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What was your favourite show from the Platinum age of TV?

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The Platinum Age of Television by David Bianculli

Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca

Platinum age of TV – The 1950s and 60s have always been regarded as “the Golden Age of Television”, where some of the most beloved TV shows from that formative period when television started to become a mass medium sprouted from, such as “I Love Lucy”, “The Honeymooners”, “The Twilight Zone”, “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gunsmoke”, and former radio, stage and film stars like Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan and Rod Serling became superstars in there own right as a result during that era.

If any TV viewer – past and present — believes that nothing of significance surfaced on the tube as of 1970, that just isn’t so. Shows like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “All in the Family”, “M*A*S*H” and “Hill Street Blues” gave viewers shows that were just as entertaining as their 50s and 60s counterparts, but were more intelligent and more realistic in the way they were created and presented.

However, according to David Bianculli, TV critic for NPR, The New York Daily News and author of three books (whose history of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour – Dangerously Funny – is probably one of the best single-volume histories of a single TV show), firmly believes that there is a platinum age of television. He argues that it started in 1999, when “The West Wing” debuted and became the last great drama series on commercial television, and the debut of “The Sopranos”, which not only changed the way Americans regularly viewed a TV series, but also brought HBO a big notch up from a cable movie channel to a brand new venue of original TV programming, which in turn had similar cable channels follow their example, and brought about the formation of streaming TV networks like Netflix and Amazon, as well as the habit of “binge watching” of a show’s previous seasons in order to prepare them for a new season of original episodes.

As Bianculli eloquently states: “I’ve been an avid TV viewer through all those decades. Rather than reflexively arguing that the good old days were the best, I’m an old dog pointing out that the new tricks are even better.”

Bianculli uses his passion for television, as well of his vast knowledge of the medium and its legendary programs, and puts it all together quite admirably in another single volume called The Platinum Age of Television, which should double as a bible for this generation of TV viewers, whether they watch their favorite shows on the big four networks, on cable, on a streaming service, as they originally air, on their DVRs, or binge watching. 

In a hefty 552-page tome, Bianculli dissects the shows that make up the evolution of the platinum of television by genre (i.e., family and workplace situation comedies, children’s shows, westerns, war shows, science fiction, animation, miniseries, etc.), and for each chapter, chooses five shows from the 50s to the present and examines each one as a means of tracing its respective contributions towards that platinum age (for example, in the chapter dealing with the variety/sketch genre, Bianculli examines – in order of appearance – Toast of the Town/Ed Sullivan Show, Your Show of Shows, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live). The profiles of each show he spotlights in the book are brief in appearance (about 2-3 pages each), yet he manages to say so much about its evolution and contributions to the history of television; and he wraps up each chapter with brief descriptions of other shows that surfaced as a result of the five significant ones he focuses on.

As an added bonus, he conducts lengthy interviews with some of the most significant, legendary persons in TV history from creators, producers, directors, writers, performers and show runners, ranging from Carol Burnett, Matt Groening, Mel Brooks, James L. Brooks, David Milch and Amy Schumer. These interview pieces are lengthy, yet they provide a great deal retrospection and introspection to what prompted them to develop a career in television, and how they evolved the shows that they made famous and has made them famous. In fact, it may even encourage some readers to indulge in some binge watching and take up some of the series that are profiled in the book (like reading about “Breaking Bad” and the interview with its creator Vince Gilligan, which helped spark my interest in this controversial, award-winning AMC series).

The Age of Platinum Television is an authoritative, indispensible book for those who appreciate quality television, no matter what genre or era it came from. It deftly proves that although there are more ways and means to watch a TV series these days thanks to technology, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a lack of quality programming available to watch.

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