Monday, January 16, 2012

Rant #656: The Way It Used To Be

I have ranted against current TV offerings on many, many occasions on this blog, and I am going to do it again today.

This time, I am going to describe how it used to be on television, versus how it is today.

Today, you have everything basically out in the open on network TV, less nudity, of course.

Any topic is open for discussion, and, of course, that means that sexual talk is right out in the open, even during supposedly family time, at 8 p.m.

Everything can be spoken about related to sex, and I mean everything.

No, you still can't say the F-bomb, but I think we are coming closer to the day when you will be able to say that too.

Now that I have set the table, let's look back 40 years ago and how the situation of "sex" was handled.

I am going to base my observation on a popular, ground-breaking network television sitcom of that day, and one episode where, if the same story was developed today on a current show, you can only imagine what would have went on.

I saw an episode (actually a two-parter) of "That Girl" yesterday. One of the most popular shows of its day, the ABC sitcom starred Marlo Thomas and Ted Bessell, and even though it isn't given credit for it, it was the first network sitcom to show a woman pursuing the "American Dream" on her own.

Sure, she had a boyfriend pushing her to excel, but the character of Ann Marie was very driven to become the best actress she could be.

Anyway, on this episode, boyfriend Donald, a journalist, has been sent to Hollywood on an extended stay to cover Hollywood's current take on morals. He is going to be away from Ann for a month, and Ann doesn't like it.

Donald suggests that Ann go with him, work for him, and look for acting jobs in Tinseltown.

Today, Ann would jump at the chance, and there wouldn't be any discussion of her not going.

But back on TV in 1970, there was plenty of discussion.

Ann dad's objected, not only to her going but to her boyfriend paying her to go with him, giving her a salary where she might be losing a month's salary if she just went with him as his "guest."

Dad figured that the two would shack up in a single room, and Donald paying her almost made his daughter into ... well, you fill in the blank.

The two were determined to go together, and they did.

But dad kept tabs on them, and their hotel living arrangement, even from afar.

There was a mixup in rooms, and dad originally thinking he called his daughter's room, got Donald on the phone. Of course, he was wondering why Donald was in his daughter's room, even when Donald explained that there was a mixup and it was actually his room.

And by the way, the rooms were adjoining, separated only by a door--which Ann assured her father was locked, of course.

There were other mixups during their stay, all of which were cunningly handled by the writers and the actors to play up the comedy of the show.

There was one point in one of the shows where the cleaning lady comes in, and Ann had just finished getting dressed for bed. She was in her night gown, and the cleaning lady--why she was up there at night was probably a plot device--inexplicably opens the door between the two rooms, and Donald gets a glimpse of his girlfriend in her not-revealing-at-all nightgown.

Big mistake. Ann would have none of it, and the door was closed as quickly as it opened.

Here is another one: Donald ordered dinner for him and Ann which was to be brought up to her room, because her room was larger.

Well, Dad caught wind of this too, and Ann, trying to stave off this anger, came up with a plan: they could eat in her room--and eat in his room, too--by putting the table with the food through the connecting door, with Donald sitting on his side, in his room, and Ann sitting on hers, in her room.

That way, she wouldn't offend her father.

As almost a side story to the main story, Ann did get an acting job in a commercial, but her acting job forced her to into dangerous situations that made her uncomfortable, and while she was happy to get the acting job, she was unhappy at having to face danger at every turn.

These two episodes depicted the morals that were allowed on network TV back then.

Both Ann and Donald were in a committed relationship, but Ann had to be chaste at any cost, because these two episodes demonstrated the maximum point that shows could go to during that time in talking about adult male/female relationships.

You can only imagine how this would be handled in today's world of network TV, but looking at this 1970 episode from a 2012 perspective, it was quite refreshing.

Sure, you can say that they were able to do more with this subject that they could have done 20 years earlier in the 1950s, and you would be right.

But there is more to it than that.

Creativity was in place here. When you can't write directly about a subject, and you have to write around it, it certainly makes it more creative, more clever, and creates, like in this sitcom, funny situations.

One of the reasons "That Girl" was a hit when it was was that the writing on the show was superb, and this show truly developed that element of the show. Writers were forced to write around a sticky subject, as the nation's mores were changing.

But they did, and bravo to them. The episodes hold up, in their own way, 40 years after they were originally shown.

Heck, the writers of "Mike and Molly," "The Big Bang Theory," and countless others should really be forced to watch shows from 40 and more years ago to see how such situations were handled.

I am sure that they could learn quite a bit from those old shows, and make their current shows better.

But it won't happen, I know that.

I just wish it would.

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