Friday, July 19, 2019

Looking Around the Frame

In The Electronic Mirror, the fine book written by my fellow classic TV blogger Mitchell Hadley, there’s a section in which Mitchell discusses program clichés, and uses this TV Guide listing for an episode of Daniel Boone as an example:

“Daniel, the fort’s best runner, sprains an ankle, which spells bad news for the settlers who have bet on him to win the hotly contested annual foot race with the Indians.”

That is certainly a familiar trope – an unexpected calamity that precedes a big event.

Hadley continues: “Did you ever notice that you never see a listing like, ‘Daniel sprains an ankle, and is grateful he doesn’t have anything planned for the week’? No, of course not – that doesn’t make for very interesting television.”

But here’s the thing: I’d watch that episode too.

With my favorite Comfort TV shows, no plot would be no problem – I am content just to spend that time in their worlds.

No such shows exist of course, but I find that mindset comes in handy when I’m watching an episode of a series I’ve seen a zillion times, or when I’m watching one that’s not that compelling, I ignore the plot and spend my time looking around the frame. 

With some shows I remember having the same kind of furnishings in the homes where I grew up. I know when it's a '70s show I'll see more plants everywhere. I try to read the titles of the books on the shelves. I am amused by how shelf paper in kitchen cabinets was once a higher priority than it is now. 

For me no series lends itself better to this pastime than Star Trek: The Next Generation (as well as Voyager and Enterprise). While I’ve never considered myself a hardcore Trekker, I am endlessly fascinated by the ship’s multicolored display panels, the decorative touches in the various crew quarters, and the recessed lighting in the Ten Forward lounge.

It’s not surprising to me that the wealthiest and most ardent Trekkers have recreated the bridge and sickbay and other sets in their homes, just to feel like they can access that space. I would never do something like that, but I certainly understand the impulse. 

But even with shows set in their present day, in recognizable homes and offices, I wish we had at least one episode for each series when we could simply observe the characters going through the course of an uneventful day.

How does Mr. French organize his time as he deals with the responsibilities of shopping and cleaning and cooking and taking the twins to the park? Could I follow Rob Petrie as he drives to the train station to travel into Manhattan, and watch the writer’s room kick around ideas? And how does Ozzie Nelson wile away the hours between breakfast, lunch and dinner?  

I also wonder about the places we never get to see. What does that guest bedroom in Bob and Emily Hartley’s apartment look like? How long is the hallway that leads to the elevator outside the WJM-TV newsroom? 

Virtual reality technology may one day allow us to ‘enter’ these fictional realities. But they probably won’t have that perfected until a time when few people still care about these shows.

But perhaps part of one such world may be unveiled when the Brady Bunch home renovation, now being documented by HGTV, is complete. What will they do with the property when the show is over? Open it to the public as a retro bed & breakfast? The home is in a residential area so I doubt they can legally turn it into a business. But if they do, I’ll be the first in line. 


  1. I can't say that I haven't looked around the frame quite a bit when it comes to movies and TV shows. When you get a chance, Mr. Hofstede, you might want to check out the following URLs:

  2. Great article, David! (And thanks for the shoutout!) Occasionally when I'm watching one of my wife's musicals (because I'm a good husband, of course), I'll wonder what happens to the character Peter Lawford plays after she realizes she really loves Fred Astaire. Does he go into a depression? Does he figure there's always someone else just around the corner? Does he secretly think to himself, "that was a narrow escape"? Sometimes the rest of the story can be as interesting as the story itself!