I owe Ann Althouse for finding this; I never would have, especially since I’m disgusted with YouTube.
Above is a montage of all of the TV series offered to the public by ABC in the Fall of 1961. It’s worth noting that in 1961 the Fifties culture was still going strong, though JFK had replaced Ike as President. What we think of as the cultural Sixties didn’t really start until after Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963. Also worth noting: ABC was the perennial least watched network on 1961. That meant they took the most risks, but ’61 was not a good year for ABC.
What can we learn from the montage? Culture is ethics and ethics is culture; this is a snapshot that shows what a large percentage of Americans watched at night, and what contributed to their worldview. It is fair to say, I think, that nothing in popular culture today influences an many people as even ABC’s prime time schedule did. The snap shot reveals where the nation has progressed, and what it has lost. In 60 years, there is a lot to consider.
1. There are a lot of what I would rate as ethics show. This was the era of TV Westerns, and most Westerns were constructed to promote and teach ethical values. Not “Maverick,” perhaps, ironically the best of the Westerns of that period, but the others, especially “The Rifleman,” which Ethics Alarms has discussed before. There are TV shows today that raise ethical issues regularly—the various “Walking Dead” series are examples—but only a few that regularly raise ethics issues in a coherent and competent manner: “Blue Bloods” and the Dick Wolf Chicago trio (“Med,” “Fire” and “PD”) most notable among them.
2. The closest thing to a strong, working, female lead character who wasn’t there only as eye candy for male viewers was Dorothy Provine in “The Roaring Twenties,” and she played Prohibition era speakeasy entertainer. This means that there were no such characters.
3. The most prominent female star was Donna Reed, playing a housewife. ABC was stuffed with family sitcoms, and one single dad sitcom. One of them, the inexplicable “Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” shows how undemanding audiences of the time were about what they called “entertainment.” This was the original show about nothing, except there were no jokes, no interesting performers, nothing. I didn’t understand why it was on the air then.
4. Also showing our cultural progress is the presence of “The Lawrence Welk Show.” Thank God for the British Invasion. No culture is completely healthy that will accept that homogenized dreck week after week. That show alone almost justifies the smug contempt shown by “Pleasantville.” Almost. Arguably worse than Welk is the infamous sitcom “The Hathaways,” created by some madman because a chimp act was popular on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and was featured in some popular commercials. The “situation”: Peggy Cass and Jack Weston starred as suburban Los Angeles “parents” caring for a trio of performing chimpanzees, played by The Marquis Chimps. Some TV historians have opined that this was the worse TV show ever broadcast. It’s close: I saw “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour “and a few others that might have been worse, but none that were more insulting.
5. There are no significant black characters at all, anywhere, except this weird exception: ABC, trying to capitalize on the success of “The Flintstones,” added a bunch of prime time animated shows. None hung around, at least in prime time, but among them was “Calvin and the Colonel,” a cartoon adaptation of “Amos and Andy,” featuring the voices of Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, the white actors who voiced the black title characters in the famous radio comedy. ABC concluded that having a dumb cartoon bear who sounded just like of the dumb stereotype black guy in the radio show was enough African American vibe for enlightened Americans.
6. Politics was almost completely absent in the ABC schedule
7. There are several comments on the video as well as some on Ann’s post (She’s allowing comments again! <Yawwwn>) opining that what was on ABC in 1961 is wildly superior to what is available today. That may be true of network fare, since most of prime time is now game shows, reality shows, procedurals and treacly dramadies. And indeed, finding the quality shows takes a lot of work. Nonethless, there is a lot of excellent TV to be found, and 90% of 1961’s shows look shockingly naive empty by comparison.
However, the great advantage of one-stop-shopping for home entertainment—all right, maybe three stop, counting the number of networks—was that the entertainment held society together. There were disagreements, sure, but few violent ones, and the divisions between the attitudes of the generations, sexes, regions, classes, and even political parties weren’t regarded as overly serious or unbridgeable. The Red Scare had past; hardly anyone was supporting Communism anymore. But lurking just around the bend was the escalation of the Vietnam war, Rock ‘n Roll, abortion, drugs and “don’t trust anyone over 30.” We will never see the like Lawrence Welk and his bubbles again. Hallelujah . Yet I might accept Lawrence, and maybe even “The Hathaways,” if we could get close to a culture that was able to agree on basic values.