September 23, 2016
‘Of course, those dignified years when Chayefsky and Rod Serling and John Frankenheimer were producing great art for television…’
Indeed, Chayefsky seems to blithely ignore the great television of the seventies as he shows schedule conferences in which shows are described using the same cliched descriptions again and again. And when he mentions a quality show he does so backhandedly.
All in the Family is mentioned more than once but in the most telling, and ironically most inaccurate reference, Howard Beale (Peter Finch) makes the point that television will never make you feel bad or present you with harsh realities by saying, “No one ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker’s house.” Of course, Archie Bunker’s wife, Edith, indeed did die (from a stroke, not cancer) at the end of the run of the show.
But more importantly, television had already been dealing with harsh realities for years, despite Chayefsky’s assertion. A year before the movie was even released, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake was killed off on M*A*S*H in a shocking final episode for him. And going back to the decade of Chayefsky’s prominence, writers like Rod Serling regularly wrote television like Patterns, made into a movie later, that deals with the harsh realities of a soulless business world that kills the good guys (literally in this case) and leaves the bad guys still at the top. Network has much to recommend it but there is, to be sure, a certain disingenuous nature to it as well.