Commentary

TV's Golden Ages: It All Depends On How You Look At Them

A 1982 episode of “Taxi” contains a scene that I often cite to illustrate my own personal belief that TV has had many golden ages.

In the episode titled “Jim's Inheritance” -- which first aired on Oct. 7 of that year -- Reverend Jim (played by Christopher Lloyd, pictured above) stands to inherit several million dollars when his father dies.

However, Jim's brother manages to have a court declare Jim incompetent to receive the money and, in the end, Jim is left only with a trunk containing some of his father's belongings.

Upon opening the trunk and sifting through the objects there, Jim eventually engages in a very moving soliloquy to this father -- addressing his remarks to his father’s suit jacket, which Jim has draped over the back of a chair.

Desperate to learn whether his father loved him, Jim finds an audiocassette in one of the jacket's pockets and slips it into a tape deck. The song that then plays is Stevie Wonder's “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” a very touching song given the circumstances.

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But there's a punchline, delivered hilariously by Jim, who then turns from the tape deck to the suit jacket and asks, in amazement: “You like Stevie Wonder?!”

The scene has it all -- emotion, comedy, surprise -- all within the intimacy of television, which at its heart has always been a small-screen medium consumed in the privacy of home.

Did the early years of the 1980s constitute a Golden Age of Television? Well, probably as much as any other era, depending on individual tastes.

Another scene I still vividly recall was from an episode of “Hill Street Blues” from that same era. It featured a soliloquy about suicide that may be the best single piece of television writing I have ever heard delivered on a TV drama. And I haven't heard it since it aired more than 30 years ago.

In the scene, the soliloquy was delivered by Lt. Howard Hunter, the gung-ho and often comical SWAT commander who was played by James Sikking.

But there was nothing comical about this scene, which was probably one of the reasons it was so effective. Here was Lt. Hunter being played against type and showing a side of himself we had never seen before.

Facing a distraught woman on a building ledge who was threatening to jump (she may have had a child in her arms as well), Hunter recited this soliloquy about the nature of suicide and depression -- in the process, revealing his own struggle with similar issues. It was so eloquent I can still remember the scene giving me chills.

In more recent years, an era of TV has also been draped in the Golden Age mantle. But now, so many years have gone by since the beginning of this particular Golden Age -- which many date roughly to the premiere of “The Sopranos” in January 1999 -- that it's possible to declare that even that particular Golden Age is now over.

That Golden Age was defined by a group of shows that are not around anymore -- “The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under,” “Deadwood,” “Weeds,” “Dexter,” “The Shield” and, I am sure, others that don’t come immediately to mind.

From the premiere episode of “Mad Men” in July 2007, many people can recall the thrill of Don Draper's soliloquy about the Kodak slide carousel and how it symbolized life itself.

No one who saw the sensational final sequence of “Six Feet Under” in 2005, with Sia’s song “Breathe Me,” will ever forget that either.

Golden Ages? TV has had plenty of them, dating as far back as the beginning. Are we in one now? The answer to that really depends on what the current generation of TV viewers thinks about the shows they are watching now, and whether any of their shows will become for them memories from their distant pasts 30 years from now.

7 comments about "TV's Golden Ages: It All Depends On How You Look At Them".
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  1. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, March 31, 2017 at 2:21 p.m.

    Just beautiful. Thank you, Adam.

  2. John Most from Chapman University, March 31, 2017 at 2:25 p.m.

    I agree. I grew up as a product of the TV generation. There were several shows that fit into the Golden Age. As you notem I believe each generation will have thier own defintion of their "Golden Age"--programs that reflect the times they grew up in and were mileposts in their lives. Well done!

  3. charles bachrach from BCCLTD, March 31, 2017 at 3:26 p.m.

    Good column...most of the shows produced now can't compared to the "golden" days...now
    it's all about the bottom line.  No time for real character development or to get into a story.  Also, producting on a short number of episodes doesn't help either!  Lastly, haveing a bunch of  overpaid "12 year olds" in charge of programming at many networks won't help either.

    Charles Bachrach
    Las Vegas, NV.

  4. Patty Ardis from Ardis Media, LLC, March 31, 2017 at 5:05 p.m.

    Adam a really terrific column! I would say that anything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be part of a golden age. I can't think of anything current as of yet but would consider putting a vote in for Elementary but time will tell. 

  5. Bill Shane from Eastlan Ratings, March 31, 2017 at 5:51 p.m.

    The golden Age of Television is determined by the quality of shows or maybe even just one show.  The USA Network ran a show for 5 years called "In Plain Sight."  I never missed an episode and I will never forget a line Mary Shannon's mother told her: “We’re all addicted to something.  You are addicted to this identity, this little girl abandoned by her father.  Until you let that go, you will never let anyone in.”  Sometimes something said in a television show can elevate that show to Golden.  One other thought is the most memorable shows of MASH were the ones that were serious because serious moments were such a rarity for this hilarious show.

     


     

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 31, 2017 at 9:10 p.m.

    MASH - absolutely. "I can play the notes, but I can't play the music." "Lonliness is everything it's cracked up to be." 

  7. Chris Conderino from CC Media and Marketing, April 2, 2017 at 5:09 p.m.

    I agree with David ... just beautiful.  Television is a big part of our shared American culture and our personal, home memories.  I love it across all of it's generations.
    Thanks Adam

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