the studio gate

the backlot

the screening room
The Screening Room

Americans have a bond with television. We almost always have since the earliest days of images coming directly into our homes. From childhood through our elder years, even the most finicky television viewers have bonded with something or somebody on television. The four-part PBS special, "Pioneers of Television," casts a spotlight on some of the innovative personalities who caught our eyes and ears. The specials are now on DVD.  

The filmmakers, Steven J. Boettcher and Michael J. Trinklein, cast a rosy picture on the likes of Johnny Carson, Steve Allen, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, and Ed Sullivan. Done in segments based on "Late Night," "Sitcoms," "Game Shows," and "Variety," "Pioneers of Television" is mostly a greatest hits package that pleases. By no means is this epic length series complete.  What happened to television after those "early years?" The filmmakers did such a good job that I wanted more. This is a compliment to the great work that was put into this show. Television has now been around for a long time, so to attempt to cover it all would be futile.

The series is mixed with standard clips from shows like "I Love Lucy," "The Tonight Show," "The Honeymooners" and many more. There are also recent interview clips with Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Merv Griffin, and so on. All of this is quite enjoyable, though I felt there could've been a little more "behind the scenes dirt." Not in the sense of trash talk, necessarily. A little more of the conflict with network executives, for instance, might've made this series a little more intriguing. Or maybe some details about Lucille Ball or Steve Allen outside of the television camera would've given the series more spice. We do get some of that, but the program still feels as though the history has been whitewashed a bit. 

For what it's worth, "Pioneers" is still very good entertainment and will give audiences a short history lesson on early television. Seeing some of the clips from the shows this series presents is a lot of fun. I found myself laughing hard when the clips from "The Carol Burnett Show" were on. And I had forgotten how funny Paul Lynde's quips were on "The Hollywood Squares."

It's been said over the years that television is a "vast wasteland," or it's been called the "idiot box" or "boob tube." There's been some awful television over the years, and I'm guilty of watching a lot of it. The programs highlighted on "Pioneers of Television" show that there was, and still is, some high quality entertainment. Television, for better or for worse, has provided Americans (and the world) moments that become etched in our memories. We may not remember all the events in our lives, but we certainly can remember what we saw on television.      

Photos: Paramount/PBS. All rights reserved.

Quick Glimpse


Well made journey thru TV's Golden Age

Directors: Steven J. Boettcher & Michael J. Trinklein

Cast: Johnny Carson, Mary Tyler Moore, Lucille Ball


Extended interviews

Not rated


Picture: Excellent
Sound: Excellent

Cool, grainy early television footage

Aspect Ratio (1.33:1 & 1.78:1)

Dolby Digital 2.0

January 29, 2008