DFHC 10/13/2011

Ask Cool Daddy, Bleary-Eyed II:
                       What Next Generation?

Dear Friends: Yesterday in this space I began the thankless task of answering the question: What was TV’s first miniseries?

My answer was The Blue Knight (11/13/1973)…It was shown on 4 consecutive nights…but if the episode length of 1-hour somehow disqualifies it in your mind, then the answer would be…

QBVII (4/29/1974)…In terms of overwrought hoopla, it certainly dwarfed The Blue Knight…getting the full cover treatment from TV Guide, plus a long feature article…the one accompanying The Blue Knight was about creator Joseph Wambaugh, not the show. It was 6½ hours long, and when rerun a year later, it was shown over 3 consecutive nights. BUT…in its initial broadcast, it was only on 2 consecutive nights, episodes of 3 and 3½ hours. So if that means it was really a 2-part movie and not a true miniseries, then the answer is… 

Rich Man, Poor Man (2/1/1976)The first pair of 2-hour episodes shown back-to-back Sunday/Monday, then for the next 7 Mondays, some 1 hour, some 2 hours, for a total of 9 episodes and 13 hours, spread over a month and a half. And early on, the weekly format was the miniseries format of choice, until it was eclipsed by the consecutive night format. But if that is a disqualification, then we must move on to…

Roots (1/23/1977)…12 hours, 8 consecutive nights, meets all the tests, no? And indeed it is most often cited as the “first.” But perhaps you are a TV maven who knows everything, and you have a different esoteric choice. I’m certainly open-minded, and I did mention yesterday there were 8 conceivable candidates, so let’s review the remaining 4…

(5) Vanished…NBC 1971Again, based on a best-selling novel…and it was a “first”…the first 2-part made-for-TV movie ever, airing for 2 hours on March 8th, concluding with 2 more hours the next night. Granted, they didn’t call it (or anything for that matter in 1971) a miniseries, but it all comes down to the question of whether a 2-part movie is miniseries. After all, arguably the first miniseries, QB VII, was a 2-part movie, at least in its premiere broadcast…and to further muddy the water, The Blue Knight was rerun in 1975 over 2 nights instead of 4. When The Godfather debuted on TV in November of 1974, it was shown over 2 nights, oddly Saturday and Monday! Of course, 3 years later, it would be re-edited with The Godfather Part 2, shown over 4 consecutive nights, and was considered at the time every bit a miniseries as Roots and Washington: Behind Closed Doors which was the second blockbuster 12-hour consecutive night miniseries, in November of 1977….but alas, nobody cares who came second, right? Sorry I brought it up…

And how do we classify Jesus of Nazareth from March of 1977? It had just 2 parts, each of about 3 hours and 15 minutes…but it was broadcast not on consecutive nights, but on 2 consecutive Sundays! Bottom line: what constituted a miniseries got “down-sized” (some might say “devalued” or even “dumbed down”) rather quickly, and by the late 1970s, 2-part movies were routinely billed as miniseries. So does Vanished get grandfathered in or not? It’s up to you…but as seen in the screen capture above, you wouldn’t be alone if you thought so.

(6) The Forsyte Saga…PBS/NET 1969…The question of whether to retroactively consider Vanished to be a miniseries illustrates what I call the “as such” approach to determining the first of anything. Take disco music…there is probably a first disco record of the disco era, altho I haven’t decided what that is yet, nor even precisely when that “era” began. That’s disco “as such.” But people will point to records from before the disco era…some way before…and say: “Well, we didn’t know it at the time, but that was a disco record…just listen to it!”  This is a controversial and highly debatable approach, which is why it’s so much fun…was the first SUV the Chevy Suburban of the 1930s? Or the Jeep Station Wagon of the late 1940s? Can either of them realistically trump the International Harvester Scout, which when it came out in 1961, really did start the SUV craze as we know it, leading to the Chevy Blazer, the Ford Bronco, etc. etc. And that’s why some (but not many, thank goodness) say John Hanson, not George Washington, was the first POTUS…look it up…

So where does that leave The Forsyte Saga? Produced in England in 1967, from a series of novels, 26 1-hour episodes shown weekly, and definitely not open-ended. PBS (then called NET) took a gamble and imported it in November of 1969, running it weekly, and it was a huge success. The flood gates were opened for The First Churchills, Upstairs Downstairs, Elizabeth R, The Onedin Line, The Pallisers, and indeed the whole concept behind Masterpiece Theatre. Aren’t these all miniseries in the truest sense? Or did you mean commercial network miniseries? OK then, let’s try…

(7)  The Six Wives of Henry VIII…CBS 1971…Made and originally broadcast in UK in 1970, but shown on a commercial network a year later…6 1-hour episodes, weekly, beginning August 13th…and it even copped an Emmy for best actor! Miniseries or not? I report, you decide. I’m sticking with The Blue Knight, if its all the same to you. But you must remember, as early as 1973, they were calling just about anything a miniseries.

Remember Primal Man Very cool show…4 1-hour episodes spread out over a year and a half, the first in December of 1973. We would call it a series of specials…not really that much different from the Peanuts specials that were similarly spaced out…yet at the time, it was called a miniseries. As for that matter was the initial run of Dallas…5 episodes weekly in April of 1978…then the “regular” series began in earnest that Fall. Today we might call that a “preview” or an “initial limited run,” intended to introduce the 1st season…TV Guide called it a miniseries. But finally, we must include…


(8)  Davy Crockett…ABC 1954-55…Yup, people call that a miniseries…Uncle Wiki sure does…and as a typical blogger put it when Fess Parker died in 2010: “His death brings to mind the miniseries that made him a star…” But betwixt and between all the qualifications and quibbles, I can definitely say IT WAS NOT!!! 5 1-hour episodes, each a self-contained story, spread out over a full year’s time, and broadcast as part of the anthology series Disneyland, the forerunner of Wonderful World of Color.  True, it was accompanied by miniseries-level hype, perhaps the first TV show to explode into a full-blown fad…and I reckon it sold more merchandise than Shogun, albeit to kids. But hey, this is America…everybody’s entitled to be wrong, right?!  Good night, and good luck… 


shameless plugs, an Internet Premiere Event, whoo hoo!…

Podcasts at http://stolfpod.podbean.com  and   http://thewholething.podbean.com

Deep Fried Hoodsie Cups Daily Blog:    https://deepfriedhoodsiecups.wordpress.com/

Other Daily Blog at http://stolf.wordpress.com  (the legendary Stolf’s Blog)

More bloggage at  http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com  and  http://www.examiner.com/retro-pop-culture-in-watertown/mark-john-astolfi

Resume at http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com/p/resume.html

Audio samples at  http://stolfspots.podbean.com

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