TV'S "TODDLER" DAYS

By William Markiewicz

If cinema started its existence through photos that move, TV took its cue from theatre. So while movies were action oriented, TV has its spiritual origins in situation drama. While cinema was directed to a big audience in a big space, TV, more introverted, found refuge in private residences, in intime groups. There was no recipe for TV so the results could be hesitant, even clumsy; unclear situations, unclear messages. One early broadcast for which I will not name time and place because I don't remember details, featured an undefined character who, to various questions, had only one answer: "I prefer not to talk about it." So, he went more and more downhill, professionally, socially. Somebody who took pity on him tried to reason with him and suddenly an authoritarian voice, we don't know whose producer? God? intervened and, to all of us, the actors as well as the viewers, declared, more or less: "This is his problem, his responsibility. Let him pay the consequences." Unexpected voices, as from heaven, may exist today in some surrealistic comedies as part of the program but sudden intervention from nowhere is a no-no. I don't remember how the story finished; probably not very well for the poor main hero.

Another story from more or less the same epoch took place in a hospital where the medical body were overwhelming tyrants, and the patients designated victims. Some important businessman with a minor ailment landed in the hospital. Nothing clear came from the initial exam. Then from the luxurious first floor he was sent to a little less luxurious second floor. His health had already slightly deteriorated. And it went on and on. He understood that some 'fatum' hung over his head and violently protested when they took him up one more floor. He screamed, 'My end will be on the last floor' and the consilium of doctors responded rather distractedly. In one conversation the patient asks, "Am I incurable? Is there hope for me?" The doctor replies, "Did I say so?" Tortuously drawing it out, the patient went slowly up to the top floor. There was no explanation, no meaning in the plot.

Another 'flower' from this epoch: the various program directors competed among themselves, harmed each other with no regard for us, the spectators. I remember one sequence where somebody presented an unknown song from, I believe, Corsica. Today it's part of an honoured and interesting repertory. Then, it was unknown. So the narrators openly made fun of the unfortunate director. There were lines like "I didn't like your program" with no explanation for why. Of course, things have greatly improved since then. There is no reason now for TV not to be as sophisticated as its big sister, Cinema.

Another curiosity I experienced was in Poland; it marked a 'beginning' a period where there was a mysterious transitional no-man's-land between Communism and non Communism. Bureaucracy still received funds for radio and TV but censorship was very relaxed; there were practically no directives. So we witnessed a strange situation where the performers were left on their own and it was, perhaps, the only situation where people started to follow their own inspiration. So radio discussed theology, philosophy, etc., topics with no direct connection to the program's past. On TV the speakers, smiling, almost winked at their invisible audience. Sometimes the performers and TV personages allowed themselves a humorous indirect nudge concerning censorship. The famous poem of Julian Tuvim, "Locomotive", initially written for children but which gained national popularity, spoke about how heavy the train wagons were. In one wagon, only the fatsos sit and eat fat sausages and even if one thousand athletes arrived and each one of them ate one thousand cutlets, they would not be able to lift the wagon, that's how heavy it was. We see the Censors' twisted faces and mustaches regarding the narrator with threatening glares because who in Communist Poland had fat sausages and cutlets, and she started to cry: "It wasn't me who wrote it!!!" And to add confusion to the picture, there were veiled girls dancing the Can Can nothing to do with the topic. There were also public surveys and people, unused to being asked their opinions, responded clumsily. In sum, it was fun,

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