Thursday, February 3, 2011

Watching the Pioneers of Television

PBS's Pioneers of Television, well really the pioneers of American television, began its second season in January on PBS. The second series will end on 8 February.

The first season of Pioneers began in January of 2008 and took on American sitcoms, Late Night shows, Variety shows (late night is basically where elements of Variety shows have been ghettoised since the 1970s and 1980s), and Game Shows. During the second season the series has taken on US Science Fiction shows (lots of Roddenberry the liberal hero), Westerns, Crime Shows, and Local Kids TV.

Unfortunately, Pioneers of Television has proven to be no more than mediocre. Each episode doesn't cover enough of the terrain of each genre, doesn't put TV shows into their history of television contexts or broader historical contexts sufficiently (and anything beyond the US that might have impacted US TV is ignored in this television version of American exceptionalism), jumps around too much chronologically, and is far too boosterish (the see isn't American TV wonderful mentality). The interviews are of the standard Archive of American Television variety and are thus only moderately interesting. The music is awful and consists primarily of riffs on the relevant TV show tunes. I assume the makers didn't want to pony up for rights the actual TV theme song and as a result the music is mediocre at best (I am being generous here, by the way). And there was far too much Robert Conrad and far too much Wild, Wild West, a mediocre show at best which was no where near as good as the best Western of the seventies, Alias Smith and Jones. What saves the series, to some extent, are the images and far too brief excerpts of and from the TV shows filtered through the far too fuzzy Pioneers of Television kino eye. As such it is worth viewing if barely. A word of warning, however: Don't come to Pioneers of Television expecting to be historically and critically enlightened, at least very much. If you prefer your history in mythic garb, however, I am sure you will find much to enjoy in the series.

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