by Abigail Katz
A few days ago, David Hare wrote an article on the "murder" of the television play (David Hare on how the BBC killed the TV play). Along with news of the death of Tad Mosel, who wrote for "Playhouse 90," "Studio One," and "Philco Television Playhouse," it made me wonder, what ever happened to the television play in America? And I'm not talking about the MTV broadcast of Legally Blonde (a musical whose days may be numbered incidentally, due to some incoming Jets and Sharks). I'm talking about shows like "Playhouse 90," "American Playhouse" and the like. I realize in the age of reality television and super successful shows with multiple spin-offs that the television play is hardly a money-maker, and therefore not very appealing to the networks. But even PBS has pretty much done away with any regular series where television audiences can experience the talent of American playwrights by viewing their plays on TV (as opposed to their TV shows, the way so many playwrights earn a living.) Yes there is "Live at Lincoln Center" which has broadcast some Broadway musicals, but it's not quite the same as having a regular series giving American theatre wider exposure through the far-reaching medium of TV. It makes me wonder, is there any commitment to American theatre on a larger societal and cultural level? Or does it all come from the theatre community itself? (and perhaps a few film studios who want to get into the theatre biz if they can build a money-making machine out of it.)
So I ask a hard question: what would be the value of bringing back a series like "American Playhouse"? I would like to suggest that it would benefit our playwrights and perhaps get theatre in this country back to a more prominent place on the cultural radar. I would love to see such a program return (hell who am I kidding, I would love to program it!) But would PBS or someone else be willing to take a chance on such a series simply because they believe in promoting American theatrical talent? And would we watch?
I put the question to you, readers.