When Movies On TV Went Bottoms Up
|It Needed a Stiff Drink To Get Through 85 Minutes That|
Channel 8 Allotted to The Lost Weekend in 1966
More Memories Of Television as Butcher Stall
|Me at Age 12 After WGHP Chopped My Classic|
|Academy Awards Were No Protection Against Shears of Syndication|
Channel 8 patiently explained that movies must often be "carefully edited" for telecast, time limit and "sponsor messages" inescapable facts of programming life. What they knew but didn't express was that films were filler, nothing more nor less. Anyone who'd demand The Lost Weekend intact had to be a crank or a child. It was twenty years since the thing won "Best Picture," and who knew or cared from that? The Lost Weekend was accompany to supper dishes cleared, dog/cats let in/out, the gamut of household necessity to quell focus on flicks that bridged afternoon with primetime. Mere heads of lettuce to chop, they'd make a ninety-minute salad with remnant tossed out. Question we purists must finally ask: Were they so wrong?
Most television then was white noise. Many a household left sets running all day, as had been case with radio. Lots listened more than watched, screens on as backdrop to conversation or a phonograph playing. Attention paid was little, I suspect. Too many distractions around the house, if not the room. And how does one concentrate on a movie broken up by non-stop ads? Sensible folk wanted the story shortened, as who in a busy family had two hours or more for focus on narrative off a tiny box (25" regarded a big screen then). I don't think people noticed movies being cut. They were too well schooled at catching drift of a story even where it was gutted of first or middle sections. It was like walking into a theatre part ways into the show. You'd need but moments to understand everything that happened to that point. What movies were on television was a souvenir of what they had once been at cinemas. Those who'd remember The Lost Weekend would be satisfied by morsels caught before Junior flipped over to The Jetsons.
To "showcase" an old movie was to risk losing restless viewers. Having lights on in a room meant they'd be up and down constantly. Others of the household were in/out of the viewing space, phones jangling, adjourn to the kitchen for prep of snacks or TV-tray ... how would even a reverently presented Lost Weekend compete with that? Station directors understood such reality. They knew that movies weren't meant to be fully consumed and understood on the tube, unless maybe it was event of a Bridge On the River Kwai or The Robe unveiling for first broadcast time. Families might clear schedule for these, as in plan ahead, get grass mowed, then settle in for the haul. Mid-sixties forward became burial ground for B/W oldies now that color sets were getting into record number of homes. Choice for purists was simple: Take The Lost Weekend and ones like it on their terms, or don't watch. We had to stop worrying and love cut movies.
Of course, I kept writing letters. Management surely dreaded my scrawl on envelopes, knowing they'd have to answer what points I raised. My error was assuming everyone else felt as I did. Fact was, integrity of classic film was nobody's priority, at least in NC markets with late shows an only venue where features might be seen complete. It took cable and then satellite to rehab the backlogs. A service like AMC and later TCM had luxury of time and no need to amend vaulties. A generation that came up in the 80/90's saw classics way different from those that bore scar of editor knives. I've long thought there were, and are, far more serious buffs now than in blighted era gone before. Attendance at TCM's Festival bears it out, and look at all of blogs, Twitters, and Facebooking these fans do, plus books they continue to write. Imagine if TCM, or any network, did a chop-job on The Lost Weekend today. On-line fury would deafen us all. We had our Good Old Days with classic movies, but again I say, these are the Better New Days.