Last year I wrote a “Sightings” column for The Wall Street Journal about Studio One Anthology, a six-DVD box set containing seventeen dramas that were originally broadcast live on CBS’ Studio One, one of the best-remembered anthology series of what is now known, rightly or wrongly, as the “golden age” of television:
It’s said that series TV today is better than ever before, and that the so-called Golden Age of Television mostly amounted to an endless string of low-budget sitcoms, mysteries and Westerns. As the weaker episodes included in “Studio One Anthology” make all too clear, there’s something to be said for that skeptical point of view. Most of the original plays that aired on the anthology series of the ’50s were mediocre and have been rightly forgotten. But more than a few of them, like “Twelve Angry Men” and “Marty,” were very, very good–and network TV in the ’50s, lest we forget, was also bringing its viewers such blue-chip fare as Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony, Jerome Robbins’ “Peter Pan,” “An Evening with Fred Astaire” and the wildly zany comedy of Sid Caesar and Ernie Kovacs.
Back then, of course, CBS, NBC and ABC still aspired on occasion to offer viewers something more than lowest-common-denominator escapism as part of their daily entertainment diet. Now they mostly play it as safe as skim milk, leaving the risk-taking to cable TV. “Studio One Anthology” is a wistful reminder of how much things have changed since the naïve and hopeful days when television was young.
I felt at the time that Koch Vision, which released Studio One Anthology, would have done better to put out a set that cherry-picked a variety of first-rate TV dramas from the Fifties rather than concentrating on a single series. Now the Criterion Collection is planning to do just that. The Golden Age of Television, scheduled for release on November 24 but now available for preordering, is a three-disc set containing eight important live TV dramas originally telecast between 1953 and 1958, including the original versions of Paddy Chayefsky’s “Marty” and Rod Serling’s “Patterns” and “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” While TV buffs with very long memories will recall that all eight of these programs were rebroadcast on PBS a quarter-century ago and subsequently issued on videocassette, this will be the first time that any of them has been officially released on DVD.
I wrote about “Marty” in this space two years ago:
The original hour-long TV version…is lean, direct, and characterful, and Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand, who play a pair of painfully plain New Yorkers looking for love, are so natural and unaffected that they scarcely seem to be acting at all. It’s easy to see why Marty, though it only aired once on network TV, made a deep and long-lasting impression on all who saw it.
Those comments were based on a single viewing of a used and decidedly battered copy of the videocassette version of “Marty.” I can’t wait to how it looks after being given the Criterion Collection treatment.