Monday, September 3, 2012

Writing assignment #1 (Due Tuesday): Find a television program from before 1990 online (see list of suggested web sites), watch an episode, and think about it. Describe what you saw. What's different from the kinds of shows you watch today? Write a short paragraph or two about what kinds of research questions you think you could pursue. (ALSO: Note where you found the program.)


  1. Saved by the Bell (S1E1) 1988:


    Saved by the Bell, a classic show. It was so refreshing watching this episode of Saved by the Bell. The narrator who began the show was British. The frequent laughing in the audience throughout the funny scenes in the show added to the comedy, but sometimes it would be annoying cause they'd laugh at something that I didn't find very funny...maybe that is the change in humor.

    The students in the show were in 8th/9th grade. They always wore conservative clothing. Cleavage, legs and even arms barely showed on any of the actors. The students make corny political jokes. Politics in students on t.v today is pretty much a no-go.

    There were a handful of moral lessons throughout the 21 minutes of the show. For example, telling the truth, being honest to others, coping with losing a loved one, loyalty in a relationship, going to trusted adults for advice.

    The 9th grade girl asked Zak to come over to the "pool" cause her parents would be out...His response was "I'll bring my snorkel!"....that'd never be the response in a modern show...this invite to the pool would be more sexual.

    The teacher going on a "hot date" wore loose high waisted pants, a completely covering blouse and low heels...That would never happen today! And EVERYONE in school heard that the teacher had a date that night. Personal life and school/work life were mixed and people were into other's business.

    In Pretty Little Liars, one of the teachers who is also a student's mom goes on a different "hot dates" throughout the show...she wears revealing clothing and dates a younger guy who is pretty much a hipster...they add much more sexuality to the show.

    In Saved by the Bell, the teacher lets students walk into her home...EVEN DURING HER DATE! She eventually tells her date that her students are a big part of her life and that they drop by her house whenever they need her...Teachers don't even give out their number these days! Let alone, invite you into their home!

    I also noticed the distinct music that played when a moral lesson was being said about losing and loving someone.

    This show feels so refreshing to watch. The humor was clever and witty...not always dirty and shallow. People in the show were kind to one another and showed viewers compassion and care. Much different than the show today that consist of girls being brutal to one another, sex, and constant innuendo.

    I love Saved by the Bell.

  2. I watched the Andy Griffith Show for my assignment after finding it on the TV Land website. I was surprised with how relevant and similar it was to shows today. I actually enjoyed watching it much more than I thought I would. One difference I found was that the comedy was much more slapstick, which is different than what I see today on television. I also noticed that the music was all from a band as opposed to the popular music that’s featured in television today. A research question that I could pursue is was the music prepared for each show by a live band or was there a soundboard that they continually used?

  3. On Youtube, I was able to find full episodes of the Cosby Show. I decided to watch the sixth episode of the fourth season of the Cosby Show for this assignment. The episode goes through the difficulties of raising a family after Bill brought home his son, Theo from the police station after a traffic violation, which leads to a spat between Bill and his wife, Clair. There were clear differences of the show compared to current popular television shows.
    The most prominent feature of the show was the lack of swearing. Many modern primetime shows feature light swearing, using the occasional “damn,” “ass” or “hell.” Shows offered on cable feature swearing even more so, and occasionally require censorship. It is even worse on channels such as HBO, a channel that does not require censorship by the FCC.
    Another important component of the Cosby Show was the calm, relaxing nature of it. No one was yelling, even when tensions were high. That is simply not the case today. The pace of shows are much faster, with many instances of screaming to get their voices heard. This is especially true on reality television shows such as “The Real Housewives” series, “Dance Moms,” and “Toddlers and Tiaras.”
    Link to the episode:

  4. I watched the pilot episode of "Seinfeld," which was technically produced in 1989 so I figured it would work. What I noticed is that the humor, while still funny, is much less crude than on today's sitcoms. Granted, this could be because of the nature of it being a pilot, but it definitely stood out. The show still uses stereotypes for humor, but they're presented differently. The show begins with a short skit about how women are lackadaisical about how they pay for things, often using the check, thinking that it's the most convenient method. Later in the show, Jerry and his ex-girlfriend-turned-best-friend, Elaine, attend a birthday dinner party together (but separate). The humor of going somewhere with an ex was there, especially in the awkward moment when Jerry finds another woman at the table attractive, but he's not entirely sure what to do with Elaine sitting right next to him. Moments like this occur throughout the entire episode, where it's more the body language and other indirect forms of communication that provide the laughs, rather than just the script itself.

    In general, this episode of "Seinfeld" portrayed more harmless humor. It was a lot of mindless bantering between family and friends about situations that we find ourselves in on a daily basis. Talking to our parents about our relationships, finding information about someone we met but didn't get a chance to really become acquainted with (before Facebook!), and spending time with our goofy friends -- the situations in this episode are still relevant in today's world, but the references are outdated. Even so, it's crazy to see how the "formula" to sitcoms still applies two over two decades ago. It would be interesting to research how the laugh track was operated for the show, and just, in general, the little things that intentionally reside in each of the characters (clothing, indirect mannerisms, ec.) that make the show a little bit funnier all around.

  5. Growing up, I loved watching old sitcom reruns on TV. Throughout elementary school, I wasn’t allowed to watch Frasier, Friends or The Simpsons because my mother deemed them “inappropriate”. As I watched a randomly chosen episode of Diff’rent Strokes—one of my favorite retro sitcoms—for this class, I was more than slightly surprised by the theme they chose: child molestation.Though the show in general comprises many of the classic TV sitcom qualities characteristic of the late 70’s, early 80’s, when Diff’rent Strokes aired, it was this particular episode that intrigued me.
    In “The Bicycle Man,” the main character Arnold and his friend Dudley are lured by the owner of a bike shop into his living quarters behind the store, using ice cream, toys and other kid-friendly items—all while convincing them not to tell their parents about these interactions. As the episode continues, he pressures them to drink some wine, shows them naked pictures of himself and takes pictures of them with their shirts off as a “game.” On their next visit he shows them pornographic cartoons, and Arnold feels something is wrong so he leaves and tells his father. They call the police and arrive just in time to rescue Dudley before he gets seriously molested.
    The episode was broadcast in two parts, each with an introductory statement by Conrad Bain, a lead actor in the show, encouraging parents and children to “watch this informative episode and then discuss the problem presented.” Today, sitcoms don’t tend to address such serious issues in such an upfront manner. Diff’rent Strokes presented a gritty scenario portraying child molestation, unadulterated by a mask of humor. Even I, a senior in college who has seen this issue presented not as a fictional situation many times, felt very uncomfortable watching the show.
    Research wise, one could take a closer look at the time period during which this was broadcast and see if child molestation was a big issue discussed then. Also, comparisons could be sought out to any special episodes of child-friendly comedies today that focus on important issues like this.

  6. I also searched on YouTube to find an episode of the Cosby Show episode 15 in the first season. There are many differences between a show back then and there is today. The first major difference that jumps out to me to laughter in the background when a remark is made, I don’t think any TV programs have the laughter background noise anymore but I could be wrong. The clothes are also very different back then as we see them all dress up fancily for a banquet dinner as Bill Cosby wins Physician of the year. While the Men’s outfits remain similar in style with a tuxedo, we see a unique looking bow tie that I’ve never seen anyone wear today and curious to know if that was the style back in the 80s. Also, we see a much more conservative dressing style with the females such as Claire and Denise both have the bottom of their dresses cover their knees.

    Also the nature of the humor in the show is totally different than most humorous shows today, Bill likes to pick fun of his kids that always seems to entertain but also in a light hearted way without demeaning them, which is something we rarely see today. The humor I would compare to a show like the Office is more crude at times and more unexpected while the Cosby Show remains mild mannered and calm yet still funny at the same time.

    If there would be one question I would look into, it would be about the knowledge about dyslexia back during the time of that show aired in 1984 and now, because it is common knowledge on the show that Theo has dyslexia and we see him not want to read his father’s acceptance speech when he found out Bill Cosby couldn’t be there to accept the award. I would just want to know how far along we have come in our education system to help kids with dyslexia.

  7. I watched "The Mike Wallace Interview" where Mike Wallace interviewed Eldon Edwards, Imperial Wizard of the KKK in 1957. One thing I immediately noticed about this program was the intermixing of sponsorship with the program. The commercial part of the program was not separate from the main content thread. For instance, he introduces us to the goals of the interview to come, but when he finishes his intro, he picks up with a mention of how good his “natural” cigarette is.

    The producer’s use his commercial as an opportunity for the guest to come in. You can see Eldon Edwards brushing by Mike Wallace while he’s endorsing the cigarette. The quality of execution was a little sloppy there. If today’s producers were using that format to get a guest on set, they would surely be more careful. Nevertheless, I think it speaks volumes as to how unscripted, unscripted TV actually was 60 years ago. It was plain and simple, there seems to have been little to no editing of the broadcast in post production.

    Another thing is that a disclaimer against possible offensive content was spoken by Mike Wallace. These days we see disclaimer statements, white block letters in all caps on a black screen saying things like, “This broadcast in no way reflects the views of the hosts, station, parent station,” “Intended for mature audiences,” etc. The one by Wallace, however, is so genuine. To me it speaks to the manner in which television must have existed in the fifties – when more personal elements flourished. This is surely a reflection on societal values and norms. These days we have brief messages flashed at us, but it seems like Mike Wallace really cared for the sensitivities of his audience.

    Another thing to notice is the technologies of the time. When they introduce Edwards, they pan over to a blown-up still photo of him and zoom in on it to make it a full screen image. Now we would CG that kind of image into the video. In addition, each man has a standing microphone close by.

    One research question to pursue is how advertising and broadcast media have evolved. What did their relationship look like 60 years ago? 30 years ago? Now? For instance, Wallace was sponsored by Phillip Morris, and he smoked Phillip Morris cigarettes all show. Now, the industries seem to be separate.

    I watched my show at

    Highly recommended! Wallace fries Edwards and the KKK.

  8. I watched one of my favorite old sitcoms, "Hogan's Hero's" on YouTube. Obviously some of the the classic sitcom aspects where there, crowd laughter, one camera angle per shot, etc. Because these shows were shot in a studio in front of a live audience, only one camera angle was used during a scene, which is something that we really don't see in TV today.

    I noticed a lot of the humor was different than what we see today, it was much more dry and harkend back to the old British humor. Just little one-liners that in this day and age would sound kind of lame, but I still get a laugh out of them.

    The theme I saw was very pro-American, the Germans were all stupid, and Hogan and his men were always out-smartting them. Seeing as this show was filmed in the 70's, the middle aged audience that would have been watching at that time would have served in WWII and seeing something pro-American would have been appealing.

    Two research questions I would like to investigate would be: What was the German response to this show? By that I mean, did they have a similar WWII program with different themes? Part of me thinks that most Germans resented the war, but that same middle aged demographic that fought in the war would have been watching TV as well, what did they watch?

    Also, what was the idea behind the show? Was it made for American propaganda? Or something less cynical?

  9. I watched a 1988 episode of "Who's the Boss?" through Youtube.I have to say I don't think I've ever seen Melissa Milano so covered up in my life. It was a bizarre twist to see her as a fourteen year old dressed in three layers of baggy button ups, sweaters and parkas. Everyone was constantly in some form of a sweatshirt at all times with the exception of the grandmother who actually wore fitted and at times revealing clothing. This was very strange to see, modern television obviously looks to show off the figures of young cast members. It is a family show, but still--the dad's jeans fit better than than Milano's. The other thing I noticed is the audience's responses weren't totally in sync; there were plenty of moments when there was a pause or moment for a joke to be accepted and there was just no reaction. Today a lot of shows either have a 'laugh track' or add in effects where needed after taping.

    The other thing I noticed was the characters trying to have a 'modern' discussion on dating. The teen love interest took the plunge of 'going steady'and accepting the boy's pin--a title that doesn't even exist in the modern dating world anymore. The conversation was both interesting and bizarre because there was the obvious point that Milano only thought of marriage for her future. She teased her boyfriend that he needed to give her a ring for going steady but his pin would do and then was later depicted applying his last name to herself and going to the mall to look at china patterns. This was all done in the scope of a teenage girl fantasizing about her future but it was still a noticeable change from today when younger girls are not typically assumed to obsess over marriage as their future. Finally at the closing point of the show Milano reconciled with her father who felt left out by his daughter's evolving relationship. She asked him permission to go steady and he said it wasn't up to him to decide even though he didn't like it. Okay, what red blooded father looks at his fourteen year old daughter and leaves her to make her own choices with boys? Let's be honest this is restricted to TV, for better or for worse fathers are known to be, uh, very involved in a young girl's dating life. This development felt very "TV" to me.

  10. Family Ties: Season 2, Episode 14 “Say Uncle” (Jan. 26, 1984)
    Seen on Netflix

    The jumpstart to Michael J. Fox’s career came only after Matthew Broderick was unavailable. Go figure. Airing for most of the eighties, Family Ties was a show that featured the relationship between Fox’s character Alex P. Keaton and his liberal parents, Steven and Elyse. This dynamic was often used as a platform to portray how, even through divided opinions, a family must strive to learn from, understand, and love each other.

    In this particular episode, however, the issue at hand doesn’t revolve around any bipartisan views. At the beginning of the episode, Alex and the family are excitedly anticipating the arrival of Uncle Ned, who is portrayed by Tom Hanks. Described as a successful former executive who endured a fall from grace due to embezzlement charges, Ned shows signs that he had moved on from the debacle. However, one could see that there was turmoil brewing with every beer he requested upon his arrival.

    “Alex, you got any beers?”
    “C’mon, sit down and have a drink, it’ll make you feel better.”
    “Oh, well you’re gonna need a beer, it’ll help you study.”

    What struck me as particularly interesting was the show’s attempt to squeeze humor into some of the darkest scenes in sitcom history. Laugh tracks accompanied off-key jokes made by Ned, who was visibly drunk for the entire episode.

    He scours through the pantry in search for items containing alcohol and chugs an entire bottle of vanilla extract.

    (Laugh track)

    He grabs Alex by the shoulders and exclaims, “You think I’m drunk? You think I’m drunk?! Let me tell you something…I’m drunk.”

    (Laugh track)

    He purposely bombs an interview which Steven had set up. At one point, he pulls out a clarinet to “break the ice”. As Steven put it, “Elyse, he showed up drunk and without socks!”

    (Laugh track)

    There are countless more examples throughout the episode, demonstrating contradictory examples of Ned using tomfoolery to cover up his wallowing in the mire. It seems like an odd thing to do, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a modern show incorporate the laugh track to instill uncomfortable tension in the scenes. It made me curious as to whether other shows used this device to discuss social issues. Why would a show portray something as serious as alcoholism as a laughing matter? Perhaps they were attempting to embody the common phrase, “You gotta laugh to keep from crying”?

  11. I watched the season three finale of M.A.S.H. titled “Abyssinia, Henry” on a website called Right off the bat I noticed several differences between the TV shows I watch today compared to this 1975 classic that was ranked as the 20th greatest episode of all time by TV Guide in 1997.

    First, there is no animation or computer generated graphics besides the title of the show and actors/actresses names appearing on screen. The entire idea is extremely simple and while I have not seen any other episodes of M.A.S.H., I would guess that the introduction to every episode is exactly the same.

    Next, I noticed how some of the jokes are hard to follow because I have never followed the show before. But on the other hand there were plenty of jokes and punch lines I understood totally. This is similar to how today’s TV shows are because some scenes are funny while some aren’t totally understood by the audience.

    Another difference I found is the camera work. In M.A.S.H. there were not nearly as many camera angles or camera shots then in today’s TV shows. Today, it seems like there is a different camera angle for each person’s lines while in M.A.S.H. they generally used only one or two different cameras for each scene. It was a noticeable difference for me because I hate when the camera angle changes so much throughout a scene. I think it also shows the budget was considerably lower back then compared to today. It was refreshing to see.

    At the end of the episode, the character named Radar reports that Henry Blake, who was on a helicopter heading home, was shot down and killed over the Sea of Japan. I wasn’t sure why this episode was so important to the M.A.S.H. series but quickly found why.

    I was shocked and stunned when they killed the main character at the end of the show. I would like to find out if this was the first time a main character was killed off in a major TV series, especially in such a tragic fashion, because this episode was from 1975. I could imagine the social impact this had on people back then especially how sudden it happened in the episode.

  12. I found the complete series of The Dick Van Dyke Show on Hulu. While I am very familiar with the show, I chose to watch the episode, “Where did I come from?” because I believe it highlights some major differences in the way television shows were written and aired in the 1960’s.
    The Petrie’s young son, Ritchie, asks his parents how he was born. A flustered Rob Petrie merely recounts everything he and Mrs. Petrie did that day before making it to the hospital. The flashback begins with Mr. and Mrs. Petrie lying separately in two single beds. Even though they were a married couple, it was considered a taboo for them to be seen sleeping in the same bed because of the actions it implied. However, television shows today are sometimes solely based around an unmarried couple sleeping in the same bed together. The Secret Life of the American Teenager, for example, is about nothing but teenagers not only sleeping in the same beds, but having sex in them as well.
    Also, Mrs. Petrie is seen wearing capri pants. While this is nothing out of place compared to the attire of today’s female characters, it definitely highlights the era. Television housewives wore only skirts or dresses. They very rarely, if at all, wore pants. Laura Petrie was one of the first television characters to wear not only pants, but capri pants of all things. This was considered scandalous at the time but because of her assertion of independence she preceded the fad of the capri in the 1960’s. Today’s generation has become so desensitized to provocative dress of television that no eye blinks when a woman is seen half dressed. However provocative one could call Laura’s capris at the time, the controversy, compared to today’s dress, shows how the limits have stretched over the years. The language of the show, as a whole, is also very conservative and carefully worded compared to today’s shows. Laura frequently uses the phrase “Oh, my gosh,” instead of the commonly used, “Oh, my God.” In the age of the family and with an emphasis on the home life, shows like Dick Van Dyke strived, through these examples and more, to please and not offend. They strived to entertain and not shock.