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1950s TV Parents 20 Years Apart

The death of 1950s TV parents Barbara Billingsley of Leave It To Beaver over the weekend and Tom Bosley of Happy Days today underscores the odd phenomenon of TV programs set in the 1950s: some were actually FILMED in the 1950s while some were made 20 years later.

One of the most provocative non-academic books about television that explores this phenomenon is Steven D. Stark's Glued To The Set: The 60 Television Shows and Events That Made Us Into Who We Are Today (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

While the book is far-ranging, Stark's take on Leave It To Beaver is especially worth another look, as he turns conventional wisdom about the show (and especially its delayed-though-now-enduring popularity) a bit on its head.

Here are a few excerpts:

"There was, first and foremost, of course, the patient, understanding family head, Ward, a forerunner of today's new father (even if he is often mistakenly caricatured as a distant fifties patriarch)." (page 81)

"looking back at the series . . . two eye-opening things stand out: Beaver was never really popular in its own time [it never finished in the Top 25 in the ratings]. And, for a situation comedy of the 1950s, it was never very humorous [relying more on situations rather than slapstick]." (page 82)

"the versimilitude of Leave It To Beaver was so powerful that it is now widely asssumed that the fifties were exactly the way this show portrayed them. That sort of schtick makes this show an odd forerunner, not only of The Wonder Years but of the whole wave of [1970s] shows ranging from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to M*A*S*H which attempted to bring a new level of seriousness to television comedy in the seventies. That's one reason why Leave It To Beaver didn't really catch on until that era." (page 82)

While now a bit dated in the time span it covers, Stark's book offers brief essays on other TV programs (and news coverage of significant events) that make for an entertaining and informative read.

(Posted by Feliks Banel)

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