Sunday, November 12, 2006

Made in the USA

Before the advent of cable television in the Philippines, all local networks dedicated their prime-time broadcasting hours to a mix of local and US-network productions. Here are some of the US canned shows that made it to the Philippines in the late '70s.

"Impressions," TV Times, 17-23 September 1978


All that American-cult stuff invading my consciousness from 8 p.m. upwards most nights is making me tired before my time. And the way the young ones are lapping it all up without seeming to reach satiety at some point or other makes me feel old, old, old. Can they really take hours and hours of the same stuff, night in and night out, without wanting to give it up sometime?

It is not solely the local networks' fault, of course. We seem to think there is only one source of television programs that can captivate the majority of the Filipino youth: American networks. And American networks are not exactly known for variety. Each year, as American television goes through its rites of spring, when the year's new offerings are previewed and the lucky ones are chosen, the acclaim is often self-serving. How can you truly congratulate an industry that does not care about the merits of a show, only about its ratings?

But that is now much-too-trodden ground. American television--whatever the critics say--is totally insensitive to them. It is especially so now that Fred Silverman--the uncontested programming czar who, up to 1975, decided the shows that received airtime over CBS; whose contract as president of the entertainment division of ABC ran out only last June 8; and who, the day after, moved to a million-dollar job as president of NBC--is deciding the majority of shows the American television audience will see for at least another year.

CBS still runs Silverman shows, including M*A*S*H, which is arriving on local television very soon. ABC's new season, which has already started, is composed of Silverman-approved or -generated shows, including Charlie's Angels. NBC, now feeling the alleged Silverman "golden" touch, will be bringing in such shows as Lifeline and Sword of Justice.

All those Fred Silverman shows on the American television menu may be good for Americans, but it can spell nausea for the Philippine television audience--that is, those of a definite generation or generations, of course. I don't know how the young feel about it, but I can admire the technical excellence of Donny & Marie only for a short period of time. Say, a month or so. Afterwards, I have to get away from all that gloss and slickness or suffer mental indigestion. Of the crime dramas, after a few months, I cannot anymore recall where I saw what: Was it on CHiPs, or on Dog and Cat, or on Starsky & Hutch? A steady diet of policemen, detectives, and their ilk after 8 p.m. can make forgettable and indeterminate heroes of generally commendable performers such as Raymond Burr, Lorne Greene, Robert Blake, and James Garner.

True, the young audience--admittedly a sizable audience, perhaps the most sizable and the easiest to catch--may still be loving The Six Million Dollar Man after all these years. But a great many of those over 30--and a significant segment of those over 25--are, I would hazard, getting a little tired of all that juvenile stuff. We may wish to be reminded once in a while of our youth, but we will hardly want to relive its callowness every night.

It is to save us from the disposable stuff churned out by the American networks that--on local prime time--we must hail the coverage of a Pope's funeral rites, a documentary on the Middle East, a series on the Wimbledon games, and dramatic serials like Roots and Holocaust as major events in our continuing observance of the medium. For a while, BBC docudramas came to enthrall an adult Filipino audience, however small. But just as swiftly as they came, they disappeared. We wish there were more of them.

Of the regular output of Fred Silverman and company that we see on local television these days, we can only mention two with affection: Quincy, M.E. and Kojak: Quincy, M.E., because the show provides a view of crime detection that, for all its sordidness, is just a little more scientific; Kojak because, despite its blood and gore, it is a true original. The whole ambiance, the entire spirit of Kojak, puts it in a class of its own. Beside the characterization by Telly Savalas of the role of Lt. Theo Kojak, Starsky and Hutch--to use an odious comparison, but certainly an appropriate one--look like a couple of bumbling neighborhood punks vis-a-vis the godfather.

And if you were over 30, or even a sober over-25, would you not prefer the suaveness of the godfather to the brashness of punks? Sometimes, I am even tempted to turn off the small screen, turn on my bedside lamp, and take the second half of Honourable Schoolboy in one uninterrupted sitting. But I also want to prove that a more mature viewer has as much say in what should go into television as a younger viewer.

And that can make you even more tired and old before your time.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

No comments: