The Game is finally over I am thinking what is the big deal after all? I am told that even the commercials this year were “horrible” and, to some, “offensive.” The Game is one of the most important days of the year, the main event until the one next year. It is surely the most widely watched television program in this country (an estimated 106 million viewers this year, about a third of the total US population) and perhaps the world, too. I suppose I should have simply relaxed, stopped grousing, and enjoyed the day for a change.
I remember when the first Super Bowl was played. It was late January in 1967 on my son’s first birthday and so before the game was the moved further and further into the year, I was always able to remember his age. We were living in a university town up the coast from Los Angeles and had invited a big crowd to our home to watch the thing, as it was blacked out L.A where the game was held that year. Several rows of folding chairs were set up before the television set and, along with an estimated sixty million other viewers, we watched the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs—are they still in business?
I tend to think of television events like this in terms of what they could be or what they once were. And so I recall what we used to do each Sunday afternoon in the early days of television. Then it was those remarkable programs of the Omnibus Television series. Week after week Omnibus brought drama, dance, music, science, art, history and opera to our living room for two incredible hours. The program was hosted by the always learned and witty British journalist Alistair Cooke and was shown on one of the major networks, that’s CBS, NBC, and ABC, mind you, from 1952 to 1961.
I recall the first program was a live performance, as were most of its programs, of Henry VIII. It also included a reading by William Saroyan of his short story, “The Bad Men,” and an analysis of the human digestive system. On subsequent programs Orson Wells stared in an adaptation of King Lear, Peter Ustinov performed as Samuel Johnson, William Faulkner took us on a tour of Oxford, Mississippi and James Agee wrote a five-part docudrama of the life of Abraham Lincoln with a script written by Carl Sandburg and music by Aaron Copeland. Can you believe that all of this was actually on Sunday afternoon television?
Wait, that is not all. I’ll never forget remarkable musical series that began with Leopold Stokowski and Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” that was eventually taken over by Leonard Bernstein who “single-handedly enlarged the possibilities of music analysis and performance on television.” He taught me much of what I “know” about music and he did that with his unique style of passion and excitement.
Surely that was the Golden Age of Television. Whatever happened to the spirit of enlightenment that made those programs possible? The show appeared in the early days of black and white television. Is there not an even greater audience for such programming in the new millennium?
Today I vainly search for something to watch on TV, surfing the channels, trying to find something to view for a while. The array of choices is mind-boggling--quiz shows, wrestling matches, shouting matches, sitcoms, cop shows, soap operas, crime and more crime investigations. And oh, yes, professional football games. It is hopeless.
“Fifty seven channels and nothin’s on.” Add two hundred, the result is the same. No doubt I expect too much. Omnibus was free. Cable TV had not been imagined. But would I pay for a channel to see Omnibus again? The answer should be clear and I wouldn’t mind paying a goodly sum. I can’t imagine I am the only one either.