I’m making some stipulations at the start of this post hopefully to avoid anyone who reads it concluding that I am totally out of touch with reality and/or that I am just a crotchety old fogey longing for the “good old days.
- Stipulation 1 – Technologically, television today is light years advanced from the 1950s through the 1970’s. The advent of cable and satellite transmissions and digitization have eliminated ghosts and limitations of distance between the broadcaster and viewer. The screens are larger. The sets are thinner, lighter (in weight) and far more energy efficient. The picture resolution and color are vastly superior. Taking inflation into consideration today’s sets cost considerably less. There is no way I would consider trading my current wide screen HDTV sets for the ugly, bulky 20 inch monochrome set purchased in 1952. I still retain a few of my faculties! Gheeze….!
- Stipulation 2 – Viewing choices have increased exponentially and have expanded to 24 hours a day. In the 1970’s I had the choice of 4 analog channels. They all ceased broadcasting around midnight, or shortly thereafter, and didn’t resume until 6 or 7 AM. Today, my satellite dish brings in over 250 digital channels, the majority in HDTV, almost all broadcasting 24 hours. The variety of programming available is mind-boggling. There are niche channels appealing to almost any taste. Features such as digital transmission, slo-mo instant replay, PIP, real time pausing and DVR time shifting were just pipe dreams of science fiction writers in the early years of television. Modern resolution has enabled superb graphics. I like the setup today just fine.
OK, now that I have established (I hope!) that as far as television is concerned I am living in the present and that I quite appreciate it, I would like to make the case that the period of 1950 through 1970 was truly the Golden Age of television in the US.
What was so great about that period? Well, for one thing most television was live. There was an sense of immediacy – what was on that screen was actually happening real time. There was a plethora of variety programs – again with the participants performing live – singers, bands, groups, scenes from Broadway shows, stand-up comedians, animal acts, circus acts, ventriloquists, dancers, comedy skits etc. It was raw and real. People screwed up. On most nights there was live drama. When is the last time you’ve seen a live play on TV? Have you ever? The three major networks’ news departments were made up of serious journalists who worked under a strict journalistic code. Any commentary was identified as such. People respected the national newscasts and newscasters. There was no suspicion of left-wing or right-wing bias. Today news is mainly presented by pretty faces with partially empty heads. It seems as if every TV news has an agenda and acknowledges it.
The early years of television also provided many firsts, things which we now take for granted but were awe inspiring at the time. I saw the first USA coast-to-coast live telecast -the first live transmission from Europe – the first transmission from space – live television from the moon. I saw the first instant replay at a sporting event. As I mentioned in my last post, there was limited programming available – and that actually was a wonderful thing. You knew what was on, and when. Because it was always likely that friends and co-workers had seen the same programs you had a shared experience that you could discuss. For the first time people all over the country were watching the same programming – it was a nation binding experience such as had never before happened in the US with the possible exception of the two World Wars.
Well – thems was the good ole days! I look back on them fondly; with a sense of loss, also. But, I don’t want to go back!