PRIME-TIME AMERICA: American Life on and Behind the Television Screen by Robert Sklar

PRIME-TIME AMERICA: American Life on and Behind the Television Screen

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From the author of Movie-Made America (1975)--profiles and essays originally published in American Film, plus TV reviews written for Chronicle Review (now called Books & Arts). The profiles are the least ambitious but most satisfying material here: Sklar is a good, clear, thoughtful reporter whether covering TV's back-room business or hanging around with Joan Ganz Cooney (the far-from-complacent Children's Television Workshop boss who's fighting to go beyond Sesame Street), comedy-director Jay Sandrich (on the set of Soap), the black talents behind ""Kinfolks"" (an innovative sit-com that never got an airing) or the owner of America's smallest TV station. The essays, however, though entertainingly flip, are a strained, hollow lot. Sklar summarizes plots of sit-coms and action shows, finding (surprise) ""morally sanitized tastelessness,"" cheap preachings from Norman Lear, and mostly backward (though slowly improving) attitudes toward psychology. He notices that commercials are becoming more hard-sell and speculates on sponsors' influence on TV content. He sees that ""prime time is just suffused with hostility"" (working-class resentments from the Fonz, Laverne, and Shirley), that TV characters ""now"" use contentiousness as a cover for affection (hardly a new development). And he runs through the familiar angles on TV violence, ending up--all to accurately--with ""Sadly, I have little to say that you don't already know."" Finally, the reviews, prefaced by a survey of TV reviewers (Sklar loathes O'Connor of the Times), are also unremarkable, though perceptive enough when not straining for generalizations (e.g., Mary Tyler Moore's variety-show failure as an example of the audience's refusal to accept new images). All in all--fairly stylish, occasionally provocative, but largely unilluminating social commentary on the quickly out-of-date (these pieces go back to 1976) TV scene.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press