Excellent documentary on primetime television – literally

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There once was a time when American television was so conservative, its programs failed to represent society as it really was. Put it simply, shows in the 1950s (like Leave It To Beaver)  right through to the 1970s (like The Brady Bunch) presented families as squeaky-clean and butter-wouldn’t-melt with specific sexist roles allocated to both women and men (she usually stayed at home; he worked till 5 and expected tea on the table upon arrival home).

But as the swinging ’70s really started taking hold, things started to shake up and the likes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All In The Family began stirring the traditional pot, delivering brash, in-yer-face characters who defied the conservatives and put issues such as gender, class, race and politics on the table so that – ultimately – viewers were talking about these subjects around their own dinner tables.

America In Primetime is a brilliant documentary series that looks at popular television programming from the United States that has kept up with the demands by society for a certain ‘realness’ and ‘rawness’ in its TV heroes (and villains). From The Addams Family to Modern Family, The X-Files to Dexter, it praises and celebrates the deconstructionist characters, cool crusaders and marvellous misfits who changed the television we watched over the years.

Featuring interviews by countless luminaries of the industry, and not just tackily thrown together – each interview looks set up purposefully for this documentary series – it’s compelling to see and hear the juxtaposing (or often spookily aligned) opinions of the producers, directors, actors and others who make up the long list of the cast and credits that roll once that theme song kicks in. And these guys are definitely not just blowing proverbial smoke up each other’s behinds, like you often see in behind-the-scenes interviews tagged onto DVD and Blu-ray specials. These are honest opinions from the brilliant likes of Ron Howard, Roseanne Barr, Alec Baldwin, Sandra Oh, Mary Tyler Moore, Danny DeVito, Michael C. Hall and a host of others – each helping piece the kaleidoscopic picture that is modern TV.

This doco series is so good, I’d watch re-runs of it 10 years from now! 

America In Primetime is available through Madman / SBS Home Entertainment.