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BOOK REVIEW: "The Platinum Age of Television" by David Bianculli

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BOOK REVIEW: The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific by David Bianculli (Doubleday) 2016

“I am not going to say anything further about the ending,” Sopranos creator David Chase told television critic David Bianculli after the final ambiguously ended scene in the last show of The Sopranos aired.

Bianculli relates the conversation he has with Chase on that subject in his recently published The Platinum Age of Television, published by Doubleday and released this past November.

Bianculli and several other television critics were given a private viewing of that episode before it was shown on HBO, and he reports that after it concluded he and another critic who had also seen it had differing interpretations of what it meant for the Soprano family as they met for dinner at a restaurant.

The critic thought that that ending was comparable in ways to the final episode of the equally acclaimed television series St. Elsewhere (1982-88) where it was suggested that all of the characters and situations contained in that series were the result of an autistic child’s imaginative fixation on a snow globe that features a tiny hospital named “Saint Eligius” that had been given to him by his construction worker father.

He also notes that St. Elsewhere was a hospital show that was part of a television tradition, and that on occasion pages on loudspeakers that were heard in the St. Elsewhere facility were for doctors such as Casey (from Ben Casey) and Kildare (from Dr. Kildare), who had previously starred in such medical dramas in the 1960’s.

The author divides his book into chapters that trace the history of certain television genres such as “Single Working Women Sitcoms” that began with the late Mary Tyler Moore’s show and includes discussion of the subsequent shows of Murphy Brown and later Sex In the City.

He also has chapters devoted to “Family Sitcoms” and “Workplace Sitcoms” and what he terms “Splitcoms” in which both the office and the homes of the characters are featured.

Under the heading of “General Drama” the author includes Twin Peaks, The West Wing, Six Feet Under, The Wire and Mad Men as being among the best of that category. He also details the number of stars who emerged from those productions.

Bianculli makes many insightful observations, and under the Chapter on Crime Shows he writes of the evolution of both the police and the lawbreakers that they pursue that can be traced from Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blues, The Sopranos, The Shield, and Breaking Bad, and concludes that the corrupt and violent cop Vick Mackey in The Shield was in many ways comparable to Tony Soprano.

He praises Breaking Bad as “being a masterpiece from start to finish.”

In his discussion of animated series, he reminds us of the wit and satire that was found in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show in the early 1960’s and also lauds The Simpsons and South Park for their animated comedy and satiric viewpoint.

The critic takes us from the The Twilight Zone, Star Trek and The X-Files, through Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Walking Dead under the heading of “Sci-Fi/ Fantasy/Horror.” And he writes about each of their unique contribution to their respective genres.

The book also includes interviews with and profiles of many of the individuals involved in the creations of these shows and documents how many of those people collaborated in surprising ways to bring those memorable shows to the nation’s television screens. Binaculli, who can often be heard on National Public Radio discussing new television offerings, reminds us that there is more innovation and creativity found in the world of television today than at any previous time in its history.

It has been said that before Hollywood producers learned how to simulate on film the destruction of buildings and cities their work often included the development of the character of the individuals who appeared in their work.

And Bianculli documents how that current creators of television who acting in different genres have proven to me masters of character development.

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About the Author

Bill O'Brien

Bill O'Brien is an attorney based in Oklahoma City.

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