How DVDs Ruin Classic Television

Neil Genzlinger has written an amusing article for The New York Times (a free registration may be required) in which he discusses watching a variety of sitcoms from the 1960s on DVD and learning that scenes involving danger and spectacle he thought were so amazing are, upon close inspection, both ineffective and disappointing. For example, during the opening credits to F Troop, the characters played by Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch are among those attacked by Indians and arrows strike their hats. Writes Genzlinger:

Alas, the loathsome DVD tells a different story. Watching the sequence in super slow motion, it is clear that O’Rourke and Agarn already had arrows in their hats in the first frame. Mr. Tucker and Mr. Storch simply jerked their heads backward to create the illusion that the arrows had just struck. Boy do I feel stupid.

He deconstructs other scenes from F Troop as well as I Dream of Jeannie and The Munsters, all in good fun. Some of those commenting on the article, however, take it far too seriously, berating Genzlinger for watching these shows in slow motion or for ever thinking the scenes in question were real. Personally, I enjoyed the article and its facetious tone.

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7 Comments

  • Mike Doran says:

    Mr. Genzlinger need not feel stupid at all. What he describes in F Troop is merely a common editing “cheat”, a practice to be found not only in TV but in most movies going back as far as you’d like. As a general rule, the lower the budget, the more cheats you’ll find if you take the time to slow the picture down. The tech wasn’t available to us as kids, so we just went along with what we saw. Knowing how and where the cheats are, we can spot them more easily than we could when younger. What this knowledge does for me is to make the artistry of the perfomers come through even more strongly – Tucker and Storch had to time their joint reaction to the second so the editor knew exactly when to cut.

    Not long ago I read an interview with Efrem Zimbalist Jr in which he described some editing cheats that Warners used on 77 Sunset Strip, all in the service of holding down the budget. Funny stories, and I’m sure that anybody who did filmed TV could come up with their to match him.

    Look at it this way: now you’ve got something else to look for while you’re watching the old shows – the precursors of CGI, done on the hoof. Happy Hunting!

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    I haven’t read Mr. Genzlinger’s article (nor do I know which issue of the TIMES it appeared in), but he’s apparently of the current ilk who feel it just isn’t enough to discuss old TV series issued on DVD- no, he has to be more “esoteric” about it, and point out how dated and “cheap” those series might have been.

    I KNOW the special effects on “I DREAM OF JEANNIE” are “low-tech” to some modern viewers, but, so what? Sidney Sheldon had trouble convincing Screen Gems to film the series in color during the first season, as they claimed the special effects would cost too much to film in color. Even though he insisted on paying the extra cost of filming in color for each episode [about $400], they said, “Save your money”. Sheldon later observed they (and NBC) were convinced the show wouldn’t last a full season to justify to cost of color filming…but it DID, and he finally got to film it in color for season two. The special effects [expertly handled by Richard Albain from late 1965 through the end of the series] weren’t elaborate, but they were just enough to make you believe Jeannie could do ANYTHING.

    “THE MUNSTERS”? That was pure farce- right down to those sequences where they’d undercrank the camera, and people would just scamper away faster than normal whenever they saw Herman in the flesh.

    No, DVD’s don’t “ruin” classic television- opinionated critics who THINK they’re brilliant writers do!

  • RGJ says:

    I cannot believe I forgot to link to the original article: “Innocence Undone, Frame by Frame.” A free registration may be required. Also, the Arts Beat blog has followed up on Genzlinger’s article and posted some YouTube videos.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    I have just acquired a copy of Genzlinger’s December 28th article (as published on the first “Arts” page in that issue), as well as having read it from the TIMES website. I will have PLENTY to say about it shortly!

    **SNORT, RUMBLE, GROWL**

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Well, if this column is Mr. Genzlinger’s “little joke”, it wasn’t funny to me. Too bad he decided to be “hip” and “trendy” by debunking the special effects from his (and our) beloved TV shows. He just couldn’t reisist using freeze frames and slow motion on his DVD player, huh? Has he been spoiled by too many computer-generated special effects used on TV series these days? Hmmm, eh…could be!

    I’ve seen the examples of the shows he mentioned in his column on the TIMES blog page….and one blog entry already pointed out the “F TROOP” scene with Corporal Agarn [Larry Storch] getting knives thrown at him by Geronimo [Mike Mazurki!!] was similar to the one where Lucy Ricardo auditions for a knifethrower on a 1953 episode of “I LOVE LUCY” (and, I might add, the illusion of the knives was explained to her at the end of the scene…before she fainted). Incidentally, the “arrow” sequence Genzlinger questions was originally featured in the pilot episode {“Hoppin’ horned toads!!”, Sgt. O’Rourke exclaimed}.

    And why was the “colorized” version of the “I DREAM OF JEANNIE” pilot episode used as an example? Couldn’t they have “dug up” the original black and white version, as they did with “F TROOP” and “THE MUNSTERS”? I KNOW the opening sequence that was posted, with the “galley ship” appearing and disappearing {AND the fact that Larry Hagman’s arm was padded underneath his sleeve so that the falcon Jeannie “conjured up” could stay on his arm without tearing it to shreds with its long claws- Genzlinger didn’t notice THAT, eh?}. “JEANNIE”‘s film editor for this episode, the one Mr. Genzlinger referred to in his article, was Asa [Al] Clark, who worked on the pilot episode only. The one who stayed the longest- and also became “assistant to the producer”- was William Martin, who was an absolute genius when it came to “putting the show together”. Again, the majority of the bloggers’ opinons were that the special effects were meant to be enjoyed, not scrutinized..especially the greatest “effect” of the show, Barbara Eden herself!

    As for “THE MUNSTERS”…it’s a farce, as I’ve previously mentioned. I’m certainly glad he didn’t dissect the scene in the episode where Dr. Dudley [Paul Lynde] finally sees Herman for what he is, and falls into his desk, collapsing it (“well, it’s obvious that a stunt double is pinch hitting for Lynde, and the ‘desk’ is nothing more than plywood or balsa wood”).

    I’m glad the bloggers had their say, and most of them don’t think much of Genzlinger AND his attitude, and article.

    As Pete Hamill once declared at the end of one of his 1977 DAILY NEWS articles- about kids having to grow up with TV icons instead of experiencing REAL events in their lives, like circuses- “The world needs more wonder, not less.”

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    One of the funniest responses on that blog page came from “Alaska Later”. Here it is, in its entirity (as it was posted)-

    “I went back and watched all of Shakespeare’s plays from the original Globe theater run on DVD, and THEY’RE ALL RUINED FOR ME because I realized THEY WERE ACTORS and the STAGECRAFT WAS SO CHEAP AND KITCHY and ROMEO AND JULIET WEREN”T REALLY DEAD, it wasn’t EVEN A REAL KNIFE. My god how will I ever appreciate the Bard again?

    Slow news day?”

    :lol:

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    As a “follow-up”, Neil Genzlinger submitted a Sunday TIMES article [January 10] on “The Role Of a Lifetime”, in which famous TV icons [Barbara Eden, Julie Newmar, Larry Storch, Dawn Wells, et. al.] briefly describe the impact of their TV characters over the years, and how they feel about them today. It’s a much better article than his previous one, although I suspect Neil must be in his ’20s or ’30s, if he can relate more to current icons like “MONK” and “HOUSE”, rather than ones the previous generation grew up with…

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