TV Themes

January 17, 2004 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Rants | Leave a comment

This is the first installment of what I call “My Brother Said…”. They are simply writings that flesh out certain thoughts from my opinionated brother, who often provides me with interesting takes on social issues. The first topic deals with television. He’s a serious student and critic of TV; I view TV as pure entertainment (I am a regular viewer of only two shows – CNN and one other show that I will mention later).

It seems that each decade of TV shows has an underlying theme. A hit formula for a given decade results in shows sharing similar themes.

Successful TV shows are always imitated.

However, one can see a certain theme for each ten-year period. Let’s have a look at these “arcs” linking similar

shows, and its relationship with American culture.

One genre dominated the 50s – the Western. As postwar America industrialized and reached new heights of economic achievement, nostalgia for a simpler time created shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza. This was also the time the situation comedy first appeared; I Love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, and Ozzie and Harriet were very popular. The popularity of both genres crossed demographic lines, which indicated a viewing public that was homogenous. Minorities and generation gaps didn’t seem to be a problem then šŸ™‚

The 60s were filled with espioniage shows, reflecting America’s battle with Communism in the previous decade. In a period of social change, many skeletons from the 50s were uncovered. Popular shows included Mission Impossible, The Man from UNCLE, and I Spy. At this point, adult shows were distinct from children shows, as the latter got cartoons and comedies like Batman (Sock!, Bam!) and more situation comedies.

The 70s were left to deal with the disruption caused by the 60s. In the aftermath of the sexual and drug revolutions, political turmoil, and Watergate, the police show reached its peak. Shows like SWAT, Hawaii Five-O, Police Woman, Kojak, and Starsky and Hutch reflected Americans’ desire for law and order at the expense of other, less important, things like freedom and privacy. The genre reached its extreme in shows like Hunter and TJ Hooker, which featured particularly violent protagonists who routinely violated civil rights.

The pendulum swung the other way in the 80s. Police shows remained popular, but was made kindler and gentler (or more “compassionate”) by the rise of buddy cop shows. ChiPs, Miami Vice, A-Team, and Simon & Simon showed heroes who were alienated from both the criminals they were trying to put away and the ever-increasingly impersonal justice system they were working for. The other genre that arose during this decade of greed were shows featuring the rich and famous. Schadenfreude made shows like Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, and Flamingo Road popular.

Law and order took the next decade off; the 90s were characterized by self-indulgence, as shows focused more on regular/common people. This desire led to the beginnings of reality TV. Policemen made way for lawyers (LA Law), journalists (Murphy Brown), and comedians (Sienfeld). The cycle of greed started in the yuppie 80s reached it’s peak with the dot-com crash of the late 90s. Fortunately, this period of extreme and insane greed did not last long enough, nor produced enough material to make it to TV.

The 2000s are a decade of terrorism and national security. Popular shows include CSI, Threat Matrix, Without a Trace, and the one that best epitomizes the post 9/11 world – Fox’s 24. Their entertainment value lies in showing that the government is actually doing its’ job protecting our country from ‘terrorists’, whether they are wielding nuclear weapons or simply trying to find food for their children. The good guys use superior American technology (never mind the fact that most of the high-tech equipment can’t even be made here anymore) and always remain one step ahead of their adversaries. Police have taken a backseat to unaccountable agents and specialists.

This new genre of shows provides an interesting balance with the next generation of reality TV. One only has to compare 24s Jack Bauer with the latest American Idol or Bachelorette to see the great gap in TV storytellling during this decade.

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