Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Weird and Wonderful Shows of Early Television

It’s hard to select three great shows from first decades of TV. There is certainly a wide selection: “The Burns and Allen Show,” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Doctor Who,” “The Saint” and “Twilight Zone.” Experimental shows such as “The Prisoner,” “The Avengers,” and “The Ernie Kovacs Show” are outstanding examples of experimentation and creative vision. Their influences are seen in books, films, and tv shows to this day (to be discussed further in body of essay).

“The Prisoner” is a spy fiction cult show which ran for 17 episodes from 1967 – 1968. Its mysterious setting, a small town in Wales with lovely yet unusual architecture, and the Kafkaesque struggle of the main character, Number 6, provides the setting for a psychological thriller with surreal and countercultural themes.

“The Avengers” (1961 – 1969) presents us with two secret agents, Emma Peel, and John Steed, a boiler wearing gentleman who’s always ready for a fight (as long as it’s dignified). The show is visually striking with superbly colourful art direction. The British tongue-in-cheek humour makes the chemistry between Peel and Steed sparkle. There is a comic-book quality to the plots. Strange villains and a sprinkle of silliness create a unique tv experience.

“The Ernie Kovacs Show” (1952 – 1956) features the eccentric ad-lib comedy and innovative video effects of Kovacs (1919 – 1962). His characters and visual gags influenced Monty Python, David Letterman, and various comedians on “Saturday Night Live.” “The Ernie Kovacs Collection,” a six DVD box-set of his various TV shows has just been released April 19.

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