So I watched The Brothers Warner last weekend. I enjoyed it, but in all, I wish it was more about their accomplishments and work than their ridiculous rivalry.
Basically, most of this doc was about how Jack Warner was a crazy jerk who got a lot of stuff done, but at the expense of his relationship with his brothers, particularly Harry Warner. This doc was about 90 minutes. A lot of it focused on their personal lives, and the family’s history. I mean, it was truly interesting to learn about, but I do wish there was more about their collaboration together to build one of the biggest studios in the United States.
I gotta say, the story of Jack Warner was pretty fascinating because he was basically THE caricature of a movie executive: loud, demanding, brash, hammy, and one to take the credit. Not one we would call modest by any means. Though, I would imagine it’s kind of difficult to dive beyond a caricature. Anyway, this was well done. I guess I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of the movie business.
From watching documentaries and specials on the early developments of the film industry, and reading things here and there, you would believe that The Warner Brothers Created Movies With Sound In Them. But of course they didn’t. I just finished reading a chapter I accidentally overlooked in my textbook, A Short History of The Movies. It starts like this:
According to legend, sound unexpectedly descended on the film industry from the skies like an ancient god out of a machine,when The Jazz Singer opened on Broadway on October 6, 1927.
And really, I knew that there’s no way that a huge change like that happens to revolutionize the film industry in such an overnight way. In fact, as I learned, people had been playing with synchronized sound recording and motion pictures for 30 years prior to Al Jolson telling us we ain’t heard nothing yet. Lee de Forest (remember that one, comm majors?) did a great service by developing the amplification of sound in 1906 and 1907. And then in the 1920s a group of three German guys developed the Tri-Ergon Process, which eventually became the sound patent for European film. Soon after, the Vitaphone (synchronized record and film) was developed, and that company was bought out by the Warners. Even still, other studios like Fox were playing with sound and film, distributing short films and newsreels with speeches, sound effects, music, vaudeville acts, etc. With Sound. Yep.
The Jazz Singer, then, is the First Full-Length Feature to Use Synchronized Sound As A Means of Telling A Story. Also, there was blackface. But it was for a reason, at least: black people were basically shut out of performing on the screen. This was a way of bringing black music to America’s upper crust without offending them — hey, it’s probably difficult to swallow the fact that your maid is far more talented than you.
Yesterday, I read the chapters on the establishment of the big networks: NBC, CBS, ABC, and then later FOX and the WB/UPN/CW. And then this morning I watched two episodes of the PBS doc series, Pioneers in Television — one on the early sitcoms and the other on the evolution of the late night talk show.
One of the more interesting things I garnered is how those networks’ early personas (specifically the big 4) are still somewhat evident today. NBC was seen as an early innovator, trying new formats (like the Steve Allen’s Tonight show), and it was the first to transition its radio stars over to television, bringing in an already-engaged audience. They also had an advantage in that NBC was owned by the very company to bring this new form of technology into homes: RCA. The company sold televisions, and was able to have an edge on branding, marketing, and innovate technology like color TV. I can still see this effort of early adaptation (clearly not as highly innovative, but prominent nonetheless) with the network’s embrace of web access and use. NBC was one of the first to start adding exclusive content on their websites and was an early adapter of Hulu, an innovative force in allowing networks to capitalize in the revenue it was losing by people illegally downloading or posting shows of theirs online. As far as programming, NBC has had some of the most influential, unique sitcoms of the past, as well as the last 2 decades ( as well as some obvious duds hahaha): Seinfeld, Friends, Cheers, The Office, 30 Rock, Law & Order, Saturday Night Live, The Cosby Show, A Different World, Mad About You, Wings, Frasier, Will & Grace, My Name is Earl, ER, Hill Street Blues, and Scrubs.
And as much as I like NBC programming, they are still balls in ratings.
CBS, on the other hand, is basically uncool to me. This is the network of grandmas everywhere. There are shows on CBS right now that I know are pretty funny — in fact we have a friend who works on one of the network’s most successful shows. But still, nothing to me makes me HAVE to tune in or record anything that’s on CBS. It just doesn’t feel right to me. In the early days, CBS got by on its broad programming, a staple that is very clearly still its mission as the most-watched network on television.
And then there’s ABC, which started off as NBC’s severed conjoined twin, and then FOX, the loud, brash one of the big four. Each has their merits, but for some reason, I have always been partial to the peacock.