In two parts – Part 1
PBS presented a four part series that premiered Sundays from October 30 to November 20, 2011 at 8-9pm (ET) called ‘America in Primetime’. Each program showed top talent in creators, writers and actors giving their opinions on characters they formed in primetime and its effect on American viewers.
Episode 1 was called ‘Independent Woman’ which aired October 30th; Episode 2 was ‘Man of the House’, aired November 6th; Episode 3 was ‘The Misfit’, airing on November 13th; and the final episode, Episode 4, was the documentary ‘The Crusader’, which aired November 20th. The Crusader showed examples of archetypical heroes and antiheroes that bring about their antidote of justice. Its analogy further states –
“Heroes today are complex. Their stories are told with increasing humanity, depicting characters who confront almost impossible choices as they fight evil in a world where the line between right and wrong is often blurred.”
The creators, writers and actors that were interviewed stated that “television is all about storytelling” and that viewers want TV shows to be reflective of the country. Heroic characters had to be righteous do-gooders; there has always been an appetite for a savior, and a code one must live by.
Popular comic characters like Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Ironman and Captain America are considered superheroes that are do-gooders but when faced with evil characters, what tactics do they use and how far will they go to fight evil before becoming evil?
Aside from the part of fighting enemies that wish to control the world and destroy the good guys, many television shows were examined that brought out the human element. Crime dramas, westerns and female heroes were identified. ‘Dragnet’ was a popular show due to hero Joe Friday (played by Jack Webb) who just “wanted the facts” with the fact he would not let you down. ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) and the British television/ABC 60’s classic ‘The Avengers’(with Diana Rigg) showed two females; assertive and attractive, willing to fight evil at all costs. ‘The Shield’ and ‘24’ were programs that exhibit the dark side of supposedly good characters; police in The Shield (starring Michael Chiklis) used unethical and illegal ways to keep peace; while 24 (starring Keifer Sutherland) used the “ends justify the means” approach to solve and eliminate terrorist plots.
Pondering “What is the right thing to do?” is another theme that television heroes think about often. After World War II, television in America had a fixation on westerns. It was an era where viewers were in love with a lot of the characters. Shows such as ‘The Rifleman’, ‘Lawman’, ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’, ‘Have Gun Will Travel’, ‘Wagon Train’, ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘The Lone Ranger’ attracted viewers each week. Some of these programs are still in syndication on cable channels AMC, TVLand and Encore Westerns. These heroes fight gunslingers, thugs who want to scare others and take over towns, bank and stagecoach robbers, saloon brawlers and those seeking to kill through revenge.
As TV shows drifted to change, medical/doctor shows began to make their mark. Marcus Welby, M.D. (played by Robert Young) was a hero; he saved lives, gave good advice – he was the doctor everyone wished they had. But other medical dramas such as the long running M.A.S.H. took a different turn; it was comedic in a serious way, it was surrounded by war, and though there was a main character (Hawkeye, an Army doctor surgeon played by Alan Alda), there were others in the program that also received a lot of attention. Today’s TV doctor example is Fox’s House, about an odd, unusual and uncaring doctor with antisocial qualities and uncanny methods. Despite his quirkiness, it is a very well-liked show going into its seventh season. Actor Hugh Laurie plays the central character, Dr. Gregory House.
Another cop show examined in The Crusader was ‘NYPD Blue’. The police series completed 12 seasons and is ABC’s longest running one-hour drama series. The main character was Detective Sergeant Andy Sipowicz, played by Dennis Franz. He is described as a “bigot, slob, racist, womanizer and alcoholic.” Scenes showed Franz slamming suspects against walls, smacking them in the face and threatening them with harsh language. He felt heroic in doing his job and by being the most compelling character, he was “trying to live his life but always coming up short, a trailblazer in very old clothes, a soul in conflict within itself.”