An exhaustive study of the changes that have occurred in prime-time TV from the mid-1950's to the mid-1980's. Although the authors—two directors of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. (the Lichters), and a Smith College professor of government (Rothman)—fail to come up with much in the way of breakthrough revelations, their survey gives a clear picture of the way in which depictions of women, minorities, sexual and criminal behavior, and other topics have altered over the years. Few of the findings—that women have been portrayed as growing ever-more independent; that blacks have increasingly been viewed as individuals rather than as stereotypes; that sexual behavior has become less inhibited on the TV screen—will come as a surprise. In tracing the overall patterns that have emerged through the three decades, however, the authors show how TV comedies and dramas have reflected attitudes prevalent in the wider world. Thus, the blandness of the Eisenhower years and the hysteria of the McCarthy era found expression in shows as divergent as Ozzie and Harriet and I Led Three Lives. In a similar way, the rebellious Seventies produced such comedies as M.A.S.H. and All in the Family, both of which aimed to provide insights into contemporary issues along with the laughs. The authors' investigations into TV's attitudes toward big business are especially revealing. They find, for example, that businessmen ``carry out one-fifth of all crimes and over one-third of the murders committed by census-coded characters.'' As the authors say, ``The gray flannel suit represents a very deadly member of the establishment,'' in prime time at any rate. Much that is obvious, then, but with enough fresh insights to keep the reader involved.
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