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December 2004, Week 1


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Jeremy Butler <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 3 Dec 2004 10:30:52 -0600
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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It appears I struck a nerve with my question about the (lack of the)
Romantic/Byronic artist on television.  I received a couple dozen responses
to my query.

Thus far, no one has come up with a "pure" example of a TV series with a
Romantic protagonist(s), but several very interesting/intriguing points
were made about how television transforms the Romantic artist into other
guises--ranging from television writers (e.g., THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM) to vampire slayers (BUFFY)!

And Susan McLeland offers this insight:

"Perhaps the reason you're having trouble finding these characters is that
you're only looking at leads and continuing characters. I can think of
dozens of examples where romantic artist-types have been brought in for
guest shots on popular series--particularly comedy series, where their
moodiness and highfalutin rhetoric is inevitably punctured by the "regular
folks" of the recurring cast."

Perhaps Lord Byron and his tormented brothers and sisters do not "belong"
on television.  For one thing, their inevitable death/dementia/doom does
not fit the repeatable narrative structure of series television.  How could
a show continue the following week of its protagonist has died/gone
crazy/met his/her doom?

I've collated all the responses I got and include them below.  Thanks,
everyone, for some very thought-provoking and entertaining comments!



Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 15:03:08 -0600
From: James Schwoch <[log in to unmask]>

While I agree with what you say or imply below--author on TV is a rather
backwater terrain--I'm willing to churn my mind for 15 minutes...there is a
case, I suppose, for Rod Serling and the whole author-as-p[roducer thing
but I know that's not really what you have in mind, although perhaps
individual episodes ot Twilight Zone might reveal something....a TV series
I am sorry to admit I remember starred William Windom as a James
Thurber-like-cartoonist (?!?) and I think that was called My World and
Welcome To It...on Cheers, the bubbly blonde whose character and stage name
I cannot remember was sometimes portrayed as a frustrated author, I think
(I rarely watched the show)...but American TV series I think mainly turns
authorial types such as you have in mind into--of course--people who work
at ad agencies or in public relations. That transformation leads to lots of
examples, and of course eliminates the angst, because everyone on TV who
works at an ad agency is, of course, always happy--but I mention this
transformation into the ad agency as a possible point you could think about
as part of explaining why authors like the ones you have in mind are in
relatively short supply in American TV series....I'd have to think about
this more, but I think it could be developped into an argument, anyway,
best of luck and good wishes on the new edition.....jim


Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 21:11:21 -0600
From: Patrick Leary <[log in to unmask]>

    I'll be interested to hear what you get from the SCREEN-L folk about
this.  But how can you overlook Rob Petrie, the head writer of the Alan
Brady show?  Makes an interesting example, too, because that show had a lot
of fun satirizing the elitism of the Byronic model of the auteur/author,
such as the Pollock-like painter (played by Carl Reiner, of course) who had
once painted Laura as a nude figure, or the folksy Sandburgesque poet
surrounded by sycophantic snobs who turns out to be a big fan of the Brady
show, or Reiner's Alan Brady himself, the epitome of the performer as
temperamental artist.  Whereas of course the constant lesson of the show,
beginning with the first flashback sequence about the hiring of Rob, is
that writing is a collaborative, cumulative process.   This TV-industry
model of creativity is explicitly set against the traditional auteurist
vision at every opportunity.  Rob Petrie is the anti-auteur.

   Other TV artist/writers/performers that spring to mind...the protagonist
of MURDER SHE WROTE; Oscar and Felix are, respectively, writer and
photographer; Ann Marie of THAT GIRL, struggling actress; the entire
PARTRIDGE FAMILY.  Nothing Byronic about any of these, though.



From: <[log in to unmask]>

How about "The Singing Detective"?  The lead character is in a hospital,
hallucinating about his childhood as well as experiencing ideas for future
novels.  His previous work as a novelist also converges with present
hallucinations-very interesting stuff.    I haven't seen the film starring
Robert Downey, Jr., but the British television series (from the 1980's, I
believe) is on DVD.

Good luck,
Matt Cohen


From: Tim Anderson <[log in to unmask]>

While not "about" an artist, Six Feet Under has a running thread of Claire
who "becomes" an artist over the last four seasons. Plus it hs Billy
Chenoweth who is the ultimate tormented artist (as is Rico in another

Good luck, If I think of others, I will send them off

Tim Anderson

Denison University


From: Michele Hilmes <[log in to unmask]>

Seizing this opportunity to stop grading exams and do something
interesting....I will give your actual question more thought, but it
strikes me that the one type of creative cultural endeavor that you do see
represented on TV is the tormented, zany producer/writer of
radio/television shows.  From Jack Benny through Fred Allen to Dick Van
Dyke, Murphy Brown, Frasier, WKRP, News Night, etc. etc. it's a carryover
of that self-reflexive, "show about putting on a show" aesthetic so
characteristic of network radio in its formative period.  I believe it
carries over from vaudeville onto radio and thence TV.

Not exactly the Romantic artist -- but perhaps a pointed comment on that
whole concept?  The poor man/ lowbrow's equivalent?


From: Chuck Kleinhans <[log in to unmask]>

I think that Buffy might qualify--alienated loner etc.

Most superheores have that element--spiderman, etc, but in the tv
incarnations its just adventure, not psychology


From: Chad Dell <[log in to unmask]>

Two artists come to mind for me, though in the broader sense of the term.
Musician Chris Isack' series on Showtime might qualify. But I think you
could also make the argument that Murphy Brown was an "artist" as a
broadcast journalist. She certainly was tormented throughout the series,
and constantly struggled for her "art".

Then there was Murder She Wrote, which depicts the life of a writer. Still,
she was only tormented in the sense that she had dead bodies flung at her
from all corners.

I hope these help.


Chad Dell


From: "Dennis Broe" <[log in to unmask]>

there are the whole group of reflexive series about the entertainment
business, but these really counter the romantic vision, and poke holes in it--
the larry sanders show, the amazing teddy z, its garry shandling's
show--garry is a comedian--
then of course talk radio, murhphy brown etc--in a way these are
artists--but commercial artists--


From: Stephen Tropiano <[log in to unmask]>

For what it's worth, here are some more TV artist characters:
ELGIN, the house painter on MURPHY BROWN, is really a struggling artist
I believe there was also a character on OZ...(one of the inmates).


From: horace newcomb <[log in to unmask]>

Great question, Jeremy.

My own sense is that the Byronic impulse shows up not in artists, but in
the good-guy gunfighters in the Westerns and, perhaps even more, in Tod and
Buzz on "Route 66."   They're all tormented, though perhaps not demented,
and their heroism is always tinged with despair.  Still, I'm racking my
memory trying to think of "real" artists.



From: [log in to unmask]

There was the short-lived NBC sitcom about the horror writer, a la Stephen
starring Tony Shalhoub and Neil Patrick Harris called STARK RAVING MAD.  It was
a kind of "Odd Couple" spinoff where Shalhoub was "the crazy author" and Harris
was the editor assigned to babysit/live with him....  The show was beyond
terrible, but you're right, I can't really think of many others --

Hollis Griffin


From: Vicki Mayer <[log in to unmask]>

Would Curb your Enthusiasm count? It's a pretty pathetic picture of a sitcom
writer as he goes through life. For that matter, would reality shows that show
the pathetic lives of Ozzy or Anna Nicole?  I'm no expert on Byronic heroes or
artists but those just come to mind.



From: Karen Orr Vered <[log in to unmask]>


It would seem to me that American TV's characters are not often beyond the
ideological boundaries of TV itself in that, the preference or dominance is for
  everyday life and what we might call "low" culture.  The "artists" of TV
series are representatives of commercial culture, comedians like Seinfeld,
writers who are mainly journalists, models, or interior designers like Grace,
or housewives who paint or do flower arranging.  I do recall, however, a show
from the late 60s or early 70s about a cartoonist.  I think it was called
something like My Life.  It opened with the character drawing his family home
and then it dissolved into live action but there were transitions when the
cartoon mode would reappear.  It would seem the point was to give the patriarch
a job where he worked from home and thus the whole window on the domestic is
accessed through a male rather than a female character.  More a device than an
emphasis on the artist.

That said, we now have a show in Australia called Cooks.  It's about a group of
thirty-something chefs and restaurant workers who open restaurants across the
road from one another, they have personal love histories with each other.  It's
not much different from any other work-based faux family premise but being a
chef is certainly more artistic than being a doctor or cop.  I see it as
following on the success of cooking shows and the recently completed reality
series, My Restaurant Rules, but fictional.

Other shows about artists that I can recall are more in the vein of mini series
and the artists are what we might call craft persons, like the Elliot Sisters
who were fashion designers in the 20s or 30s London.

Hope this was of interest.  I like the question.


From:         Laurie Stras <[log in to unmask]>

Johnny Staccato and Pete Kelly's Blues (both 1959) both featured a moody
musician-turned-PI. Over here in the UK, Rock Follies (1976) and the sequel
Rock Follies of '77 dramatised a Labelle-like girl group's fortunes -
something I'm looking at at the moment. Would The Singing Detective and/or
Pennies From Heaven count? I hesitate to mention The Partridge Family....
Although I'd quite like to toy with the conceit of David Cassidy as a
tormented soul.


From:         Dennis Bingham <[log in to unmask]>

There was MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT, which lasted a year, I believe,
around 1973 or so. It starred William Windom as a James Thurber-like
author- cartoonist and used animation based on Thurber's drawings. It had
first been a movie, entitled THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN (1972), starring
Jack Lemmon. In PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES (c. 1966), based on the
bestselling Jean Kerr novel (and the Doris Day movie), Patricia Crowley
plays a housewife who writes about her housewifely-cum-published-author
life. It's telling that the heroine's theatre critic-husband, played by the
debonair David Niven in the 1960 film and based on Kerr's husband, Walter,
had in the series become a Ward Cleaver-like all-American type (I don't
remember the actor who played him). Both of these are in the warm-and-wry
comedy-of-daily-life category. Of course, there's MURDER SHE WROTE. . . I
agree with Jeremy that TV gravitates more to the zany comedy writer/
journalist vein (Oscar Madison the sportswriter in THE ODD COUPLE would be
another example). It's not exactly Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh but who can
imagine that as a weekly series, with ear slashings in between commercials?
Then again, who would want to? Dennis Bingham


Jeremy Butler
[log in to unmask]
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