entertainment

television

Bill MacVicar December 31 1979
entertainment

television

Bill MacVicar December 31 1979

television

Bill MacVicar

The highlights of the fall 1979 television season are . . . let's see now,

what season was there? There were launch parties, glossy magazine inserts, bold slogans. But programming itself oozed along like a slow channel of oatmeal, with no sense of occasion. Of course, the concept of a season has never worked for television—it’s hardly the opera season or hunting season. The reality is that for most of us the television set goes on at age 2 and stays on till the last trump.

In the Nielsen boxes that serve them as hearts (not to mention heads) programmers know this and simply do not worry about what goes on. They worry about when it goes on. So it’s far easier to stoke up the guttering fires under Archie Bunker (nine years now, and counting) than give something new half a chance. A product of the Mary Tyler Moore mills and easily the wittiest new show on the air, The Last Resort deserved a better chance. Maybe The Associates did, too, and both may get it when they are revamped for the new, improved season. Out of the Blue was sent directly to hell, Boss Angel and all. Fair enough, yet The Ropers survive. Given the vindictiveness with which the rating game is now played, it’s unlikely that The Mary Tyler Moore Show, that bench mark of classy, massaudience production, would have survived long enough to outgrow miniskirts, let alone make producer and move into a swank new apartment.

Maybe it’s the new conservatism. Folks want to be comfortable with old friends and have no time for striking up new acquaintances. It’s beyond dispute that enough viewers look to this unlikely medium for something like spiritual reassurance. How else to account for the perdurability of the family shows, from the epic, costumed A Gift to Last to the narcoleptic blandness of Eight Is Enough. Along with their noble-hillbilly cousins, these shows go on their sentimental ways as if Robert Altman had never made A Wedding. Speaking of sacraments, the religious talk shows are reaching viewers whose names are legion. Observed with the proper distance, they offer the most compelling documentary on the air today. They are, quite simply, a phenomenon, and NBC’s sleeper hit, Real People, has been the first to cash in, albeit in a secular vein.

Documentary {60 Minutes, Real People) has grown ominously successful, evidence perhaps of the fact that sitcoms can no longer obliterate an ever colder reality. Yes (the ritual yes) there are good shows on the air. Dieppe 19J>2, Crossbar and The Music of Man are reasons enough not to begrudge the $22 we each contribute annually to the CBC. Viewers with access to the American PBS stations or TV Ontario picked up the most exciting telecast of the season, a Live From the Met production of the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht opera Mahagonny, with our very own Teresa Stratas starring sultrily.

But to beat the drum for such obviously high-minded shows is to fall into that tiresome rhetoric that confuses didacticism with quality. It’s the same attitude that causes awards and mealy-mouthed praise to be lavished on the likes of Lou Grant, a drama with the slackest of mainsprings. What’s being saluted is the principled, moderate liberalism that informs the show, leavened with a touch of nostalgia for Mary Richards’ old boss, even now that he sports tennis whites, sips white wine and smiles like a jaded owl. The simple truth is that what television does bestblithe, comfortable entertainment—it is doing abominably.