Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'The Sixties' Shines for CNN

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'The Sixties' Shines for CNN

Article excerpt

Tom Hanks is one of the executive producers of a stunning, revelatory, exciting and surprisingly provocative 10-part television series titled "The Sixties." And there he is on camera at the start of Episode 1, saying, "The TV was the center of our house. I don't remember a time without TV."

For those of us of a certain age - Mr. Hanks was born in 1956 - television defined our view and understanding of the world and the events that took place during the 1960s, that most disorderly decade, in which Chicago plays a prominent role. The whole world (or at least those in the United States with TV sets, which was almost everyone) was watching, and thus did TV dominate our lives then and remain in our heads.

One TV critic in the first episode, "Television Comes of Age," suggests, rightly, that the more benign offerings of the time - "The Flying Nun," "Leave It To Beaver," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Hogan's Heroes," "Route 66" et al; the variety shows fronted by Dean Martin, Carol Burnett, Ed Sullivan et al; talk shows hosted by Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett et al - made television for many, as another voice says, "a willful respite from things going on in real life." Yes, but it was also our connection to that real life in visceral, enlightening and often disturbing ways.

"The Sixties," which begins tonight at 9 and runs through Aug. 7, comes to us on CNN.

Many of us have been bombarded for decades by the images and sounds and personalities (and personal memories) of the 1960s. Here, what is familiar is made fresh.

The so-called "talking heads" that populate most documentaries are, in this series, the cream of the crop. Historians, journalists, former soldiers, eye witnesses to and participants in events - all offer pointed insight and /or first-hand knowledge. These voices, combined with rare and rarely seen film footage, a thoughtful soundtrack and perfectly orchestrated editing are able to give the series an impactful relevance.

The first episode is a feast of old TV clips that are pleasing in their ability to evoke memories. It might be a little much to hear that "The Andy Griffith Show" was marked by "emotional honesty" and "unexpected depth" and that "The Fugitive" was a "somber character study," but these analyses are examples of how the series attempts to get beyond the obvious. It seeks depth and gets a lot of it here from Tom and Dick Smothers, whose variety show was deemed too rough for TV at the time.

It all begins with Mr. Hanks and his few words, and then we are in Chicago, at the first televised presidential debate (Kennedy vs. Nixon) in September 1960, in Studio One at Chicago's WBBM-TV. That hour-long live broadcast changed politics forever, as candidates realized that rhetoric and ideas were less important than physical style and sound bites. …

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