Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Second Golden Age of Television

Someone trying to judge the year by the television shows we've been watching of late could be forgiven for thinking it's the 1980s, or, at the outside, 1990.

Thanks to the wonders of DVD, this weekend's viewing has included HILL STREET BLUES, MOONLIGHTING, and NORTHERN EXPOSURE. There are just a couple of current primetime shows which interest our family, but we don't miss having "new" shows to watch at all when there is so much great television available on DVD.

I'm finding that although I remember vague outlines of the plots, I've forgotten many details, due to the passage of time. Much else about these older shows still seems fresh and new -- in many ways these programs haven't "dated," other than in minor ways, such as the absence of cell phones in 1981's HILL STREET BLUES (they would have solved problems in a couple of episodes!) and offhanded cultural allusions in MOONLIGHTING. NORTHERN EXPOSURE, the most recently produced of the three shows, always had a timeless, Brigadoon-ish quality, and feels as though it could have been filmed this year.

We've been trying to convey to our teenagers how groundbreaking and "different" these shows were when they first aired. Now the overlapping, rapid-fire dialogue of HILL STREET and MOONLIGHTING is commonplace, seen again on programs such as THE WEST WING and GILMORE GIRLS. MOONLIGHTING, in particular, was known for its outside-the-box creativity -- I remember how our jaws dropped the first time we saw the episode "Atomic Shakespeare," a takeoff on THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, with a rhyming script, musical number, and hordes of extras. NORTHERN EXPOSURE'S quirky small town of Cicely, Alaska, was a bit of a forerunner for Stars Hollow, Connecticut, of GILMORE GIRLS. HILL STREET BLUES presents remarkable character studies of imperfect people doing their best to cope with difficult circumstances. All are substantive, literate, and inventive shows which give the viewer an experience akin to reading a good book or watching a classic movie.

The interesting book THE SECOND GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION (subject link) by Robert J. Thompson examines all three of the shows we've been enjoying this weekend, along with a number of other programs of the '80s and early '90s.

Now if only THIRTYSOMETHING and HOMEFRONT would come out on DVD...


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