off, with the possibility of some being included in lists of shows “more interesting for their cultural information rather than any aesthetic value.”Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to JohnQ says:

      I meant the British Office. Never saw the American.

      Curious to see what happens to 30 Rock. I had an old film prof who theorized that comedy is the least likely to survive the test of time. I currently find Modern Family funny; I’m guessing that one definitely won’t last well.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        It’s definitely harder for sitcoms to hold up. They are too much about culture and the topic of the moment. I LOVED Friends in the 90s. I still watch it in re-runs occassionally. It does ok but it feels like it has an expiration date. Hour-long dramas fare much better.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        It depends on the type. Some of the simpsons won’t hold up well, because people will forget michael jackson… etc. Topical humor is the worst, in terms of lasting effect.

        Pretty sure things like slapstick (3stooges/marx brothers) and the truly complicated (Upright Citizens Brigade, Arrested Development) will hold up well.

        Roseanne? not so much (ditto Tool Time, or Married with Children). A lot of the humor came from “you can’t do that on tv!”Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    Some free associations:

    Would “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” hold up today? From what I recall, it was scathing in its humor… and, if I recall correctly, had only the one season.

    I read somewhere that contemporaneous people read Goethe’s Faust for the arguments given by the good doctor against Mephistopheles… and, of course, today  we only read it for Mephistopheles and boggle at how he was given the best lines and find Faust himself to be dull.

    In any given discussion of Shakespeare’s plays, some mention of “horns” always comes up and after a handful of sentences devoted to discussions of what these may refer to, it’s usually pointed out that there’s also the possibility that it was just thrown in there for a cheap laugh because the folks at the time thought that horns were just really funny.

    Culture does a lot of heavy lifting.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Jaybird says:

      Yes. I’ve been thinking lately about the value of “passing the test of time” as a criterion for aesthetic value. I have mixed feelings.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        My problem with that criterion is that it’s only one way.

        I suspect that there are a number of Three Stooges bits that would do very well even in Ancient Rome. The plumbers walk in carrying lengths of pipe. A pretty girl walks down the hallway. The plumbers turn to watch her walk and the lengths of pipe hit each other in the head.

        It’s funny because it’s true.

        Could we take, oh, “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and turn it into “Yeoman, Where’s My Wagon?” and get a laugh? I dunno. Maybe.

        “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”, however, would not (absolutely not) work without the messages from the sponsors. I don’t know that kids today even know what wax floors are.

        Edit: More importantly, I don’t know that (enough) folks in the 30’s would know what they are.Report

        • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

          Oh, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman reminds me of another great 80s show, Newheart. “My name is Larry. This is my brother Daryl, and this is my other brother Daryl.”Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

            Would that have worked in the 1840’s? “I’m Jedadiah, this is my brother Thaddeus and this is my other brother Thaddeus.”

            Maybe not the first time but maybe the fact that they show up every episode… by the time the play hits the theater on Thursday night (season two), maybe Jedadiah showing up with his two brothers in tow would get the audiences’ feet stamping and have everyone whistling in the exact way that a “live studio audience” is expected to react to the regular characters showing up.Report

            • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

              “Would that have worked in the 1840?s? “I’m Jedadiah, this is my brother Thaddeus and this is my other brother Thaddeus.”

              I think it would have worked.  I can see a group of settlers in Oklahoma giggling, “Oh my! They named one of the brothers Jedediah instead of Thadeus as well!  How very modern!”Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

      Like I’ve said elsewhere, it would be funny to see what people in the year 2600 thought of The Family Guy.  Like if they thought that Stewie and Brian were supposed to be actual adult humans who were only depicted as a baby and a dog, as some kind of allegorical statement about their nature.Report

  6. Kimmi says:

    What happened?

    The end of Bunnicula.

    It takes talking to a writer to understand the degree to which Television Shows were censored (and are still, though to a much lesser degree! No to knives and small children, yes to nuclear weapons and small children! — no, I don’t write the rules.)Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Kimmi says:

      Like George Carlin said.  “You can talk about effing.  You can describe effing.  You can show characters getting ready to eff, or starting to eff.  You can even, depending on how you shoot it, show characters actually effing.  But you cannot even mention that people fart.”Report

  7. Tod Kelly says:

    Great post.  A few things:

    *** FWIW, I don’t think the comparison between your students not liking old movies and your not liking classic TV is a fair one.  Back in the day, TV shows were made on the cheap, and there was an industry assumption that in order to be profitable with advertising as the sole revenue stream TV shows had to be willing to make due, by and large, with hurried lowest-common-denominator writing, “cost-effective” acting and -really – very little if any direction, lighting, etc.  (I grew up in Valencia, CA, and right outside of town there was a park that featured natural desert rock formations called Vasquez Rocks.  If you made a TV show prior to, say, 1985 and you had any kind of wilderness scenes – be they dessert, tropical island, alien planet, Africa, Asia, South America, etc., you just went and shot it at Vasquez Rocks Park. It was cheap and right there.)  Movies before the days of Netflix, DVRs, and widespread DVDs or videos, needed to be profitable by pure headcount – and that headcount needed to be people willing to leave their homes and travel to wherever the nearest theatre was.  Because of this, all the elements of quality that were seen as unnecessary in TV were seen as a base requirement in movies.

    When I was growing up the universal assumption was that movies were always better than TV shows, and that even so-so movies were bound to be superior to the highest quality TV shows.  Before reading your post I’d have guessed HBO was the harbinger of change, but now I think I agree that Twin Peaks might be a better bet.  But things certainly have changed.  I don’t get out to see a lot of movies in the theatre these days, but I see a few.  And I’m not sure that most of the movies I have seen over the past pew years have been as good as Mad Men, or Game of Thrones, or the Wire.  I was excited about the new Star Trek (and thought that it delivered), but I was excited about it because the new guy at the helm was a guy that made quality TV shows.  The Avengers seems like the kind of movie that will inevitably be crap (and this from a big Super Heroes movie guy), because the Dracula Meets Frankenstein Greatest Hits style movies are always crap – but I am holding out hope because the guy who wrote and directed it isn’t James Cameron of Michael Bay, but Joss Fishing Whedon.

    *** The worst – the worst – is going back and re-watching shows that you remember loving and realizing that they were only great in comparison to sh**tier programs.  Some of my very favorites, like It Takes a Thief, or The Persuaders with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis, I refuse to track down now because I like remembering them as wonderful.

    *** I don’t know if this means anything or is just coincidence, but when I think of the shows that are pre-1985 or so that I think still hold up, the ones that come to mind are Python, Faulty Towers, Black Adder, Doctor Who, and The Prisoner.  The common denominator, I believe, is that none of these were made in America – I’m pretty sure they are all BBC vehicles.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Interesting that all those BBC shows were probably even lower budget than the American, yet still were better.

      And I agree – rare is the movie these days that I like as much as the best TV.Report

      • Matty in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        One possible issue is that BBC funding is a lot more insulated from viewer numbers than advertising is so there isn’t the same pressure to lowest common denominator writing and acting. The BBC producer can afford to have 50 people hate their show and 50 love it, the same guy on an advertising funded channel would rather have 100 who can tolerate and don’t switch off.Report

        • James K in reply to Matty says:

          I’d suggest series length as a big factor.  For one thing it’s easier to write 6 good episodes than 20 good episodes.  For another, shorter series means more shows, roll the dice more times and you get more high-quality programmes.Report

          • Will Truman in reply to James K says:

            I agree on the second point. A few years ago I would have agreed with the first, but American TV has found a way to make a very large number of episodes work, and accomplish something that’s harder to accomplish in 6 episode seasons. I think each format (and other formats, such as Anime’s 26-and-done) have their advantages and drawbacks.Report

          • Simon K in reply to James K says:

            BBC funding is insulated from actual popular opinion, but that doesn’t really help because the amount of actual funding is still really small. Of course its not at all insulated from elite opinion, hence the enormous amounts of investment in historical and wildlife documentaries, classical music, opera and state occasions. The shorter series length definitely helps – I’m noticing more and more US TV series going to shorter series instead of 23 episode monsters. The Walking Dead has BBC-like series lengths, although admittedly with 2 series a year rather than one. I suspect the other factor is the cost of good actors – I can’t imagine Nigel Tennant got paid nearly as much for playing Doctor Who, or Paul Darrow nearly as much for playing Avon, as Patrick Steward got for Captain Pickard, in spite of fairly similar past histories.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      It’s also possible that the actors on the BBC programs had more actual acting under their belt.  Early TV was more like a filmed stage play, with limited numbers of actors and sets and no possibility of re-takes, and so it helps to have a cast that’s used to working that way.Report

      • MikeSchilling in reply to DensityDuck says:

        In American TV, the characters (esp. the women) have to be improbably good-looking, which cuts way down on the talent pool.   Not true for the BBC.  There wasn’t one woman in I, Claudius sexy enough to play one of the leads in HBO’s Rome.Report

    • Bad-ass Motherfisher in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      *** The worst – the worst – is going back and re-watching shows that you remember loving and realizing that they were only great in comparison to sh**tier programs.

      My own heartbreak came from watching a couple episodes of Lost in Space a few years ago on the SciFi channel.   When I was a kid, that show was my be-all and end-all–I had to bribe babysitters to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch the second half of the show.

      Boy, my standards have changed quite a bit since I was eight…


      • Most of the cartoons I watched as a kid have not held up at all. I’m told Transformers does, but I was never a fan. After going back and watching some GI Joe, Thundercats, and (especially) Voltron, I have an extreme appreciation for how great cartoons are today.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Will Truman says:

          The original Golion is actually more fun than Voltron.  The devastated alien-controlled planet was actually Earth, and the monsters that Voltron dismembered were actually mutated human slaves.Report

    • James K in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      but when I think of the shows that are pre-1985 or so that I think still hold up, the ones that come to mind are Python, Faulty Towers, Black Adder, Doctor Who, and The Prisoner

      I’d add Yes Minister / Prime Minister to that list, seriously if you get a chance to watch it, do so.  You’d think a 30 year old political comedy wouldn’t hold up, but it really does.Report

    • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Tod!    You grew up in Valencia?

      I’m a Valley Baby, myself (Tarzana).   We were practically neighbors!Report

  8. Sam says:

    It should be realized that, 30 years from now, the shows we are collectively celebrating (like Breaking Bad or The Wire or Justified or Mad Men or whatever) will be seen as tired, worn out shows, just as we see shows produced 30, 40, 50 years ago. We revel in the production of our time (while occasionally giving praise to a few things from earlier, although with a knowing wink that it wasn’t as good as what we’re doing now) because we bias so heavily to our times and our own actors and our needs and our desperate belief that what we’re experiencing is best. Soon though, we’ll all be those tired cliches of 60’s hippies, telling the world that they didn’t know how good things were in the early 2000’s.

    As for claims about television being somehow provably better – to whom? To us? Perhaps. To people that came of age enjoying All In The Family and now boggle at Modern Family? Perhaps not. And neither group is more right. But I’ll avoid going too far down that rabbit hole (for the millionth time).Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Sam says:

      But I’ll avoid going too far down that rabbit hole (for the millionth time).

      Had you said something similar previously?



      • Sam in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Yes, yes, I am tired on this issue. Just ask my (former) friends. Let’s not dare begin a conversation on the idea that things can be enjoyed “ironically.”Report

        • Tod Kelly in reply to Sam says:

          Nah, not tired.  Actually, that week or so of art appreciation posts is among my favorite periods here.Report

        • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Sam says:

          I’m sure there’s some effect there (see above for test of time thoughts). But it doesn’t happen to me at all with movies. Or plays. Or novels. Or visual art. Or music. Or poetry. Or dance. (I’m running out of art forms here….)

          But then again, I gather you and I start from ineliminably different concepts of aesthetic goodness, anyway.Report

          • Sam in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

            Well of course we do. Everybody has different concepts of aesthetic goodness. But I’ll note that we seem to share many shows: of the ones you listed, I love at least eight of them.

            My point is simply that there are plenty of people who believe that their art is the best. That’s the reason I offered up the guy from the 1960’s. Surely we’ve met them. They inexplicably believe that The Doors represented the peak of musical achievement and everything before and after is garbage. They bias toward the art that means the most to them, and then transpose that meaning in factual realities about the art itself, rather than simply being reflective of their own preference. So back in 1980, All In The Family was the peak of television accomplishment for some people. Now, we look back and think, “Meh. Breaking Bad is vastly superior.” But in 30 years, somebody is going to do that same thing to Breaking Bad with whatever the best shows at the time are (Season 600 of the Kardashians or whatever).Report

            • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Sam says:

              Okay. I will do a Whose Preferences Should Set the Standard of Aesthetic Goodness and Why the Rest of Us Should Listen to Them if Our Taste Doesn’t Already Accord with Them post soon. And we can duke it out then.Report

              • Sam in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:


                Critics and academics tend to create the canons, although rich donors help too. I’m not sure how applicable that is in something like television, but it certainly is true in various artistic forms, which explains how so much of various canons can so oddly overlap with those things personally preferred by those individuals and how much not personally preferred by those individuals can be excluded from the conversation.

                I’ll be happy to duke it out with you over these topics, but I’m unlikely disagree with you on the mechanism so much as the relative correctness of the assertion.Report

              • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Sam says:

                Except I think it’s possible those canons could be wrong. If those canons were the ones we should rely on, then I agree, there would be no reason to cultivate our taste to anything similar. (Possibly academics, although they get caught up in their own bizarre trends…). I don’t argue from existing canons, I argue what should set the standard of what belongs in a canon (which may or may not largely overlap with what is currently in the canon).Report

            • Will Truman in reply to Sam says:

              But in 30 years, somebody is going to do that same thing to Breaking Bad with whatever the best shows at the time are (Season 600 of the Kardashians or whatever).

              This is likely, but I think it’s also as likely as not to be correct. I suspect that the best of TV, 30 years from now, will be better than it is today. There may come a point when it reaches its apex and then just has to move in different subjective directions, but I don’t think TV is there at present. I do think that music is there, which is why most people “check out” at a certain point. The main difference between music today and music twenty years ago is a matter of preference. With movies, I think they also hit the stride at some point and it’s only (or mostly) movie genres that used to be generally bad (such as superhero movies) wherein the last ten years has represented a great improvement.

              TV, though, has only recently started really hitting its stride. By which I mean, becoming able to exploit the strengths of the genre. Plots that last entire seasons. A half-dozen threads at any given time. Sex and violence (thanks, cable). Either they have more places to go (which is possible) or they’re about to hit the apex (or already have) and it won’t get better, only different, and we’ll be arguing about it 30 years from now the same way we argue about music now (“The 80’s was the best!” “No, the 60’s!” “No, the 90’s!”).

              I believe that different media hold up differently. A while back I read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, which holds up remarkably well. Novels, by the point it was written, had hit a level of quality that is not all that much different from what is being produced today. Then I watched the movie with Bogart. It…. didn’t hold up so well, despite being based on the same base. A lot of it was technical, but it was also that the movie industry did not yet know what it was doing. The differences between then and now, in my view, actually go beyond taste (preferring music from this era over that era) and into something more substantive. Books had few ways to advance. Film had many ways. Right now, I think film has few ways to advance (outside of technical quality), but TV has only recently begun to see itself as a way to entertain people in more than 30-minute or one-hour chunks.

              So, to look 30 years ahead, the main question is how much more can figure out. Given the flexibility of storylines that can last hours and hours and hours, it could easily be that 30 years from now they’ll be putting out stuff that makes Breaking Bad look like Perry Mason. Or it may be more like comparing Chris Brown to Dan Fogelberg.Report

              • To follow up, I think you can see this to a degree by even looking within television. Comedies stopped improving my leaps and bounds since, I think, Cheers. There hasn’t been all that much in the way of innovation since then. In dramas, we live in an era of innovation. Kinds of shows that exist that either didn’t exist before or were extremely unusual (and therefore not mastered). I can’t think of a single comedy on the air that is remotely as original and innovative as what we have on the drama end.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

                I think the few improvisational comedy shows might be evidence of new directon.  “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was great and “The League” (currently on FX) is hilarious in a sophomoric way.  I don’t know if anyone else has tried it, but it is an interesting wrinkle to the formula and has worked very well for at least those two shows…Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

                Have you watched the Upright Citizens Brigade? How about Arrested Development?

                Comedies have been improving — or going sideways, if you’d rather, alongside the developments in improvReport

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Will Truman says:

                A while back I read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, which holds up remarkably well. Novels, by the point it was written, had hit a level of quality that is not all that much different from what is being produced today. Then I watched the movie with Bogart. It…. didn’t hold up so well, despite being based on the same base. A lot of it was technical, but it was also that the movie industry did not yet know what it was doing. The differences between then and now, in my view, actually go beyond taste (preferring music from this era over that era) and into something more substantive.

                Since I’m busy being demandy on this thread: you need to make this into a post.

                Also, explain why The Big Sleep (movie) doesn’t hold up as well as The Maltese Falcon (movie) in spite of carrying the same guy as the lead.Report

              • {shrink} I’ve never seen Maltese Falcon, actually…


              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Will Truman says:

                I just punched you through the Internet.  On the shoulder, but still…Report

              • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

                The Maltese Falcon is required viewing!Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Will Truman says:

                Kids these days….Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Huston’s Maltese Falcon is the book, and the book is an eternal classic. The Big Sleep is a softened, Hollywood version of Chandler, and that shows.  (Though it does have one of the best “Why, Miss Jones, without your glasses …” scenes ever.)Report

              • My issue with TBS isn’t the departures from the book, though. It’s more like it couldn’t convey the suspense of the book and (this part is as much technical as not) couldn’t convey the experience of it. I’ll take Rose’s and your words that it is an unusually bad conversion, though it seems a general thing that old books hold up better than old movies, in my experience. I’ll check out Maltese Falcon.


              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Will Truman says:

                Sydney Greenstreet.  Holy crap.Report

              • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Will Truman says:

                The Big Sleep is perhaps not the best example. If you read the production history, it was basically completely insane. (See: and AN example of Hoe Not to Make a Movie. THat it holds up even at all is kind of noteworthy.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

                From what I’ve heard (not seen) The Long Goodbye is a much better example of filmed Chandler.Report

              • Rose Woodhouse in reply to DensityDuck says:

                It’s tonally quite different from Chandler (and sometimes a parody). Definitely worth seeing, though.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

                Could I *BE* more of a noir movie?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

                It took me two days to get that one.Report

    • Chris in reply to Sam says:

      You know, when I was growing up in the 80s, I didn’t just grow up on 80s television. In fact, for much of my childhood, since I couldn’t stay up late enough to watch much prime time television, most of my TV viewing consisted of all of the syndicated shows (back then, there were entire channels for just syndicated shows) from previous decades. So despite growing up in the 80s, my television was stuff like I Love Lucy, Davy Crocket, Daniel Boone, The Andy Griffith Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Jeffersons, Hogan’s Heroes, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Three’s Company, Sanford and Son, Happy Days, Laverne and Shriley, The Beverly Hill Billys, The Adam’s Family, The 6 Million Dollar Man, Gilligan’s Island, Taxi, MASH, and more. I am a child of the 80s, but TV wise, I’m also a child of the 60s and 70s. I suspect most people my age grew up the same way, especially those whose parents didn’t have cable. These days, it’s possible to watch a lot of old shows, but for the most part, I don’t think kids do. They watch some 90s stuff (Simpsons, Seinfeld), but my son and his friends have never seen an episode of Gilligan’s Island, or heard of Bewitched. So their appreciation of television is much more limited to their time, I think. Me, I can still appreciate good comedies from back when, and think some of them hold up better than even Seinfeld (though I may have just seen too much of Seinfeld over the years to appreciate it anymore). There’s not a show on today that I couldn’t take or leave (I don’t watch Mad Men, which apparently is the greatest show ever for white people, by white people, about white people, set in an era of white people, so maybe that one will hold up), even though I enjoy several of them (I just finished Season 3 of Damages, and loved all but the ending). But I miss Homicide and Northern Exposure (which was silly, I know, but in a really interesting way) and early X-Files before Mulder decided that his sister’s abduction and alien bees were all he cared about, and Twin Peaks and a few others from back then.

      I’m not sure that there’s a point to this other than to say that this is probably pretty subjective and that your television history shapes your current television appreciation. If you think that today’s television is better than yesterday’s, wait a few years.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        The alien bees was when the show started getting good!!!Report

        • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

          You and I cannot be friends, sir.

          I definitely prefer the X-Files seasons when it was a different, unrelated case each episode, and the case was more or less resolved (even if it wasn’t solved) by the end of the episode. I’ve been watching the first season on Netflix over the last 6 months or so, and enjoying it. I will probably stop with season 4.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

            I suspect that you do not want to believe.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

            I was in the same boat.  I was a bit young for it (middle school when it was at it’s peak) and lost interest when it got super complicated and became all about larger conspiracy theories, aliens, and shadow chasing it.  I don’t know if I was too young to follow it, but it just lacked punch.

            Additionally, pulling off something that serial back then was hard to do.  The show was on Friday nights, they didn’t air repeats during the week, and there wasn’t DVR.  Miss one episode with one major development and you were F’ed.Report

            • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

              Which is actually another point about recent TV compared to older TV. Due to DVR and DVD and the ability to avoid missing episodes or watch them in one fell swoop, TV has become allowed to be substantively better than it was in years past. It would have been hard to pull off today’s shows in the past, even leaving aside budgets and technics.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

                Indeed.  Though I do remember reading a study a while back that said people enjoyed shows that were designed to have commercials LESS when the commercials were absent.  The theory was that writers tend to leave a certain about of suspense lingering over a commercial break.  When this suspense is allowed to linger, enjoyment is heightened.  Watching shows on DVD or DVR, where commercial breaks can be eliminated, this same effect was not realized and enjoyment suffered.  I’ll see if I can dig it up…

                But, yea, a show as serial as Lost couldn’t have worked back then.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

                Though I do remember reading a study a while back that said people enjoyed shows that were designed to have commercials LESS when the commercials were absent.

                That makes absolute sense to me. I was referring mostly to DVR/DVD’s time-shifting ability rather than the presence or absence of commercials.

                (On a sidenote, this is what a lot of critics don’t understand about football when they talk of how little of it is actually spent playing. If you’ve ever watched the 60-minute recaps where they cut out all of the in-betweens, you find that the in-betweens are a part of the game. The suspenseful part!)Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

                “(On a sidenote, this is what a lot of critics don’t understand about football when they talk of how little of it is actually spent playing. If you’ve ever watched the 60-minute recaps where they cut out all of the in-betweens, you find that the in-betweens are a part of the game. The suspenseful part!)”

                Great point!  If I get a late start to a game, I’ll try to catch up by FF’ing between plays.  But this really throws things off.  Not only is the suspense gone, but that is also a time to process what you just saw.  Even more fluid sports like basketball and hockey tend to have a bit of dead time between the true action, even if it is only the PG walking the ball up the court or the goalie clearing it out from behind the net.  The brain needs that little moment to make sense of what is going on and fit it into the larger narrative of the game.

                Time-shifting is important.  But it is interesting to seethe tradeoff if you are someone who skips the commercials.

                PS:  The link below references the study and might help dig up the actual paper.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

                It’s noteworthy that in basketball, at the end of a close game, when they try to stop play at strategize as much as possible, that doesn’t make the game less interesting, it makes it more. I’ll sometimes skip through when watching basketball, but not during the most exciting part. In theory, it’s in that part where I would be most interested in “getting to the action”, but actually I am interested in the anticipation of the action as much as anything. Waiting to see what happens in that final 2.6 seconds of the game is far more of the enjoyment than any actual 2.6 seconds could possibly provide. It’s over before you even know it.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                The whole process of figuring out “What’s going to happen” is often more fun and exciting than “What actually happened”, especially when, as you point out, the former happens over a longer period of time than the latter.

                To bring it full circle, it is the only reason I don’t completely regret every second of “Lost”.  I hated the ending but realized I had a lot of fun trying to figure it out along the way.Report

              • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Kazzy says:

                Ooohh… Lost  totally pissed me off.   For five years I followed that turd, with the promise that it was an intricately woven machine, and that all would be revealed.

                Then for their finale, the producers simply shrugged, and gave their viewers the finger.Report

              • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Kazzy says:

                Totally interesting!Report

              • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Will Truman says:

                Will –

                I think you’re onto something there, especially with regards to shows like  The Sopranos and The Wire.   These shows are so dense, they they really require a couple viewings (at least) top such every last drop of character and plot from them.    Perhaps it’s my ADD, but when I bought the full set of The Wire, I had to watch each episode twice in a row to make sure that I understood everything that was going on in them.

                The other thing that’s going on, I think, is the benefit of narrowcasting.    In the olden days of three networks, a show had to be broad enough to attract and hold roughly one-third of America.    Since not all of us appreciate deep, dense, subversive television–in fact, many of us are talking, and eating, and knitting at the same time we watch TV–this resulted in many simple-minded shows like Gilligan’s Island and The Beverly Hillbillies     Stuff that (I think) Kenneth Tyan called “chewing gum for the eyes.”

                But, with the proliferation of channels, the incentives changed.    Five percent of America became enough to sustain a show commercially,  and to emerge from the noise, producers had to create a show that someone would love,  not merely dispose of time with.    But with The Sopranos, David Chase upped the game to such a degree (at least with the first season) that television has never since been the same.Report

          • James K in reply to Chris says:

            I’m in the same boat.  The “Monster of the week” episodes were generally good.  The arc episodes were inane.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Chris says:

        I grew up watching shows from a different era too.

        Maybe you’re right, and my taste (and everyone’s will change). This doesn’t happen to me in any other art form (love old novels, paintings, etc), and I don’t think there’s as much general consensus for any other art form (although I don’t know about that).Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Chris says:

        I had a very similar experience Chris. During the 80s I gorged myself on syndicated television during the summers. All the shows you mentioned.Report

      • Russell Saunders in reply to Chris says:

        Chris, your television history and mine are very similar.  I have much stronger memories of I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched than any non-cartoon show from the 80s.Report

  9. Jaybird says:

    Now I’m thinking about Punch and Judy.

    Fairly straightforward script:

    Judy leaves the baby with Punch.

    Punch kills the baby.

    Judy comes back and yells at Punch.

    Punch kills Judy.

    Punch kills the police officer.

    Punch kills the judge.

    Punch kills the Devil.


  10. Kimmi says:


    Can I get a top Ten black and white movies from ya? They give my husband an awful headache… So I’m looking for the best.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Kimmi says:

      Then I’ll give a list of what I think are the most enjoyable ones, rather than the best ones, since that’s a good way to transition: The Apartment, Sunset Blvd, Philadelphia Story, In a Lonely Place, Notorious, Paths of Glory, All About Eve, Manchurian Candidate, The Awful Truth, Dr. Strangelove. If he’s willing to go foreign language: 400 Blows, Grand Illusion, Smiles of a Summer Night, High and Low. If he’s willing to go crazy and do silent movies, then start with Sunrise.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        You need to do a guest post on Mindless Diversions.  Plus, you need to participate in Movie Quote Friday.  Since I’m being all demandy.

        Interesting that you put Notorious and Philadelphia Story both in there.Report

        • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          Sure and sure! Actually, you just made me realize that I have not 1, not 2, but 3 Cary Grant movies on there (Awful Truth). Well, I guess I find him enjoyable!Report

          • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

            People who like Mr. Grant’s work usually put The Philadelphia Story on the “least zany of the comedies” point, and Notorious on the “most interior of his dramas” endpoints.

            Compare Cary in Notorious, Suspicion, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest on one end and compare His Girl Friday, Bringing up Baby, The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer and The Philadelphia Story on the other.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

            And you didn’t include His Girl Friday!Report

          • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

            Thought about His Girl Friday, and actually typed it and deleted it, but I think Philadelphia Story is a bit richer and more nuanced.

            I think that may be because I don’t really like Notorious for Cary Grant. That role could have gone to several other actors and the movie would be about as good…no? Not so with Awful Truth!

            Now that I think about it, maybe I should have put 39 Steps for the required Hitchcock. Or Shadow of a Doubt. Ack! Too many movies!Report

  11. Kazzy says:

    The cable television model also allowed television to become more daring.  Premium subscription channels took this a step farther.

    Network TVs rely entirely on advertising to make money.  If a show doesn’t get ratings, it gets nixed.  Plain and simple.  Some shows are axed or moved to crappy times after a mere handful of episodes… networks just can’t take that kind of risk.

    Cable channels get fees from consumers through the cable providers.  They are less tied to ad revenue and thus can go in new and different directions.

    HBO and others are entirely subscription based.  They can do whatever they want, give shows time to grow and develop, and try very off-kilter things.

    Is it any surprise that most of the best TV nowadays is on cable or premium subscription channels?  And the good stuff on network TV is still fairly formulaic?Report

  12. Kazzy says:

    BTW, Rose, I love seeing so much of you on the front page recently!  Keep up the great work!Report

  13. Damon says:

    TV is better now?!  I’m calling BS.  With shows like Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of XXX, Brooklyn 1XXXX, Desperate Housewives, etc.?  Please. 

    From a pure % basis, the TV was better back then (whenever) becuase PBS comprised @ 1/8 to 1/4 of the available channels!  Nova, Flight of the Condor, etc.  all good.

    I’d actually argue that TV was better about 10-15 years ago when I had Babylon 5, several versions of Star Trek (Voyager, Deep Space Nine and Next Gen ALL RUNNING AT THE SAME TIME)  Then there was Fascape, Doctor Who (who get’s points for good TV going back to the 60s).  All that predates the curse of “reality show tv”.

    The only thing i’d say is good about now is the quality and quanity of cooking / food shows….That has improved.  :pReport

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Damon says:

      Should have made clear: the best shows are better. And there are more of them. However, the crap is still really crappy, and occasionally crappier.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Damon says:

      I’d say it’s better because there are more good shows, bigger budgets and the stories are still good. You’re right though that there are also more bad shows.Report

  14. Chris says:

    All of the ringtones on my phone are 80s TV theme songs. I don’t know what this says about my ability to objectively judge the quality of television shows, but it probably isn’t good.


    • Burt Likko in reply to Chris says:

      Music in the 80’s wasn’t the wasteland it is so often depicted as, either. Yeah, there was a lot of dreck and a lot of what was popular was dreck. But there was plenty of good stuff too. Same thing is true about TV programming.Report

  15. BlaiseP says:

    If any shows made it into the pantheon of Classic Television, it was purely by accident.   Oh, some of the very early shows tried to be classic, when the medium was new.   The same phenomenon was observed in early film making.   Nobody had a clue what they were doing, the director and actors and writers had free rein because nobody knew what to expect and therefore no preconceived notions could be applied.

    Philco Television Playhouse, case in point.  Paddy Chayevsky and Gore Vidal get their start there.   Jack Klugman,  Maureen Stapleton, Cloris Leachman, Walter Matthau, Steve McQueen appear, some for the first time.  Amazing stuff, totally forgotten.

    Once television was on a roll, then the expectations began and the producers started chasing their own tails, or the tails of others, in pursuit of ratings and share, trying to replicate success.   Even Shakespeare succumbed to this sort of thing in his day, Titus Andronicus — everyone else is doing gory plays, guess I’ll crank one out, too.   Very profitable for Shakespeare, too, at the time.  Now people even wonder if Shakespeare wrote Titus Andronicus.

    Ars longa vita brevis.   Can’t put asses in chairs if folks don’t like it, in the here and now.   Never mind what the critics think, they only piss ink anyway.Report

  16. MikeSchilling says:

    Phil Silver’s Sergeant Bilko show is a classic, easily the equal of Dick van Dyke or MTM.Report

    • karl in reply to MikeSchilling says:

      Is it the show we remember so fondly or the star?  My memory is a bit hazy, but the last time I saw Bilko  (maybe 15-20 years ago) it was dated and unfunny, but Silvers was fantastic.  I watched a bunch of Columbos (my “favorite TV show evah”) last year and many of them were surprisingly weak, but Falk was tremendous.  YMMV, but I’m in the the “TV is better now” camp (the only timeless exceptions, obviously, are The Honeymooners and I, Claudius).Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to karl says:

        For me, the show. An amazing ensemble cast: Allan Melvin, Harvey Lembeck, Joe E. Ross, Paul Ford, and the ineffable Maurice Gosfield. I rented the “best of” DVD and showed the episode with Dick van Dyke as the hillbilly pitcher to an audience that had barely heard of Bilko before.  They loved it.Report

  17. Patrick Cahalan says:

    Mission: Impossible.  The original Star Trek.  The Prisoner you mentioned.  The Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, and the original Hawaii Five-O.  Quincy, M.E.  Space 1999.

    So, nerd and cop shows.

    Come to think of it, if the 80s deserve any sort of bad name, it’s for turning cop shows as a genre from “almost all watchable shows” into Airwolf, Knight Rider, Hardcastle and McCormick, Matt Houston, T.J. Hooker… with so few notably good shows in that mix.Report

  18. James Vonder Haar says:

    Video games happened.

    Stop snickering; I’m serious.


    Pop culture in general got significantly better around the time of the information revolution.  It got better because the consumers of such culture got better; because our entertainment media began to demand more of us in our spare time than it once did.  Video games led the charge, demanding problem solving, mastery of skills, and more active engagement with media than even literature’s much-vaunted ability to engage with the imagination.  Computer literacy did its part to raise the collective IQ, as well.  As the children raised on such meatier fare grew older, they demanded more engaging, complex plots.  When they became politically aware, they started watching the West Wing.  Now they watch Mad Men.


    You may find Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You an informative read.Report

    • I can buy that, especially when coupled with the Flynn Effect.  People are better at processing information than they used to be, it makes sense our entertainment is more information-heavy.

      And of course as games get more information intensive, you’d expect this trend to continue.  The Mass Effect trilogy is a 90+ hour story arc, about twice the length of The Wire.Report

  19. MaxL says:

    I think the same 50 or so pre-1965 movies will always be popular in exactly the same way that the dozen or so old TV shows you mentioned will.  To my mind, it’s not so much that back and white movies are awful,  its that they made a lot of awful movies back when they were mostly filming in black and white.  I sympathize with your students; as much as I love film, I could never get very far into into old movies, either.  I’ll bet that your students have the same problems with old films that I do.

    1) Stilted, unrealistic dialogue.  Nobody ever, ever talked like they do in old films.  Until John Huston and Elia Kazan come along, to my ear, everyone sounds like just so many thespians.

    2) What the hell is with that old movie actress accent?  I think they call it “transatlantic”, but it ruins almost every film it’s used in.  The worst offender was Katherine Hepburn.  The only film of hers that I can really enjoy is African Queen, where it seems like the accent actually fits..

    3) Old movies don’t have soundtracks, they have SCORES.  This is a real dealbreaker because that noise is loud, intrusive, and steps all over any authentic emotion.  I think they are a holdover from silent films, but a Hollywood score from a pre 1965 film is so overbearing and distracting its almost impossible for me to watch the film through its saccharine haze.  It’s always notable for its absence: Alfred Hitchcock figured out how to use a score for better effect, for example.

    4) In an old timey melodrama, I think items 1-3 are multipliers of the awful.

    5) Old westerns are like cop tv shows from every  TV era: ubiquitous, hidebound to our simplest versions of good and evil, predictable and mostly wretched to watch.  Honestly, John Wayne made the same move 30 times after Stagecoach.

    5) Bob Hope is not funny. Neither is Jerry Lewis.  Comedies just seem to have a shelf life for me.

    6) I don’t much care for musical theater, movie musicals, or even glee on tee vee, so I can’t speak to that type of old film at all.

    7) Every old movie plot and trope  has been ripped off, remade, riffed on and sampled so many times that even the films that were original for their time come off as predictable.

    So I don’t mean to slag on 40 years of early film making, but they have made so many good movies since these conventions were left behind that it’s hard to justify aquiring a taste for them now.


    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to MaxL says:

      I’ll tell you what I tell my students. Two things:

      1) writings in every era ridicule the acting style of previous eras as unrealistic and are grateful that the contemporary acting style is much more naturalistic than all the previous ones. Brando’s entire reputation is based onit, and he certainly seems stylized now. Perceived naturalism in acting seems to vary with the era. I would bet a fairly large amount of money that 30 years from now, someone will be ridiculing the acting we consider spot on.

      2) you totally get used to score, etc., the more you watch. If you wanted to get over it, just watch more. I’m not saying that it should be goal everyone should strive for, but there is a world of awesomeness out there.

      Jerry Lewis is not funny. And John Wayne made The Searchers, (among others) which is totally unlike Stagecoach.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Your modern home theater is perfectly capable of dialing down the score and upping the dialogue volume, FWIW.Report

      • MaxL in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I agree with everything you are saying in #1.  The Searchers is a great movie and some actors easily transcend stilted dialogue. Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, and Brando made film after excellent film..  And it goes without saying that some writers are simply great no matter the era. Tennessee Williams comes immediately to mind.

        Regarding your point number 2, I have a couple of ideas why I haven’t invested the time to get used to old movie conventions.  First,  I think indie film and indie music have followed a similar trajectory.   Rather than search backward for new films or music, it’s been more about looking at a wider range of contemporary artists.  There is simply so much “modern” film to look at and it can all be found fairly easily.  30 years ago there was Turner Classics and a local video rental shop stocked with 75 years of studio fare.  Not long after indie film got rolling in the early 90’s, the internet and Netflix made it all possible to find, see and share.

        Second, about the same time that indie film really got rolling, pop culture seems to have settled on a certain convention.  Clothes, music, haircuts, film style really haven’t changed much in the last 20 years.  The difference between 2012 and 1992 is stylistically invisible comparted to the difference between the styles in 1992 and 1972.  Films from Hong Kong in the 80s have more easily referenced conventions than a film made in LA in the 1950s.  So, that contemporary, lateral film search takes place in a truly vast pond.

        I will need to think more on this before I overstep what I am prepared to defend.   Does this make some ssense, though?



      • MaxL in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I didn’t mean to make that sound like John Wayne made a bunch of movies like Stagecoach or the Searchers.  Unfortunately,  he made a mountain of westerns without John Ford, too.Report

    • karl in reply to MaxL says:

      So, you young curmudgeon, what do you (I’m almost afraid to ask) actually like?Report

      • MaxL in reply to karl says:

        heh, I do sound grumpy about that, huh?    I’d bet my favorite 50 old films are the same as most folks.  I think I already mentioned John Ford, John Houston, Alfred Hitchcock, and Elia Kazan. Add Kurosawa and Clouzot.  Yojimbo and Wages of Fear are 2 of my favorites.  Humphrey Bogart and Gregory Peck made a lot of good films.  Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum made some great movies, too.  Night of the Hunter, The Cain Mutiny, The Train, High Noon, The Third Man, Hud, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly last Summer,  … I  even liked the man in the Grey Flannel Suit – though it’s pretty obvious I prefer anti-heroes, eh?  There just aren’t any to be found in Gone With the Wind.   Or Titanic, for that matter.



      • Rose in reply to karl says:

        So seeing more isn’t going to help. Dude, how is Scarlett O’Hara not an anti-hero?Report

        • MaxL in reply to Rose says:

          Exactly!  Gone With the Wind is a film I should like but can’t get far enough into.  It’s why I think the issue isn’t so much black and white film but rather the styles of the black and white film era.

          I see in another thread that you have a list of black and white movies that you would recommend and it made me wonder if those were the films you were expecting your students would like.   Have they seen Raging Bull, Young Frankenstein, the Elephant Man, Down By Law, Night of the Living Dead, or Schindler’s List?  What do they think of those?  Some of the older films in black and white that stand up well over time (for me, anyway) are Hud, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Train, Dr Strangelove, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Seven Samurai, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, High Noon, and maybe the Cain Mutiny or Treasure of the Sierra Madre.Report

  20. Murali says:

    Wait, what about classics like Gomer Pyle, I dream of Genie, Bewitched, I love lucy, Gulligan’s island, the three stooges. Granted, that I watched them all as reruns in the 90s, they were still awesome then.Report

  21. David Ryan says:



  22. Brandon Berg says:

    This is only tangentially related to the post, but…are anthology shows dead now? By which I mean shows like The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, where each episode was an entirely self-contained story, with no recurring characters or regular actors. I remember the new Twilight Zone series several years back, but I can’t recall any new anthology shows in recent years.

    Also, does anyone know anything about the advent of multi-threaded sitcom plots? It used to be standard for a sitcom to have one plot thread. Now this is almost never the case—there are two or more plot threads interwining throughout each episode. When did this happen? Was it something that people remarked on at the time?Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Fwiw, the anthology style lives on in softcore premier cable.  (SFW link).  But you’re right, Outer Limits is the last ‘mainstream’ show I can think of that used the format.  (It might be a general ebb in the Twilight Zone/Outer Limits genre, Fringe notwithstanding)

      I think the threaded plot is a function of ensemble casts.  In the ur-sitcoms you had two principals, two supporting, and whatever walkons were required.  Since at least (either) Newhart, and definitely since Cosby (and moreso for Seinfeld and Friends and all that have followed) you have larger casts (and often co-equal cast members) and a ‘use or lose’ proposition with regards to their characters.  (Thinking about it, though, even conventional episodic dramas changed over the years.  Threading was almost non-existent in TOS Star Trek, started to become common in TNG, and was de rigeur by DS9 & Voyager)Report

  23. Marg in Montana says:

    April 4, 2012:  I’m seventy years old, and remember when TV first came out when we lived in So. California.

    I didn’t watch much TV for many, many years.  But, the best TV I have ever seen is the 90’s series

    Northern Exposure.   I have all of them on DVD  and watch them from time to time;  they’re like family,

    and the writing/acting are superb.  People actually care about one another on that show; there is no

    violence, sicko sex, meanness, etc.   Just the human condition — where people try to understand

    one another and enjoy some of those fine things in life that don’t cost anything,    Humor, life, death,

    and all kinds of stuff inbetween.   Philosophy.  Growth.  Or not.    I will never tire of it.

    As for TV today,  you can have it.  The advertisements every 7 minutes (lasting 3 minutes) is enough

    to drive a really almost completeley sane person insane.   British TV is different—Downton Abbey,

    recently, was absolutely fabulous.  Nothing is perfect.  No one is perfect.   But Northern Exposure

    is where I wish I could live, and wish I had lived, all my life long.    Marg in Montana  


  24. Nob Akimoto says:

    Such a huge long thread…

    And only one (minor) reference to M*A*S*H? I mean, c’mon…Report