Opinion: Today's TV vs. Yesterday's Television

Herbie J Pilato


What makes a great scripted TV show a great scripted TV show?

Why was The Twilight Zone, which originally aired on CBS from 1959 to 1964, so terrific? Because many of its scripts were based on short stories.

Why was The Waltons, which first screened on CBS from 1972 to 1981, such an engaging series? Because the core of its foundation was so perfectly sealed and established in the novel, Spencer's Mountain, written by Waltons creator and genius, Earl Hamner.

Why are classic TV shows, classics?

For so many reasons.

First of all, the performances of the characters, be they "good" or "evil" characters, were likable. The audience was gradually introduced to each character; there were only one or two or three or maybe four main characters in a series. The audience wasn't overwhelmed with too many characters.

Additionally, and unlike today, not all the characters on classic TV shows from the past sounded alike...looked alike...acted alike.

Also unlike contemporary series, not all the characters of classic TV shows rolled their eyes, were sardonic, mean-spirited, and unhappy.

Such is simply not the case today with what we see in new and contemporary programming.

Here's the deal:

Great TV shows and great feature films, for that matter, are born from solid foundations already cemented in other art forms of storytelling. Those other art forms of storytelling include tales told in books, short stories, comic books, and essays.

It is inevitable that solid scripts will spring from core solid platforms of storytelling that are already established.

Certainly, there are wonderful original scripts that are created without there first being a book, short story, or essay. But it is best first to solidify a story in book form before it ever hits the screen - or stage for that matter.

Again, there are of course exceptions to this rule, but more often than not, a great TV show, feature film, or play was first a good book, short story, or essay.

On today's television, there is simply too much noise...too much commotion....too much movement...on new TV shows and in new feature films, fiction or nonfiction, scripted or non-scripted, fantasy or reality-based. The pace needs to be slowed. More time needs to be given to dialogue...to speaking....to the character and story development, certainly, onscreen - in the scripted format. Allow time for the actors to act. Allow the cameras to stay still. Allow the dialogue to breathe. Allow the audience to properly take it all in.

In short, stop the insanity of manic storytelling, which sacrifices the uniqueness of each character and the story in the process.

There is are many talented individuals behind the scenes and in front of the cameras of today's television and films. It's not as though the talent doesn't exist; it's just misguided.

For some reason, television networks and movie studios feel compelled to integrate stories with vulgarity and violence, at the sacrifice of character development and good storytelling.

There is much talk of cultural diversity, but at the same time, there is a lack of cultural diversity, and much prejudice exists in the way characters are presented.

All we see are "beautiful" people, while the small and big screens of modern entertainment also lack a fair amount of senior actors.

Where are all the 55+ actors? Where are the "mature" stories?

Where are the movies and the TV shows for grown-ups?

Apparently, only in the past, that's where.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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