Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Philippine TV in '78: in the middle

TV Times, 31 December 1978-6 January 1979


I marvelled at the technical ingenuity of Sesame Street and The Electric Company, gloried in the early Frank Sinatra specials, suffered through the tiring storylines and plots of The Sixth Sense.

Fort Santiago was a brave and imaginative effort to move into the realm of history and make the past more human, more realistic, to those who did not know it. So was The Andros Targets (and, in a lesser degree, Kingston: Confidential): brave, realistically exploring the grim underbelly of a system, brutally exposing the tin gods in government, religion, and elsewhere. For a while, Pete Matipid enchanted with its utter absurdity, until Chiquito became a little too tacky. And sadly, Washington: Behind Closed Doors was a little too late and a little too lean: the real goings-on were more powerful by far.

Then, the Palanca Memorial Awards Theater came, and I rejoiced, if only too briefly, touched by the hope that I would soon get from television the kind of stories I think the medium should retell--stories of anguish and existence, deeply personal and human, told with dignity and pride. Also brief was The Xerox Science Report, a series of 30-minuters with good intentions, if not always good results.

Quincy, M.E. was diverting, a crime series for a hero with a hangdog look, working out of his laboratory. And very entertaining was Rosetti & Ryan, pure lightness and lark. Also, the Adventures of Wonder Woman, tripping in its new season with just enough ironic delight and fantasy.

Unfortunately, the Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man were not pleading fantasy: they were setting up so many bogeys so seriously I could almost hear "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the background. And the old guys--Lorne Greene in Griff, Patrick McGoohan in Rafferty, David Jannsen in Harry-O, and Jack Klugman in Quincy,M.E.--were hugging airtime so much for a few months that I could almost feel pity for these aging men who must still look frenziedly for clues to themselves in the wearying tread of the television mill, however uniformly good they all were.

But I loved the 30-minuters: That's My Mama, Second City Television, Special Edition, That's Hollywood, Sugar Time, The Charlie Chaplin Comedy Hour, M*A*S*H.

There were the family shows, too--The Waltons, Family, Little House on the Prairie, Eight is Enough, The Fitzpatricks--bringing to local screens the coffeemaker warmth of American family life, effectively proving that family dramas do not have to drip continuously with sentiment and sugar, that real family life is a happy mix of laughter and tears, anger and affection, and that what is needed most in life is high spirits, not tear ducts.

Of Son of my Son and other local comedies, I was perhaps a litle less enthusiastic. Because the Filipino people had never elevated comedy to an art form, only melodrama. And while local comedies are sometimes accidentally slow and awkward, local dramas are intentionally slow: we must nurse every heartache, prolong every pain, probe every hurt, and cry to the very end.

On the opposite end, Lou Grant was laughter welling from deep inside, from funny bones I never thought existed, exercising all the laugh lines that had lain dormant through slapstick and gimmicks. It is pure, this laughter that Lou Grant elicits. And I would not exchange it for all the tired old jokes dished out by comedians still struggling with their punchlines long after the curtains should have gone down on the best of their worst.

And what else can I say about Kojak except that up to now I watch it with great appreciation and often intense admiration and gratitude for the lucky congruence of storyline, dialogue, and performer that made it one of the true and really successful creations of the small screen?

There were other memorable television events I must mention: one special telecast of Face the Nation, the coverage of a unique changing of the guards in the Seat of St. Peter, the death of two talents who could have continued to enrich the local screen--Pugo and Aurelio Estanislao. And of Holocaust, I find myself, as before, groping for adequate words.

So did the year go, on "Impressions." There are many who fault me for criticizing too much. There are others who privately tell me I should criticize more. Looking back over past columns and past issues, I think I have struck a quite-happy middle. Because Philippine television, in 1978, has been happy enough to stay there.

In 1979, the story may--will, I hope--change.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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