Mad About "Mad Men"

One of the MediaLog's favorite current TV shows is the brilliant "Mad Men." From the meticulous (and meticulously analyzed) early-1960s period atmosphere to the exquisitely drawn characters--both by the show's writers and directors, as well as the actors--"Mad Men" might just be the best show on television right now. (According to the TV academy it's the best drama of this past season.)

At a later time, I may do more involved analyses of the season's remaining "Mad Men" episodes (a summer cable series, the current season has only a few episodes left, ending in late-October). For now, let me just feature some of my go-to commentaries for discussion of "Mad Men" episodes:

• "Time" magazine TV critic James Poniewozik offers his "'Mad Men' Watch" each week on his TV and media blog "Tuned In" (which I recommend in general for good, incisive TV and media commentary).

• TV critic Alan Sepinwall (not sure for what publication) also offers weekly "Mad Men" commentary on his blog "What's Alan Watching?"

• Finally, Chicago Tribune TV critic Maureen Ryan does a weekly recap of each "Mad Men" episode on her blog "The Watcher." Her posting from today features a couple of clips from last night's episode for anyone wishing to sample (or relive) the latest episode.


Music Television Without the Music

Rick Porter on Zap2It offers a perspective on how the demise of MTV's "TRL" ("Total Request Live") represents the final abandonment by the network of any connection to music. (MTV announced this week that the venerable weekday-afternoon music request show will leave the air before the end of the year.)

Like Porter, I am not going to further lament the fact that the "M" in MTV no longer has any meaning--that train has long since left the station. Personally, I have not watched MTV in years and years, so the final nail in its musical coffin is not going to affect me one iota. I had already abandoned the network before "TRL" ever took to the air in the first place. Still, it's a notable development that this pioneering cable network (established in 1981) is making the last step in a complete transformation that makes it virtually unrecognizable from what it was at its inception. The long transformation began in the late-1980s when the game show "Remote Control" became the first traditional program on MTV, accelerated in the early-1990s with the additions of "Beavis & Butthead" and the pioneering reality TV program "The Real World," which began a long shift towards such programming on MTV, and will end now in 2008 with the expiration of "TRL."

The evolution of cable networks is an interesting phenomenon, one that I think is begging for more analysis and research. Porter makes the perceptive observations that ESPN (the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) no longer has any connection with the "E" in its name (if it ever did) and that A&E (Arts & Entertainment) has abandoned its commitment to the "A." Other cable networks have evolved more radically and abruptly: witness last year's transformation of TNN (first The Nashville Network, then The National Network) into Spike, and this year's change of Court TV into TruTV and Discovery Health into Planet Green. In comparison, its been a slow evolution from MTV into just plain TV.


The MediaLog MediaFix: "The Hollywood Palace" (1968)

Today's MediaFix is a portion of an episode of the 1960s variety show "The Hollywood Palace." A stalwart of '60s TV, "Palace" premiered in January of 1964 and lasted slightly over six years, ending in February of 1970. It's interesting how these dates correspond so neatly with the career of those icons of 1960s culture, the Beatles, who first appeared in America and on American TV a month after the "Palace" premiere and broke up not long after the final "Palace" episode. The corollary to this is that whereas the Beatles' music and career continue to figure so prominently in our ongoing perceptions of the '60s, who outside of a few diehard TV historians and buffs have ever paid much attention to "The Hollywood Palace" as a part of 1960s culture? (The program from which this clip comes is the first episode of the show that I have ever watched.)

Yet this variety show probably represents the 1960s in a manner as important (if not as prominent) as do the Beatles. The Beatles were the vanguard of popular culture, the progressive voice of the '60s youth counterculture. "The Hollywood Palace" was an element of the old mass culture that the Beatles and their like were countering. The show is as mainstream, old-style, vaudeville-inspired TV variety as you can get. This clip is the beginning segment of an episode from November 1968 (right about the time that the Beatles' "White Album" was on the charts), hosted by Sammy Davis Jr. ("Hollywood Palace" had no permanent host but rather used different guest hosts every week, some of which, like Davis, hosted multiple times over the show's run.) Sammy enters to a flourish of music and dancers, albeit wearing a striking muu-muu (a demonstration that the mainstream culture was loosening a little). The remainder of the clip features a song by Sammy, with lyrics adapted to the setting, a badly lip-synched performance by the now obscure pop group Spanky and Our Gang--and a couple of original, 1968 commercials for floor wax (can't get any more mainstream culture than that).

(Thanks to the blog "Classic Television Showbiz" , where I first saw this episode posted, and to YouTube user "denbobboy" for the original posting of the episode. The remaining parts of the episode can be accessed by visiting either of their pages.)