Archive for the ‘Dennis Polifroni’s reviews’ Category

by Dennis Polifroni

If one were to think of television’s classic sitcoms as a series of bricks being laid to build a house, then the history of the sitcom can be broken down into three stages of construction.



The sitcoms of late 40’s and the whole of the 1950’s would be seen as the FOUNDATION.  These shows, coming to the new medium without rules for creation and production, walking blindly into the abyss, learning from mistakes and embracing what worked, created what many in the profession call “Standards”. Shows like I LOVE LUCY, SGT BILKO and THE HONEYMOONERS experimented, and made standard, the concepts of things like the three-camera set-up (so as not to miss any of the action should a camera konk out, and to offer the editor different angles to choose from for any scene), dramatic editing (often resorting to close-ups to gauge the reaction of a punch-line on the faces of the cast), and three-act stories that quickly set up the joke in the first, executed it in the second, and reflected on the punch-line  in the third and final.



The sitcoms of this period added gloss, and also realism, to the set-standards.  Here, in this period of only ten years, American and British television, learning from the lessons of the FOUNDATION period, tightened the material so it wasn’t as free-wheeling, sloppy and, as often the case in the 50’s, ad-libbed.  Gone was the shaky ground that the likes of Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball and Phil Silvers often had to navigate to keep the audience from realizing that there was a problem with a line of writing or that a technical screw-up was occurring as filming took place.  Emphasis on an episode’s continuity, keeping a smooth flow to the ideas that were being splayed across the screen, was also of key importance in this period and informed all television that followed in its wake.



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by Dennis Polifroni

Remakes and reboots don’t fare well.  Often, the best intentions are squashed by high anticipations and a kind of hopeful euphoria that occurs when a beloved property is seemingly resuscitated for a new generation of watchers and/or listeners.  At the movies, STAR WARS fans are, for the most part, still reeling over the newest installments in the franchise and, oft times than not, bitching that there was never really a need to contaminate the memory of the series first trio of classic adventure films.  Is there really a need for 2017’s BLADE RUNNER 2049?  Haven’t we said farewell to the amnesiac JASON BOURNE?  Most of the time, repeated visits to the well yield pretty dirty and murky drinking water.

However, lightning sometimes does strike twice (and even a third or fourth time), and, in the cases of the big screen adaptations of Batman and James Bond, even reemerge with tremendous results (who can really argue with Daniel Craig’s 007 or Christian Bale’s Dark Knight?).  But, television?  It had never really been tried.  That is, until STAR TREK.

STAR TREK (1966-1969) was a problem series in it’s initial run on the tube.  While it was often hailed as “creative” and “visionary” for its time, the show was constantly on the verge of being cancelled because of low ratings and “select audience” viewership.  The adventures of the crew of the Starship U. S. S. Enterprise seemed to appeal only to Sci-Fi and Horror geeks and to a select few who would take the chance on something completely different from the generic cop dramas, doctor shows, westerns and new “Lucy” incarnations that inundated the three big networks of the time.  As dazzling, creative, daring and original as some of the episodes were, the general perception of STAR TREK was that it was for kids and junkies of the genre.  By 1969, even after surviving a first-to-second season, write-in plea to keep the show on the air, the head honchos at NBC finally pulled the plug.

Yet, time can be funny.  Sometimes the legend of a thing absolutely outgrows the actual facts about it and something that was long thought of as “forgotten” grows to legendary status in the minds and imaginations of those that remember that thing fondly.  STAR TREK’s fans never stopped thinking and talking about it.  When the series started making its rounds on the syndication circuit in the form of “re-runs”, those fans became talking heads that urged and inspired even more people than initially watched, to watch, and the legend of STAR TREK grew like a snowball rolling down a white covered mountain.  The success of several theatrical films based on the original series didn’t hurt in helping the series gain it’s “Classic” status.  By the time the third film (STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK) was released in 1984, STAR TREK fever was spreading across the globe like wild-fire. (more…)

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