Challenges of Television – (Since its advent in 1945)
The Challenges of Television
[New patterns of entertainment after 1945]
During and in the years that followed the Second World War, the ways of mass entertainment underwent a sea change. There was sadness and suffering all around. People needed a respite from the sorrows of war through lighter items like song, dance, drama and films. In the two decades before the WW2, cinema and radio were the mainstay of public entertainment. But, the advent of the television during and after the war years began to change this.
At around this time, the ‘pop’ music made its appearance. It was a very different form of music that challenged the traditional musicians and vocalists. Pop was a favourite of the younger generation who used this form to express themselves. It had strands of various forms of music. It was non-conventional, non-conformist and rebellious.
The war had separated husbands from their wives, sons from their parents, and lovers from their beloveds. For these pining souls, traditional songs of love, mourning and patriotism continued to offer solace. The exuberance of the pop songs could not apply balm to their wounded minds. The songs sung by Vera Lynn in the United Kingdom and Frank Sinatra of America were very popular as they touched a raw nerve among the people hit by the ravages of war.
Broadcasting during the war .. Radio became an integral part of the common people’s lives. They needed the music, songs, plays for entertainment, but they also wanted to be informed about the happenings in the war front. The BBC in Britain and its colonies discharged this role with aplomb. The account of victories, defeats, deaths and the toil in the battle fields were brought to millions of homes by BBC’s intrepid war correspondents who wrote their dispatches from the trenches and the tunnels where the war was being fought.
In the midst of such doom and gloom, people craved for comedy shows for relief. In America, Bob Hope and Jack Benny emerged as household names as mass entertainers.
American radio shows were greatly popular in Britain. American singers and entertainers dominated the theatre scene in Britain. Only a few theatres had survived the war; others had closed down for good. American jazz musicians mentored young British jazz players. It is this influence that made the jazz bands like the Humphrey Lyttelton remain at the top of the chart during the 1940s and the 1950s. In the U.S., a new type of music known as the ‘swing’ began to catch the popular mood of the public. Swing music rose at the expense of the traditional jazz.
The famous rock ’n roll music that was to rock the whole world in later years evolved in America around this time. The rock ’n roll consisted of thumping, incessant beat, country and western, rhythm and blues – all fused together to produce spectacular effect. The young singer Elvis Presley who stole the hearts of millions all over the world was the king of rock ’n roll. He enthralled the young audience driving them mad with frenzy. He became the youth music icon of the whole world. Radio stations broadcast his music and his records were sold in millions. Seeing Presley perform in the stage, fans screamed like souls possessed. Elvis Presley heralded a new form of music.
Like the medium of radio, the war brought new realism to the medium of cinema. Musicals and costume movies slowly ceded place to realistic war movies set in the background of the battlefields. The pathos and the wrenching pain of the dead and dying and their loved ones at home got portrayed in cinema. The Russian film ‘The Cranes are Flying’, and the British film ‘The Target for Tonight’ and ‘Desert Victory’ touched a raw nerve among the people.
Till the late 1950s, such portrayal of battlefield horrors continued to be the theme of many successful films. The Italian movie-maker Roberto Rossellini made spectacular movies of this genre. Victorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thief made in 1948 was a movie that grabbed the top slot of polarity chart for years.
Hollywood didn’t escape the sweeping changes that were happening in the cinematic world. Antisemitism and racial prejudice that had got deeply entrenched in society began to be challenged through films. Broken Arrow, the first film sympathetic to the Red Indians was made in 1950. The Gunfighter made during this period was a very popular film that challenged the image of the western hero.
In the United Kingdom, a number of films based on realism were produced in the small studios located in Ealing, the London suburb. Sir Micheal Balcon spearheaded this movement. The daily grind of London life was portrayed in films like The Passport to Pilmco and The Lavender Hill Mob made in 1951.
The Rise of Television … By the mid 1950s television had begun to eat into the share of cinema in the world of entertainment.
Television, as a way of dissipation of news and entertainment had made its debut way back in 1934. BBC pioneered the television movement in Britain. It set up its first television studio in London in 1936. The French caught up with the British soon. In the World Fair in New York in 1939, the French showed their expertise in television.
The Second World War disrupted the progress of television. The Americans has to wait till the mid 1940s and Europe had to wait till the mid 1950s for rapid expansion of television.
Live broadcasts made from outside the television studios charmed the viewers. The coronation of the British Queen in 1953 was a big draw for the public. TV licenses grew manifold because of the broadcast of this single event. Gradually, broadcasting duration increased. As a result, more items of song, plays and music got slots in a day’s broadcast.
In 1950s, a good many number of movies based on the realistic daily lives of Americans were made. These were short films typically suitable for television broadcasting. Paddy Chayefsky led this movement. But, this burst of enthusiasm for short creative films was challenged when the TV studios began broadcasting old popular films in their longer formats. A completely new trend soon started. The television companies began to produce films themselves. It was a business model that flourished. In just a few years, nearly half of the films broadcast came from this source. Many of these films found export markets.
In the 1960s, the role of television in public entertainment became more and more pronounced. Popular serials were produced which ran over long periods. The serials were made based on crime investigations, comedies, family feuds, and romances. The serials became an integral part of television due to their commercial potential.
Technology was advancing apace. Video-recording, satellite communication and color made television broadcasts very attractive for the viewers. Television became all the more indispensable because it carried news, news analysis, features, interviews and chat shows. It slowly took the role of shaping people’s views on important public issues, just the way newspapers had been doing for decades.
The intrusion of television to the daily lives of people began to unravel its darker side. Prolonged television viewing and seeing violent scenes began to affect the mind and body of young children with impressionable minds.
People also realized that the medium of television may be used to drive desirable change in society. Television viewing shaped the minds, thinking and attitude of people quite effortlessly. In this regard, television had a benign role. The Canadian intellectual Marshall MCLUHAN was a votary of the idea of utilizing television to bring about social change.
The pop revolution … In tandem with the proliferation of television, pop music’s popularity also grew. Around this time, the handy and cheap transistor radios entered the market. The pulsating pop music records were played in radio station studios which could be heard via the cheap transistors. Thus, the moribund medium of radio that had gone into hibernation after the spread of the television made a comeback to the world of entertainment. This trend was particularly evident in the Far East.
The mainstream pop was a bouquet of many strands of music – blues, music hall ballad, country and western, and most importantly, rock. It was a fusion that instantly touched the heart’s of the young and old alike.
By the late 1960, the quintessential American rock was ceding ground in the popularity chart to pop – the typical British innovation.
The pop groups consisted of three or four vocalists accompanied by guitarists and drum players. The electronic amplifiers increased the sound decibel many times making it possible for a band to perform on a large stage. Vast number of fans could hear them standing at a long distance.
These bands flourished as they got lucrative commercial contracts from music companies who secured sole recording rights of the shows. Foremost among the successful bands were the Beatles, who virtually shook the whole world with their immensely popular music. Beatles had just four young men from Liverpool, who became a household name around the world.
These were the heady days of music innovation. Beatles records were played from radio stations and their records were sold faster than they could be produced.
Pop, for the serious music lovers was a bit chaotic. Some innovators came out with a more serious version named ‘progressive pop’. This form of music was more thoughtful and sophisticated. Artists who were disenchanted with the social and spiritual void of the contemporary world, embarked upon the ‘progressive pop’ to give vent to their sense of resentment and turmoil. This second version of music was quite different from the sweet and escapist traditional music.
As the television continued its triumphant march, traditional cinema got a severe beating at the hands of viewers. Lesser number of people patronized the cinema halls. As a result, some cinema halls had to down their shutters. Some experts predicted that the formal end of cinema theatres was inevitable.
However, the cinema and the halls showed surprise resilience. Some cinema halls were closed, but some survived the bad times. Weathering the ill winds, new films continued to be produced at regular intervals.
Film-making was till then fully commercialized. Art films, experimental films and films rooted to social issues were made. Hollywood, which had fallen into bad times, got a new lease of life. Some eminently successful box office hits were produced in Hollywood in this period. Film producers and directors put their brains to make films based on new formulas. The aim was to wean the audience away fro television and make them patronize cinema halls again.
New types of films were made. The genre of these films was radically different. They portrayed sex, escapism, disaster and violence. It is during this time, the highly popular super stars appeared to hold sway over the cinema-goers. They were idolized by the public.
The first quarter of the twenty-first century, the dividing line between television, radio and the conventional cinema began to get blurred. Some popular serials were produced. Their radio adaptations were also made. Apart from this, the entertainment industries of different countries began to cross borders and tie up with local companies. This was a welcome trend that resulted in pooling of resources and talent to produce the best possible films.
There was an unhealthy trend too. Entertainment industry began to be controlled by a small group of organizations whose ownership was with a few individuals. They owned radio and TV stations, film studios, record making studios and cinema hall chains. Around this time, vast casino and gambling complexes were envisaged and built. Such concentration of resources stifled competition and creativity.
Conclusion … Television today is far more powerful than ever before. They influence elections results, sway public opinion, shape economic and industrial thinking, besides providing entertainment to all members of a family – from a child to the adolescent to the housewife to the elderly. Like the internet, television’s grip over the modern man’s life is unshakable. But its undesirable effects are too glaring to be ignored. Prolonged TV viewing breeds violence, increases obesity, and kills productive time. For a society like India’s, regulating TV content has become a matter of great urgency. Otherwise, this benign device might devour us one day.