Undiminished by Decadence

In his recent book, The Decadent Society, Ross Douthat complains that Hollywood has become too reliant on reboots, remakes, sequels, and spinoffs. “As a part-time movie critic,” he grumbles, “I can attest that … the economics of the business depend increasingly on the constant recycling of famous properties that originated as mass market entertainments between the 1930s and 1970s. Unoriginality is, of course, hardly new in Hollywood, but there has been a meaningful trend away from novelty and creativity over the last generation.”

Nor is Douthat especially impressed by the state of contemporary television. He has some good things to say about the kind of prestige TV that thrived in the first 15 years of this century (Mad Men, The Sopranos, The Wire, and Girls seem to be his favorites), but on the whole, he wants us to know that things are Not What They Were and that this is A Bad Thing. “There is often more creativity in today’s television than at the movies,” he allows. “But mass-audience TV still keeps trying to resuscitate shows such as Roseanne and Murphy Brown, while it keeps The Simpsons and South Park on life support and recycles endless variations on Law & Order.”

Even the TV of which Douthat approves is “essentially a small-screen version of the 1970s golden-age of the Hollywood auteur. … Even at its most creative, television struggles to escape the shadow of the boomer era, the patterns set two generations back.” The prestige shows “of the early 2000s often felt vital and relevant precisely because they were so good at holding up a mirror to frustration, futility, repetition, decay, corruption—in a word, to decadence.” He calls our current state of repetition, reboot, corruption, and decay “The Eternal Return to 1975.”

As if to underline the point, on May 4th, Douthat tweeted a link to an essay by Adam Mastroianni, which he described as a “strong data-driven analysis of the ‘repetition’ aspect of our decadence.” Mastroianni writes:

In every corner of pop culture—movies, TV, music, books, and video games—a smaller and smaller cartel of superstars is claiming a larger and larger share of the market … fewer and fewer franchises rule a larger and larger share of the airwaves. In fact, since 2000, about a third of the top 30 most-viewed shows are either spinoffs of other shows in the top 30 (e.g., CSI and CSI: Miami) or multiple broadcasts of the same show (e.g., American Idol on Monday and American Idol on Wednesday).

Mastroianni, however, prudently includes the following caveat: “I’m probably slightly undercounting multiplicities from earlier decades, where the connections between shows might be harder for a modern viewer like me to understand.” Well, I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s and I’m happy to report that, for the most part, television and mainstream cinema today are orders of magnitude better than they were in my salad days.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the top-rated American TV programs of the 1974–5 season. The highest rated program, All in the Family, was an American remake of a British program called Till Death Do Us Part. The second-highest rated program, Sanford and Son, was a remake of a British series called Steptoe and Son. At number three was Chico and the Man, which was inspired by a comedy bit performed by Cheech and Chong and also bore a strong resemblance to Sanford and Son. In fourth place came The Jeffersons, a spinoff of All in the Family. In fifth place we have M*A*S*H, which was a spinoff of a Robert Altman film, which was itself based on a Richard Hooker novel. In sixth place comes Rhoda, a spinoff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In seventh place is Good Times, a spinoff of Maude, which was itself a spinoff of All in the Family (which, of course, was based on a British series). In eighth place comes The Waltons, a spinoff of a 1963 film called Spencer’s Mountain, which was based on a 1961 novel by Earl Hamner, Jr. In ninth place comes the aforementioned Maude. Not until we come to the tenth-highest rated program, Hawaii 5-0, do we arrive at a wholly original piece of intellectual property.

The next few years would bring us hit series like Laverne & Shirley (a spinoff of Happy Days), Mork & Mindy (ditto), The Ropers (a spinoff of Three’s Company, which was a remake of the British program Man About The House), Alice (a sitcom based on Martin Scorsese’s 1974 film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Any More), The Dukes of Hazzard (a spinoff of the 1975 film Moonrunners), Lou Grant (a Mary Tyler Moore spinoff), Phyllis (ditto), Flo (a spinoff of Alice), Archie Bunker’s Place (a re-working of All in the Family), House Calls (based on a 1978 film of the same name), Trapper John, M.D. (a spinoff of M*A*S*H), Benson (a spinoff of Soap)—

I could go on like this for another couple of pages, but you get the point. Almost all of the shows I’ve just mentioned were official spinoffs, reboots, or reworkings of an existing show. Others were outright rip-offs. The master of this dubious craft was producer Glen A. Larson, whom Harlan Ellison once dubbed Glen A. Larceny, because so many of the series he created and/or produced plundered somebody else’s work. Larson’s Alias Smith & Jones was a rip-off of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It Takes a Thief, which Larson produced, was a variation on Hitchcock’s film To Catch a Thief. Battlestar Galactica was a rip-off of Star Wars (which was a loose remake of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai classic The Hidden Fortress). BJ and the Bear was a mash-up of films like White Line Fever, Smokey and the Bandit, and Any Which Way but Loose (and inspired its own spinoff, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo). Switch was a mash-up of the film The Sting and The Rockford Files. Automan was a rip-off of the film Tron.

To be a TV junkie in the 1960s and ’70s was to live in a permanent state of déjà vu. Dusty’s Trail, a sitcom that aired in 1973 and 1974, was created by Sherwood Schwartz, who created Gilligan’s Island, both of which starred Bob Denver. The former was essentially a rip-off of the latter, but set on the Oregon Trail rather than a desert isle. The Munsters, a sitcom featuring tropes from horror fiction but set in American suburbia, debuted on CBS on September 24th, 1964, just six days after the debut of ABC-TV’s The Addams Family, a show with a nearly identical premise. As Allan Burns, co-creator of The Munsters, later noted, “We sort of stole the idea from Charles Addams and his New Yorker cartoons.” Likewise, The Big Valley was just Bonanza with a female lead. And The Jetsons was just The Flintstones set in the future rather than the past.

An industry practice known as script recycling was rampant in the 1960s and ’70s. I was a television super-fan in the 1970s, and I corresponded with many of the most successful TV writers of the era including Alvin Sapinsley, Stirling Silliphant, and Roland Kibbee. I read the writing credits of every TV show I watched. I kept track of episode titles. And I frequently saw writers recycling virtually the same script over and over again for different TV series. This was much easier to get away with back before home entertainment made it possible to review TV episodes over and over again.

A letter written to the author when he was sixteen by Jerry Day, one of the most prolific female TV writers of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s.

As a lengthy post about script recycling on the TV Tropes website points out:

24 scripts on Bewitched were recycled scene by scene. One was recycled twice. Most of these were episodes featuring the first Darrin [Dick York] that were recycled with The Other Darrin [Dick Sargent], while the others were black and white episodes remade in color. Since some were two-parters, this means that a total of 55 of the 254 episodes, 22% of the entire show, weren’t unique. In addition to these completely recycled scripts, there were also many that had similar premises but were different in the particulars, and many individual scenes and gags that were recycled in otherwise original episodes.

You couldn’t get away with that kind of self-cannibalization on a contemporary sitcom like, say, Netflix’s Grace and Frankie because, once an episode has aired, it becomes permanently available for streaming. But if a TV viewer in the 1960s thought a season-three episode of Bewitched resembled an episode from season one, he’d have no way to confirm it. We didn’t even have VCRs back then.

Elsewhere in the same post, TV Tropes notes that Rick Husky’s script for the Charlie’s Angels episode “To Kill an Angel” was just a reworking of a script called “Cricket” that he wrote for The Mod Squad. For his later series T.J. Hooker, Husky recycled scripts he had written years earlier for programs such as Dan August, The Mod Squad, The Rookies, and The Streets of San Francisco. The Columbo episode “Uneasy Lies the Crown” used essentially the same script as an episode of McMillan and Wife called “Affair of the Heart.” Hee Haw, a variety series with a down-home southern flavor, featured “almost 20 years of recycled scripts, and not just segments recurring, but their entire content repeated.”

Douthat and other disconsolate declinists see the contemporary proliferation of film and television franchises as evidence of American cultural decline. In fact, these new series offer pretty convincing evidence of American cultural improvement. After all, it’s not as if no one ever tried to create film franchises in the second half of the 20th century. It’s just that, for the most part, they were very bad at it.

Jaws, for instance, was the highest grossing film of 1975. Nearly 50 years later, it remains among the most admired American films of all time. Universal Pictures were not about to let that kind of critical and commercial success remain a standalone property, and the studio quickly set about producing a sequel. Today, the sequel to a monstrously successful film would likely be helmed by the same director as the first, or by someone of comparable stature. Universal Studios first assigned Jaws 2 to director John D. Hancock, a filmmaker of no particular stature, and then, after Hancock was fired, to Jeannot Szwarc, a Paris-born journeyman best known for cranking out episodes of TV series like The Rockford Files, Baretta, and It Takes a Thief. This was fairly typical of the careless way film franchises were handled back in the 1970s.

Jaws 2 was released in 1978. Despite a troubled set (Roy Scheider actually faked insanity in an attempt to get out of appearing in the sequel) and numerous cost overruns, the film was a huge financial success, earning more than 10 times its production budget of $20 million. But it received a lukewarm reception from unimpressed critics resulting in a Rotten Tomatoes score almost half that of the original. Five years later, Universal went back to the well with Jaws 3D. This film was directed by Joe Alves, a production designer who had never directed a film before and would never direct another. Jaws 3D was also a financial success and has since come to be regarded as a camp classic, but no one with any sense thought it was actually any good, still less an improvement on its underwhelming predecessor. Today, it enjoys a meagre 11 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Jaws: The Revenge appeared in 1989 and managed to be even worse. Directed by Joseph Sargent and starring Michael Caine, it is widely regarded as one of the worst big-budget films ever made. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of zero.

Nor were diminishing returns unique to that particular franchise. Grease was released in 1978 and starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. It became the highest-grossing film of all time within months of its premier, taking $366 million—roughly 60 times its modest production budget of $6 million. The 1982 sequel starred two unknowns (one of whom was Michelle Pfeiffer) and grossed $15 million on a production budget of $11 million. It so diminished the value of the franchise that no additional installments have appeared since.

The 1977 film Saturday Night Fever, in which Travolta also starred, was another monster success, grossing $237 million on a $3.5 million budget. For reasons unexplained, Paramount Pictures handed the sequel, Staying Alive, to Sylvester Stallone, a guy whose previous directorial work included two boxing films (Rocky II and Rocky III) and a wrestling picture (Paradise Alley). Surprisingly, it was a financial success. Unsurprisingly, it was an artistic failure, and has an approval rating of zero on Rotten Tomatoes. Roman Polanski’s Chinatown was one of the best films of its era, and screenwriter Robert Towne intended it to be the first of a three-film series. Alas, when Polanski fled the country a few years later, the trilogy was shelved. A lackluster sequel called The Two Jakes eventually appeared in 1990, written by Towne and directed by star Jack Nicholson. It grossed $10 million on a budget of $25 million. Needless to say, plans for a third film were quietly abandoned.

Hollywood isn’t worse at finding original projects, it is simply a lot better at following them up with successful sequels, spinoffs, and reboots. Back in 1980, CBS produced a TV series called Beyond Westworld, a spin-off from Michael Crichton’s 1973 film. But it was beyond awful and the network cancelled it after just three episodes. In 2016, HBO began broadcasting a new series based on Westworld, which is still on the air and has been nominated for well over 100 entertainment-industry awards. It had the most-watched first season of any HBO program in history. If this is what decadence looks like, I have no complaints. It certainly hasn't diminished the quality of small-screen entertainment—quite the contrary.

In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, plenty of successful film franchises hit the theaters, including the James Bond films, the Planet of the Apes films, the Airport films, the Dirty Harry films, the Rocky films, the Superman films, the Pink Panther series, the Bad News Bears films, the Star Wars series, and the Star Trek series. Very few of these films had much to recommend them. Each film in the Jaws franchise made less money than the last and was significantly worse than its predecessor. The same is true of the four films in the Airport series, released between 1970 and 1979, and the Dirty Harry franchise which experienced a steady decline in quality across its five installments. Today, film franchises tend to become more successful as they grow.

The first Toy Story film made $373 million in worldwide grosses. The second film earned just under $500 million. The third grossed $1.66 billion. The fourth film grossed $1.73 billion. All were critically acclaimed. Iron Man, the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise earned $585 million internationally. Last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, the 27th installment of the franchise, earned nearly $1.9 billion internationally. These are not anomalous results. Plenty of contemporary film franchises get more profitable with each new release. The first film in the Fast and the Furious franchise earned $207 million worldwide. The seventh film in the series earned $1.7 billion. The first film in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings cycle earned $871 million internationally. Every subsequent film in the series earned more than that. The series’ final installment, The Return of the King, also won 11 Oscars, a feat previously achieved only by Ben Hur and Titanic.

Hollywood is just a lot better at this now. No sane person would argue that The Godfather Part III, Jaws: The Revenge, Concorde… Airport ’79, or Battle for the Planet of the Apes was the best installment of its respective franchise. Plenty of people, on the other hand, will be willing to argue that 2017’s Logan, the 10th film in the X-Men film series, is the best of the bunch. Conservative commentator and movie critic John Podhoretz has described Paddington 2 as one of the best American films in recent memory—an assessment corroborated by the sequel’s 99 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the first film received 97 percent).

This is partly because each new installment of a franchise today tends to cost more to produce than its predecessor. Studios genuinely want to improve the product and keep the franchise viable. That wasn’t always the case. The original version of Planet of the Apes (1968) cost $5.8 million to make. The sequel, 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes, cost $2.5 million. The third installment cost $2 million, the fourth and fifth installments cost $1.7 million each. Those numbers don’t reflect a preoccupation with quality control, they reflect a studio trying to make a quick buck from a dying franchise with as little effort and investment as possible. The best of today’s franchises are growing in quality and box-office returns with each new installment.

Besides which, most of today’s legacy franchises bear only the vaguest resemblance to the intellectual properties of the 1960s and ’70s that spawned them. With only one exception, Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible film series doesn’t re-use any of the characters who appeared in Bruce Geller’s 1966–73 TV series of the same name. The exception is the Jim Phelps character played by Jon Voight in the first film, but Phelps was a patriot in the TV series and reappears in the movie as a traitor to his country. Most of the technical gadgetry used by Cruise and his teammates didn’t even exist in the 1960s and ’70s. The original series employed an ensemble cast, and various episodes often showcased a different set of characters, foregrounding some and sidelining others. Cruise’s series has some recurring secondary characters, but every film revolves around his character, Ethan Hunt.

Moreover, the original series looked cheap and was shot almost exclusively on the Paramount Studios lot. The eight installments of Cruise’s series (two of which have yet to be released) have cost a total of nearly a billion dollars and were filmed on locations in cities like Prague, Singapore, and Dubai. The original series ran for seven years and was mostly directed by a rotating series of undistinguished TV journeymen. Cruise’s series is approaching its 30th anniversary and has been directed by the likes of Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird.

Most of the cast members of the original series who lived long enough to see the first installment of Cruise’s series disliked it intensely and felt that it was a betrayal of the original. They had a point. The blockbuster franchise barely acknowledges its roots—it is essentially an original piece of intellectual property marketed under the name of an earlier brand, probably as a sop to baby boomers. But it is also much more intelligent, better made, more thrilling, and generally an improvement on the original in almost every respect. Only someone who never watched the original could possibly think of Cruise’s Mission: Impossible series as an example of American decline.

I’m not saying that every contemporary remake is an improvement on the 1970s original. Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and Death on the Nile (2022) are artless pieces of junk that make Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version of the former and John Guillermin’s 1978 version of the latter look like masterpieces. But the notion that TV and film have become much less original than they were 50 or 60 years ago is largely bunk. Cheap imitations were everywhere. Script recycling was commonplace. And spinoffs, remakes, and outright rip-offs made up probably 70 percent of the programming available in any given week.

I should add that I loved many of the old films and TV shows I’ve disparaged in this article. I was a big fan of Glen A. Larson. It Takes a Thief and Alias Smith and Jones were two of my favorite shows as a kid. Hell, I even loved Jaws 3D and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. So, I take no pleasure in the frank acknowledgment that the TV programs I grew up on look like garbage when compared to contemporary television shows. Yes, spinoffs, remakes, sequels, and reboots still constitute a great deal of what is available on TV or at the multiplex. But many, if not most, of these re-workings benefit from a level of creativity and investment that studios simply weren’t prepared to offer the cynical cash grabs that passed for sequels and spinoffs 50 years ago.

Declinists are an inevitable part of every generation’s commentariat, gloomily pronouncing that everything is bad and getting worse and that nobody else seems to notice or care. But unexamined assumptions make for poor analysis, and Douthat (who was born in 1979) doesn’t seem to realise how fortunate he is to have such an embarrassment of riches at his fingertips today. He may be right that many other American institutions have been diminished by decadence. But he’s dead wrong about television, and at least partially wrong about film. If he spent even a week watching nothing but old 1970s television programs—Planet of the Apes (a dreadful 1974 series based on the film franchise), The New Perry Mason (a dreadful 1973 reboot of the earlier series, cancelled after 15 episodes), The New Howdy Doody Show (a dreadful reboot of a 1947 show about a ventriloquist and his dummy), and so on—he might better understand what decadence really looks like and appreciate the comparative richness of our cultural moment a bit more.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2022/05/20/undiminished-by-decadence/
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I think I stand in the middle on this topic. On the one hand, the movie industry has completely gone into the crapper over the last ~20 years. Part of that is clearly the changing economics of the biz, in that it seems to be harder to get people up off the couch and into a theater to watch a movie for $12 a pop than it once was. In that sense, I think its fair to say that a lot of the creative talent hasn’t dried up, it’s just been reallocated to other mediums.

On the other hand, I look at the big money tentpole franchises that still have huge budgets, big names, and are expected to make bank for the studio, and I can’t help but notice they’re terrible and wonder why. The stories are terrible, there’s no character development, the dialogue is awkward or moronic, etc. If you think of something like Star Wars for example, Disney paid over $4 billion for the rights to it from Lucasfilm, so there’s more than a little riding on making this a long term winner for the studio, and yet…you watch the films and the effects are nice but the writing is absolute crap. How can this be? It’s the one thing they’re spending big money on! It makes me wonder if in fact something has been lost in art of screenwriting and film-making, and that Douthat isn’t at least a smidge correct.

It’s worth considering that these movies still do well, though, because there is a class of people out there that is apparently willing to go watch these franchise installments no matter how dumb or derivative they become, so maybe it’s just cold economic logic at work: you have a product for which the demand is relatively inelastic. You can’t really take advantage of this by raising prices because of the convention of movie theater ticket prices being uniform, but what you can do is cut costs by not investing in a story, because your audience just wants to see stuff blow up, anyway, or for Bad Guy #2 to get his come-uppance, so why bother with stuff your audience doesn’t care about? I don’t know. Either way, it kinda stinks, because movies used to be a good entertainment option and now they’re not.

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You are onto something about the economics. What I observed is that so many movies try to appeal to all audiences at once so they can make more money. And thus the quality suffers. In so many movies the protagonist hero is some teenager. Since the target audience is teenagers and their parents, it follows that the writing must also be watered down.
Add to it all the woke BS and suddenly movies become void of any meaning.

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It feels like a discussion of media reboots and cross-overs is incomplete without a discussion of the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis.

To those who have never heard of this. “St. Elsewhere” was an American Medical Drama that ran between 1982 and 1988. In the series finale it is revealed that the hospital does not actually exist in real life, and is instead just model at the center an autistic boy’s snow globe. All of the stories told in the hospital over the past 6 seasons were just the thoughts of the boy. Tommy Westphall.

“I don’t understand this autism thing, Pop. Here’s my son. I talk to him. I don’t even know if he can hear me, because he sits there, all day long, in his own world, staring at that toy. What’s he thinking about?”

So it follows that since these characters and intellectual properties from St. Elsewhere are all in the mind of an autistic child, any cross-overs they appear in must also be taking place in his head.

Even this “wholly original” intellectual property still borrowed from other media sources. So much in fact that it too exists only in Tommy’s head.

  1. “St. Elsewhere” characters Dr. Westphall, Dr. Craig, and Dr. Auschlander appear on an episode of “Cheers”
  2. “Cheers” spun off “Fraiser”
  3. “Fraiser” has episodes that mention the newspaper comic strip which is created by Caroline in “Caroline in the City”
  4. Annie from “Caroline in the City” appears in an episode of “Friends”
  5. Phoebe from “Friends” is sisters with Ursula from “Mad About You”
  6. “Mad About You” had an episode featuring Alan Brady from “The Dick Van Dick Show”
  7. “The Dick Van Dyke Show” character of Buddy appears on “The Danny Thomas Show”
  8. “The Danny Thomas Show” was revived as “Make Room for Granddaddy”.
  9. “Make Room for Grandaddy” has a cross-over episode with character Lucy Carter from “Here’s Lucy”
  10. “Here’s Lucy” does a cross-over episode with the character Mannix from “Mannix”
  11. Mannix appears in a cross-over episode on “Diagnosis Murder”
  12. “Diagnosis Murder” invents the fictional airline “Oceanic Airlines” (also of “Lost” fame)
  13. Two episodes of JAG feature “Oceanic Airlines” plotlines
  14. JAG spun off NCIS
  15. NCIS spun off NCIS:LA
  16. NCIS:LA and Hawaii Five-O (2010) did a cross-over show in which they stopped a smallpox outbreak.
  17. Hawaii Five-O (2010) is a reboot of the original Hawaii Five-O (1968).

So as you can see, far from being an “original intellectual property” “Hawaii Five-O” (1968) is clearly a spin off of St. Elsewhere (1986).

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I stopped watching TV after I found out that Hogan’s Heroes was actually a spinoff of another, significantly more somber program called The Third Reich…

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“To be a TV junkie in the 1960s and ‘70s was to live in a permanent state of déjà vu.”

“…, and Douthat (who was born in 1979) doesn’t seem to realise how fortunate he is to have such an embarrassment of riches at his fingertips today.”

TV seems to be different from decade to decade. Douthat probably recalls 1980s television and certainly Nineties TV. I don’t think he would wish to pretend that he’s seen it all. Anyone might look back fondly on one’s youth in recollecting the TV that gave enjoyment. But now, in the Twenties, the Roaring Twenties for sure, the fact is that even TV is looking a little lost and irrelevant in the “embarrassment of riches” that has descended upon the world in the internet age, technology-wise. Pop music is abundant. It’s on multiple channels in a visual form, as well as screaming out of tiny screens: as if it’s hoovered up all the cheap addresses on a monopoly board in order to look like it’s still in town, in the game, relevant to people’s lives. But pop music now has to compete with all the inanities thrown at the very young by the trendy social media apps like Tik Tok and what not: and so pop music screams on, the same this year as last. Television has gone the same hysterical way: more razzle dazzle, rap video-style screen shifts, generous amounts of impending doom and gloom, inanities galore, grim countenances the norm (to reflect the seriousness of the West’s sins, presumably) along with the evaporation of character and reflection. All these fits of never-changing clamour to look as if it’s what people want. To a certain extent people are carried along with the wave. In that embarrassment of riches, there is bound to be déjà vu, too. It’s all supposedly called entertainment. But does any of it induce a laugh? (Does the huge movie industry in China put out comedies?). The West, as I see it, is shooting itself in the foot. The Muppet Show back in the day might have been the secret talk of the town among educated would-be exiles in 1980s Iran, dreaming of escaping to the West. But now TV is a mush. There’s not a soul in Tehran in the internet age who knows The Muppet Show, I imagine. Light entertainment used to dominate the TV schedules. In the papers, you looked up the schedules under “TV Entertainment Tonight”. In the UK, as more and more people got a colour television, they revelled in whatever entertainment they could get. I can recall just looking past characters in American drama, like Cannon and The Odd Couple, just to see Americans going about their business and glimpse what ordinary life looked like. I suppose I lament that there is nothing today that the very young might look back fondly upon (except SpongeBob SquarePants).

Television today leaves me cold. It’s also the context of television today that saddens me. In the piece, above, two British sitcoms from the late 1960s and early 70s sparked the top-rated American versions for the year 1974/5. In Britain, there were only three TV channels (until 1982). The channels being few, the greater the effort to make a good show that would encompass all age groups and tastes. It’s an imperfect limitation but that scarcity of a stage enhanced the formation of character, I imagine. Few channels, but millions connected because they HAD to watch, often, the same TV show.

It’s the cosines and conviviality of the old days that I miss. It’s the sort of feeling one gets when one goes to the theatre. Now you’ve got to have fewer special effects and more character at the theatre. (Except when it comes to all those tatty stage musicals that are coming out like CSI this and CSI that).

The other thing about TV today is that it drags on and on, exploitatively so. This was probably hinted at by the 60s TV drama of The Fugitive. The first series of that show was good. Indeed some episodes were excellent. But the series took a nosedive in the second series what with Dr Kimble fancying himself a Cary Grant charmer with a never-ending supply of lovely, lonely ladies and lots of kissing. Overall, in one episode it was a nod to The Hound Of The Baskervilles, in another it had a “I am Spartacus!” ridiculous ending as a long line of townsfolk declared they were guilty to the sheriff in their desire to browbeat him into not arresting the culprit who enabled the good Dr Richard Kimble escape. And in many episodes the guy who played the sheriff became in another episode later the baddie and vice versa. The characters were recycled. The series dragged on and on while no mention of the one-armed man materialised or any effort expended by the on-the-run doctor to get out of his finding-a-needle-in-a-haystack situation by getting out of his making a haystack for cash in Wyoming when his quarry was last seen in Chicago heading to Florida. I’m nearly onto the third series (lockdown project). Anyway, I get a laugh out of it too. (The first example of a supremely politically correct televisual episode is in the second series that is set in a Spanish-speaking fishing village).

But really I though the world was coming to an end when I saw individual American TV programmes being advertised on billboards thirty or forty years ago. That was unheard of in Europe. Now it’s all over the world.

As the Stones sang, “it’s only rock’n’roll, but I like it”, so I would sing out “It’s only TV, but I like it.” But we’ve lost sight of the coziness of television. And of music, I’ll add.
Americans have been too earnest for their own good when it comes to “creating content”: the … new definition for mere entertainment. It just seems an odd world today that with all its embarrassments of riches and technology, it’s still a hard job to create something novel and fun. That’s unfortunate indeed.

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I don’t watch much TV. When I do watch, I avoid anything produced in the last five or six years since Woke Inc. took over.

It’s always incredible to see what people were “allowed to say” ten years ago, before the Politically Correct Speech Police took over and, as the Left always does, ruined everything.

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Did you know Jim Davis has claimed that more people around the world are familiar with Garfield than Bugs Bunny? That doesn’t seem right to me.

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This feeling becomes almost overpowering when watching any Mel Brook’s film. :slight_smile:

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May I just add that the piece’s author here wrote an interesting piece recently, on this site, on the thriller writer Frederick Forsyth. His book ‘The Odessa File’ was turned into a good movie, in 1974, with John Voight starring. No main TV station seems to play that kind of movie anymore. The young will never by chance come across it. Perhaps it’s considered too dated, therefore too slow, too uncool, too strange, therefore too embarrassing for a modern audience? Perhaps it needs updating? Remade?

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I agree, insofar as broadcast. Sports is about it.

Streaming, OTOH.

Loved The Americans. Bosch was fantastic, and looking forward to starting Legacy. Ozark is amazing (5 episodes to go for me). So there is still lots of good scripted stuff…just not in “traditional” mediums.

I saw Nobody last year (Bob Odenkirk), and now I feel I need to stream Better Call Saul.

But movies…boy. Do we really need another Avengers side-show in the MCU? However, I am looking forward to John Wick 4.

Great comment- I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Of course, in the past directors, writers and producers were focused upon making money, but that was, in some ways, seen as a by-product of telling a good story, with nuanced characters and, most importantly, with a respectful nod to an understanding that the heroic journey is the best human story Ever Told- certainly the most pervasive in human history.

But more importantly, the postmodern cabal seems to have lost the art of defining what makes a great story. One didn’t necessarily need to be a Scot to find oneself rooting for the Scots in the movie Braveheart, and speaking from personal experience it was even possible to find oneself rooting for the Scots in Braveheart whilst still, rather inconveniently, having been raised English.

The perfectly emblematic exposure of the shallowness of the intersectional mindset which throws all consideration of plot, pace, suspense and character to the wayside in the pursuit of the goal of inclusivity is that I would wager, in most instances, most Black men would prefer to watch a rendition of Jaws than Waiting to Exhale- in other words, there is more solidarity to be found in a general male opposition to chick flicks, rather than along strictly racial lines.

What is quite ironic is that it seems to be Black male leads in particular who are expressing the deepest dissatisfaction with the current state of Hollywood and the media industry in general:

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