Actually, the very first made-for-TV movie, “See How They Run,” premiered on October 17, 1964, a few months sooner than expected. This Universal production is a mediocre crime melodrama that was quickly followed six weeks later by the broadcast of Don Siegel’s next excursion into the telefilm genre, “The Hanged Man.” Like “The Killers” before it, Siegel’s second assignment for NBC-MCA is another remake of a classic film noir, “Ride the Pink Horse.”
Without a doubt, this movie along with the only telefeature to appear during the 1965-66 season, a Western pilot for Dale Robertson entitled, “Scalplock,” both point to the fact that the early TV movie was more derivative of Hollywood for source material than any other dramatic avenue. In fact, the telefilm had not yet produced its own crop of production talent. In the late 1960s, this genre harkened most to Hollywood’s least “respectable” genres for story ideas and themes: the Western, the melodrama, the spy thriller, and the horror / supernatural tale.
Therefore, in retrospect, it is obviously no surprise that the trade publications and movie critics alike were immediately inclined to christen this new form–the rebirth of Hollywood’s B-movie; indeed, it would take the made-for-TV film genre a dozen more years to outgrow this benign, though ultimately disparaging label.
In the early 1970s there was a renaissance of comedy on American television, much of it coming from Americanized versions of British programs. All in the Family (1970-77) took its formula and characters from the BBC’s Till Death Do Us Part, first screened in 1964. The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the first sitcom to feature an independent woman as its main character, also began in 1970.
In 1969 the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) was established as a network of mainly educational stations funded partially by the federal government and partially by subscription. PBS imported much British television: the BBC’s adaptation of The Forsyte Saga was a major ratings success in 1970, outstripped in 1974 by the surreal comedy of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
The main flow of television business went the other way. Before 1960, as part of an aggressive marketing strategy, American television was dumping entertainment product in Europe, Australia and the Third World at rock-bottom prices. In 1970 the BBC could buy American drama at less than one-tenth the cost per viewer-hour of producing it themselves.
To some extent, European television protected itself from transatlantic pollution by quota systems, which limited the amount of American programming that could be screened. German broadcasting had been strongly influenced by the BBC model after World War II, and a national television had begun service in 1953. From the early 1960s German television supported filmmakers in producing plays and films which ventured outside the American -dominated conventions of the international film and television industries. While they produced an impressive body of work, they failed to raise the technical level of production and limited their foreign sales, which kept their cultural production marginalized.
President de Gaulle saw state domination of French television as a necessary counter-measure to the opposition expressed towards him in the French provincial press. Despite reorganization in the wake of the demonstrations of May 1968, the Office de la Radio et Television Française (ORTF) remained firmly and openly in support of the conservative political status quo. Television in France and in Italy, where Radio Televisione Italiano (RAI) had a programming monopoly similar to that of ORTF, transmitted more informational and cultural programming than Germany or Britain.
Britain preserved its reputation for the “least worst television in the world” by actively promoting minority programming and quality television”. The BBC established its second channel in 1964 to maintain the ethos of public service broadcasting while allowing BBCI to move downmarket into more direct competition with the commercial ITV. The adaptations, documentaries and one-off television plays that gave British television its envied reputation for quality all upheld the tradition of things English and literary, Documentaries sponsored the dissemination of knowledge, while literary adaptations of the classics and semi-classics of English literature reproduced the “worthiest” remnants of British culture. One consequence was that, as in Germany, television absorbed writing and directorial talent that might have contributed to a cinematic renaissance. The vapid British cinema of the later 1960s was evidence of the effectiveness of this.
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