TelevisionWeek Executive Editor Tom Gilbert joins our roster of bloggers with this forum all about classic television, where anything from "Leave It to Beaver" to "Malcolm in the Middle" is fair game for discussion. Reunion specials, DVD releases of classic shows, vintage commercials -- anything that's ever been telecast is the hot topic here.


Timeless TV

Taking Stock of ‘Pioneers’

January 10, 2008 11:33 AM

Who else is watching PBS’ “Pioneers of Television” series? I caught the Jan. 2 opener on sitcoms and last night’s installment on late-night shows: essentially Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. I thought both were pretty well done, and especially liked the Paar stuff and the vintage color footage from Carson’s version of “Tonight.”

The sitcom segment seemed a bit on the cheap side when it came to clips, however. For example, to represent “I Love Lucy” it used a lot of kinescope footage from the 1952 CBS special “Stars in the Eye” (celebrating the opening of Television City in Hollywood) and a couple of sketches featuring Jack Benny with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz shot on the sitcom’s set. Not a bad approximation of the show’s content, but in no way a prime example of what made it so popular; there are so many (no doubt expensive to run) classic moments that should have been cited instead. Plus, one of the reasons “I Love Lucy” was a pioneering show is that it was shot on film in order to deliver the highest-quality picture possible—and the kinescopes used here looked awful.

However, the footage from “The Andy Griffith Show” pilot from “Make Room for Daddy” was a nice touch. Here’s a bit from the rather overly worshipful segment on “The Honeymooners,” apparently a sentimental favorite of the producers.

Next up: Variety shows Jan. 16, then game shows Jan 23.


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Comments (4)

What amused me most about this special was the opening announcement that it was being shown in High Definition... because, y'know, high def adds so much to old kinescopes.

Tom Gilbert:

That's very funny, Nat. It seemed like a lot went into those set recreations, now I know why.

Snooky Handsome:

Mr Gilbert --
The thing that struck me about Pioneers is that it ought to be a weekly series -- remember David Wolper's "Hollywood and the Stars" (with that dreamy Elmer Bernstein theme song?) There's a ton of treasure in the annals of early television and thanks to current technology, old kinnies and faded film can be spruced up to look surprisingly good. Even Uncle Miltie's VHS tapes a few years back -- hawked by Berle himself in infomercials --were visually pretty sharp. The producers of "Pioneers" don't really seem to know a whole lot about early TV but at least their hearts seem to be in the right place. Love Your Blog, Dude!!!


This history of TV was truly disappointing. It used footage that has been used many times before in retrospectives, then attempted to recreate some famous TV sets with actors that were supposed to make the viewer think they were watching a shooting of the old shows. It adds nothing to the history of TV that hadn't already been said before--and even left out some important people. It also over-emphasized shows they had footage for, while glossing over shows they didn't have rights to use the footage of.

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