"THE BOX: An Oral History of Television, 1920-1961" by Jeff Kisseloff

"THE BOX: An Oral History of Television, 1920-1961"

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A thoroughly engrossing grab bag of memories of the dawn of television. Editor and reporter Kisseloff's second oral history (after You Must Remember, 1989) covers the huge subject of television from its invention in the '20s until 1961, when FCC chairman Newt Minow described it as a ""vast wasteland."" Interviewing hundreds of ""witnesses,"" Kisseloff starts with the evolution of the medium, from its halting technical development through the establishment of the networks. Then he broadens the story out to include everything from programming (comedy, drama, game shows, etc.) to business (advertising, local station management, etc.). He delivers fine recaps of such familiar topics as the blacklist and the quiz show scandals, but some of the most intriguing sections detail less covered subjects, such as the rise and fall of the Dumont network, racism in early television, and the Chicago station WNBQ, which gave us Dave Garroway, Studs Terkel, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and more. Unfortunately, the oral history form carries its own inherent problems. Despite the brief introductions to each chapter, it's possible for readers without some previous knowledge of the subject to become lost in the sea of voices. And detail is often presented at the expense of clarity (Michael Ritchie's 1994 Please Stand By covers much of the same material as Kisseloff's early chapters in a much clearer format). In addition, the subject of television is so broad that, after 600 pages, the reader leaves recalling everything that Kisseloff omits. For example, imagine a history of television with nary a word by or about Steve Allen and Jack Paar. Still, there is so much to enjoy that few readers will complain. An always fascinating exploration of the rowdy, sometimes wonderful, sometimes appalling days of early television.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Viking