A Glimpse at 'Studio One'

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

A Glimpse at 'Studio One'


Byline: Gary Arnold, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There's a pictorially striking extended image in the teleplay Dino, one of the selections in the recent DVD set Studio One Anthology, that isolates Sal Mineo behind a partially opened door. Cast as a belligerent, crazy, mixed-up teenage delinquent of cliche-ridden mid-1950s vintage, Mr. Mineo manipulates the door deftly; it bisects his troubled baby face, disclosing a hide-and-seek portrait of half-guarded and maybe salvageable personality formation.

This glimpse is arguably more eloquent than any of the dialogue encounters contrived by author Reginald Rose, who seems to believe that Dino will come around as long as he can blow up and break down confidentially to an unflappable caseworker, embodied with droll patience and confidence by Ralph Meeker.

The anthology itself opens a door commendably, if also inconclusively, on a large body of programming that was never systematically documented during the Beta and VHS years. A few famous shows were available: Paddy Chayefsky's Marty from The Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, Rod Serling's Patterns from Kraft Television Theatre, Mr. Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight (an obvious forerunner of Darren Aronofsky's recent The Wrestler ) from Playhouse 90. Those available were never a bloc that drew on numerous examples from one of the prominent live dramatic series. At one time, the television industry supported 14 weekly shows of the kind.

This backlog, although largely recorded on black-and-white kinescopes that are less than ideal (and sometimes less than adequate) as copying intermediaries, remains a promising subject for appreciation and evaluation on DVD - and whatever home video formats lie ahead.

The live dramas that flourished as a vivid and prestigious branch of programming in the first decade of commercial television have been fondly recalled as a writers' medium. From the evidence of Studio One Anthology, which collects 17 of the 466 programs telecast during a predominantly Monday night tenure on CBS, extending from fall 1948 through summer 1958, live drama was more likely to flatter the resourcefulness of actors and directors on the lookout for professional breakthroughs and showcases. On a good night, they could make the most of fleeting opportunities with an attentive home audience.

Reginald Rose (1920-2002) is the best represented of the Studio One writers with five scripts, including Dino and Twelve Angry Men, both expanded into theatrical features in 1957. Angry Men is the most famous of all Studio One originals, but Mr. Rose's zest for group dynamics was dependent on a heavy hand with lessons in civics and ethics.

He was prone to misfires as a crackpot polemicist, and this weakness is deliriously preserved in two selections, The Remarkable Incident at Carson Corners and An Almanac of Liberty. The former, telecast in January 1954, is an equivocal monstrosity that turns a classroom into an impromptu jury room. The latter, ostensibly inspired by a book from Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas published on the day of the telecast (Nov. 8, 1954), is a sputtering brainstorm that seems to need Mr. Serling's Twilight Zone to begin making a little sense. It argues a one-sided case for liberal piety over bigotry - in yet another defenseless classroom.

Mr. Serling is also represented by two scripts. So is Gore Vidal. None of them yields an hour-long gem, although three were directed by Franklin Schaffner, whose desire for pictorial depth and variety is always a promising enhancement. He was, of course, destined for a major Hollywood career after reuniting with Mr. Vidal on The Best Man and Mr. Serling on Planet of the Apes.

Mr. Schaffner, who also directed the Emmy-winning Studio One production of Twelve Angry Men (Sidney Lumet got the opportunity to turn it into a movie), alternated with Paul Nickell (the director of Dino ) during the outset of the series.

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