What stands out most about sixties television is the enormous rash of fantasy-themed shows. Imagine the top-rated TV shows of today featuring Martians, genies, monsters, witches, ghosts, talking horses, flying nuns, and a desert isle that seems to attract more visitors than Hollywood in tourist season! Imagine that many of the most popular shows today are situated in small, backward towns such as Mayberry or Hooterville. Or that a family of Appalachian hillbillies has moved into Beverly Hills or some other affluent neighborhood. I haven’t watched very many sit-coms in the past twenty years, but it seems that contemporary sit-coms are more “sophisticated” now, gearing themselves toward reality and modern relationships. What little has been of the fantasy ilk today has been designed for kids, and co-stars kids. Whereas of the eleven shows of the sixties that I just mentioned, only four featured kids: The Munsters, The Ghost and Mrs Muir, Bewitched, and The Andy Griffith Show (and little Tabitha made only the odd appearance in Bewitched). Having been a kid myself in the sixties I can’t imagine what this deluge of fantasy and most importantly, truly inane (!) kind of programming must have seemed like to the bulk of adult America. But hidden amidst the fluffy stuff were some landmark fantasy programs that reached out beyond concepts and formulas they’d created. Those programs were truly inventive (re: The Avengers, Star Trek, Batman, The Addams Family, and The Green Hornet, to name but a few).
Today, with all “adult” comedies featuring young adults (where are the middle-aged and elderly adults?) and their friends and co-workers, where is the real comedy, inventiveness, adventure and/or sophistication? At least some of the programs in the sixties were imaginative and/or had likable characters!
Gripe, gripe, gripe! So it seems that I do look back fondly at the audacity and/or innocence of those days, even though minorities were hardly ever represented and women were still running circles around men. Not to mention that themes of a topical nature were still considered taboo. But TV was still relatively new, and the world was changing faster than it was able to keep up with. Luckily, the network news of that era featured “real news”, without the gloss or triviality that exists now. Walter Cronkite may not have been Edward R Murrow, but he made you care.
If it’s at all possible, grab a copy of Harlan Ellison’s (1) The Glass Teat. It is a searing and amusing rant about sixties programming, from the sixties (my yellow, dog-eared copy says $1.95)! Also, is the brilliant sequel, The Other Glass Teat, which takes on the seventies.
1) For those of you who are unfamiliar with him, Ellison is a terrific essayist and science-fiction writer. His “Glass Teat” writings were from his days as a columnist for the Los Angeles Free Press. Unfortunately, these books are out of print, but check E-bay or your local used, very hip bookstore.