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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Televisions’s Tamer Fare

Television was beginning to hit its prime in the 1960s, and remained a much more conservative medium than film.  Paradigmatic of this were Rob and Laura's separate twin beds on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  All three networks were broadcasting in color in 1960s, and television, as it had begun to do in the 1950s, continued to place “little distinction between fact and fiction” demonstrating a “peculiar capacity to dissolve distinctions between comedy, drama, news, and commercials”  (Rielly, 2003, p. 172). 

The first presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon was televised in 1960, which forever changed the face of politics.  People listening on the radio were convinced Nixon had won, while those who saw the debates on television clearly saw Kennedy as the victor.  The intimacy of television made JFK into not only the president, but also someone we felt we knew.  In 1962, Telstar was launched and live television was transmitted from Europe to the United States.  Julia Child got cooking on public television in 1963, and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer began an annual holiday tradition of ushering in Christmas in 1964, and the first Superbowl occured in 1967. Also, archetypally apropos, in 1968, an ABC News Special showed how life began, with in utero pictures and a film of birth.

As America had its sights on the heavens, television followed suit: who can forget the whacky robot from Lost in Space (1965-1968) as he alerted his young human companion “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger.” Star Trek blasted off on NBC for a three-year run in 1966, and Ray Walston starring as My Favorite Martian (1963-1966) began a genre of magical adults upsetting the status quo, like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970), and Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched (1964-1972).  The British Sci-Fi series Dr. Who debuted in 1963, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus rounded out the decade in 1969.  Along with wacky came weird, and audiences got a peek into that with the eerie Twilight Zone (1959-1965) and The Outer Limits (1964-1965).

In the 1950s Jackie Gleason started a trend with The Honeymooners that would get its cartoon homage in the 1960s with Hanna Barbara’s The Flintstones (1960-1966) and The Jetsons (1962-1963).  The Flintstones and The Jetsons were the first cartoons made for adults, looking back and looking forward, taking a prehistoric and futuristic look at the foibles of family life.

Situation comedies were very popular in the 1960s, with family- centered shows The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966),  My Three Sons (1960-1972), Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71), Flipper (1964-1967), Green Acres (1965-1971) and Petticoat Junction (1963-1970), along with the zanier The Munsters (1964-1966), and The Addams Family (1964-1966). Hogan’s Heroes (1965-1971), was another wacky show from that era, about an Allied Prisoner of War camp during World War II in Germany. Hogan and his fellow prisoners were constantly outwitting their kooky German captors, the uptight Colonel Klink and Sgt. "I know nothing" Schultz.

From 1960-1967, Candid Camera caught people acting like idiots and then asked them to “Smile.”  The caped crusaders, Batman and Robin awed audiences with the amazing technology of the Batcave from 1966-1968.  Other “high-tech” shows at the time ranged from the very British Avengers (1961- 1969), to the Wild Wild West (1965-1969), which was set in the last century. Mission Impossible (1966-1973) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968), were serious shows about spying, while Get Smart (1965-1970), a comic takeoff on The Man From Uncle and James Bond spy movies, featured the battle between two (archetypally appropriate for the time) opposing spy agencies: Control and Chaos.  Maxwell Smart, as idiotic Agent 86 and his beautiful sidekick Agent 99 worked for Control, and each week they struggled to keep secrets away from Chaos.

While Dr. Kimble was on the run in The Fugitive from 1963-1967, another doctor, the dashing Dr. Kildare charmed us with his bedside manner from 1961-1966. Johnnie Carson, with a very different bedside manner, brought a much-needed late night chuckle along with his famous monologue, when he began his Tonight Show reign in 1962. Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In (1967 –1973) bricoled together little snippets and fast-cutting irreverence into an hour-long show, which was “very interesting, but stupid,” to quote a catch-phrase from one of Artie Johnson’s panoply of characters.  Aside from Artie, the show will best be remembered for bikini-clad, bubble-headed, body-painted, go-go dancing Goldie Hawn, and Flip Wilson’s cross-dressing Geraldine who often quipped “what you see is what you get” and “the devil made me do it.”  The show wittily and satirically showed us the more ridiculous side of life, emphasizing “humor and gentle mockery rather than serious social satire” (Rielly, 2003, pp. 201-202). Even then presidential candidate Richard Nixon appeared on the show and uttered one of the now famous catch-phrases: “Sock it to me.”  One of Laugh-In’s regular features, “Laugh-In Looks at the News,” parodied past news and predicted bizarre news of the future.  Surprisingly, a couple of its predictions came true: Ronald Reagan becoming president, and the fall of the Berlin Wall (Wikipedia, 2005d, online). The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour enjoyed a short run before becoming too controversial for the network when the show got too far left and too political. 

As the decade drew to a close, Sesame Street opened on PBS, starring the Muppets who educated as they entertained.  Kermit, Big Bird, Oscar, and the beloved Cookie Monster all got their start teaching tiny tots their ABC’s.  And speaking of ABC, Disney switched networks in the 1960s, going over to NBC, where Disney’s Wonderful World of Color premiered in 1961, and the show ran in that incarnation until the end of the decade. Disney's Alice in Wonderland (Geronimi and Jackson, 1951) made her color television premiere on the Wonderful World of Disney in 1964. 


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