’Tis time to apply a J Cloth to my crystal ball and ponder the destiny of the medium

William Casselman July 9 1979

’Tis time to apply a J Cloth to my crystal ball and ponder the destiny of the medium

William Casselman July 9 1979

’Tis time to apply a J Cloth to my crystal ball and ponder the destiny of the medium

William Casselman

Writing this final column, after a full season reviewing TV, I feel the medium is about to speak in the voice of Jacob wrestling with the angel: “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” Thanks, I’ll pass. A TV critic hopes there’s no medical aftermath after propping eyelids open with toothpicks for nine months. By the way, folks, that’s me over in the corner, gnawing on my Hush Puppies, passing the hat for a bottle of Murine, and gently singing,“Catatonia, you is my woman now.”

Tis time to ponder the season past and apply a J Cloth to my crystal ball while asking: Where is TV going? No sneaking out now. This is heavy. Besides, I locked the door.

The present whirligig began last fall with a visit to my doctor. I learned that my masochism count was very low. I had sensed that something was amisssuch surefire emetics as Jack Horner speeches œ hadn’t been working at all. z My doctor was fresh out of 5 leeches, so instead I | donned the critical fez |ü and, whirling dervishly, set out to search history for individuals who might inspire me while reviewing TV shows. I found them easily: Captain Bligh, Torquemada, Attila the Hun. In fact, the editors tried to get Attila to write this column, but he was out of town—spending the high season in Timmins.

This was the year a mini-series called Ike gave rich new meaning to the term “pussyfooting.” Did that presidential Nembutal of the ’50s really sleep with Kay Summersby, his plucky British lady driver? After six numbing hours we still don’t know. Maybe Ike just snuggled up with a warm tank. Note to American producers: when canonizing tin saints, task one is to keep the celebrants awake.

Once more this season the CBC failed to learn that talk shows are rot about songs or guests or content: talk shows are about the host. If he’s dull, the TV camera snitches. Sic transit Peter Gzowski—in this case to edit a book, Spring Tonic, in which he accomplished

what even God could not: he made spring boring. In like manner, with well-deserved hook around neck, smiling Paul Soles duck walked backward into the wings, still emending every darn question: “Would you ... could you ... of course, J’m sure you could, I wouldn’t ask, I mean question you, if, well, I guess you know what I... er ...” zzzzzzzzz.

Then came our watery spring and CBC rallied with much excellence: The Newcomers, Connections II, Drying Up the Streets, the National Film Board’s won-

derful, bitter self-history Has Anybody Here Seen Canada? We saw Coming and Going, a moving documentary about a terminal-care ward at Manitoba’s St. Boniface General Hospital, and Fortunes, a brisk, fact-packed series about economic issues made surprisingly lively. While CBC made good programs, CTV made money, which is pleasant. Next year CTV can attempt some content.

Sitcoms are forever like sandstorms. You keep rubbing your eyes, but they won’t go away. With the antic birth-cry “Nanu-nanu,” Robin Williams sprang to notice on Mork and Mindy. The season’s one original comic, Williams in interviews is already sounding paranoid. “They’re going to destroy Mork,” he says nervously of his series.

Other superb comedians such as Lily Tomlin and Chevy Chase used TV brilliantly. Then, perceiving that weekly exposure would destroy them, would stretch thin and cheapen their talent, they left. Robin Williams, I predict,

will also exit after one more season.

In the year’s most idle foofaraw, Knowlton Nash seized the helm of CBC’s The National. Owl lib got a boost. And Knowlton became a legend in his own mind. Should we tell him that even Lassie barking the wire copy would get ratings?

TV producers ransacked English literature again and dragged whimpering to the tube novels such as Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again. An unruly, prose-stomping ox Wolfe may have been, but he was not the smarmy twit portrayed by actor Chris Sarandon. Look homeward, Wolfe, and melt with rue. The most astounding transformation of literary material, worthy of huzzahs in the street, was NBC’s Too Far to Go, a microscopic examination of marriage dissolving, based on John Updike’s short stories in The New Yorker. Loving homage was paid Updike’s hardwrought insights, and two careful actors, Blythe Danner and Michael Moriarty, let us watch familiarity breed the sullen pain of one modern, drifting couple. Too Far to Go made good for many a shoddy hour of viewing.

So where is our wandering medium going? The TV business seems healthy and frightened. That’s hopeful. The electronic road ahead is booby-trapped with lasers, videodiscs, fibre optics, microchips, new satellites and cablecable-cable. It all means karate-chop fragmenting of the present audiences held by American and Canadian television networks.

In the roar of clicks to come, when each of us has 100 channels, there’ll be a hog trough of schlock, more telejunk than is dreamed of, even in the head of that fecal King Midas, Freddie Silverman. But also more chance to find a diamond or two gleaming in the muck. Finally, let us ignore both Harry Boyle and the Clyne Commission as they bleat for further royal studies of the CBC. Just kick a little ass at CBC headquarters.

Well, that seems to be where I came in.