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My How Times Have Changed

is.jpegI was just watching the original two pilot episodes of the classic “The Rockford Files,” and boy have things changed.  And I’m not talking about the locations (the Sunset Strip, La Cienega Blvd., etc), or the clothing styles, or music (disco, baby!)., (or the recasting of Rockford’s father for the series!).  I’m talking about television itself.  The shows, a part one and part two, each one hour, are amazingly different from today’s fare.  Much of them were shot in a studio.  There wasn’t a whole lot spent on set dressing and lighting.  The pacing is so slow as to be like watching films from the 20’s — almost incomprehensible to much of today’s audiences.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love The Rockford Files, plus it’s great seeing L.A. locations that don’t exist anymore (Gazzarri’s on the Strip!) or that have significantly changed (the corner of La Cienega and Beverly Blvd., where The Tail of The Pup, a hot dog stand in a building shaped like a hot dog, used to be).  To me, The Rockford Files is a classic that cannot be beat…  but here’s what’s on my mind right now:

In today’s world of TV, a typical one hour network show has 42-43 minutes of actual content, including the titles.  Episode 2 of Rockford is 49:45.  That’s a difference of 7-8 minutes of show content, which is now gone to commercials and network promos.  We now have 17-18 minutes of nonsense to weave around while trying to watch — let alone keep track of the story — our network shows.  Imagine what that kind of cut in time has done to storytelling and content.  Over the years we’ve lost more and more time in our viewing to commercials.  So, partially as a consequence of this show content erosion, we’ve seen the timing of shows tighten, the pacing of everything speed up and the filmic language of TV become truncated.  Writing and producing and directing television nowadays has totally changed.  This is probably not a totally bad thing.  Watching Rockford now is like stepping back into another world.  The recap (of what happened in the first of the two pilot episodes) takes up 7:45 of the second Rockford episode.  Today’s shows do their recaps in 30 seconds, and the title sequences are sometimes 5 seconds (“Better Off Ted”, anyone?).  Does anyone remember any great opening title songs from the last five or ten years?  The pacing of Rockford would never cut it in today’s TV world.  And the time spent on character development has gone out the window.  There was breathing room in Rockford, something that no show nowadays would dare take.

Now the flipside to all this, of course, is that today’s shows have really changed (for the most part) for the better.  Amazing production values, amazing cinematography, amazing, complex storytelling happens now that could never have happened in the 70’s.  The subject matter, has of course, changed and gotten deeper, darker and more intense.

But I wonder if we’ve lost something by putting up with such drastic cuts to the amount of time network TV gives away to promos and commercials?  In any event, I plan to continue to watch more of James Garner as Jim Rockford.  Honestly, it’s good for you… Hulu, here I come!

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