DAVID BIANCULLI

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ERIC GOULD

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LINDA DONOVAN

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JONATHAN STORM

 
 
 
 
 
The Great American Dream Machine
November 6, 2015  | By David Bianculli
 

I’ve been waiting for a collection of this groundbreaking 1971-72 PBS series to be released on home video for decades – ever since I bought my first Sony Betamax in 1977. Well, it took a while, but here it is: a 4-DVD compilation of perhaps the most varied variety show in TV history, complete with an enthusiastic essay by… me. It’s impressive, but not surprising, that HBO’s head of documentary programming, Sheila Nevins, started here, because Dream Machine is a grand mix of man-on-the-street interviews and short documentaries, as well as comic filmed pieces, video essays, and so, so much else. Albert Brooks did short films here years before he did the same thing for Saturday Night Live – and Chevy Chase was here pre-SNL as well. Look for Charles Grodin, Penny Marshall, Henry Winkler, Renee Taylor, Studs Terkel, Elaine Stritch, Dick Cavett – and revel in the singular genius that is Marshall Efron. Marshall’s comic essays, grading the official sizes of olives and asking whether there’s sex after death, were exactly as I remembered them for more than 40 years – and every bit as funny. Now that’s memorable, just like all of this show’s daringly varied musings on politics, social class, sexual identity, gender politics, and everything else that clogged up the great American dream machine after the Sixties ended. If you know nothing of this series, you should get it and dive in. And if you remember it, I’m guessing you’ve ordered it already, before coming back to read this. Good move. And after 64 Seals of Approval bestowed upon DVD sets of outstanding TV shows, this is the first where the Seal is noted by the manufacturer. We’ve arrived! – David Bianculli

 
 
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post