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Silver Threads: TV just ain't what it used to be

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

Three or four months ago I ordered one of those little gadgets my tech-savvy grandson hooked up to our TV and made it possible for me to see free movies and shows I’d missed because I don’t subscribe to premium channels.

I got started right away, watched a short BBC series starring Judi Dench living in a little English village during the Regency Era, another one about life in a London hotel on the eve of World War I, and a third titled The Tudors dramatizing the reign of Henry VIII.

The Tudors was pretty bloody -- and I’m not using a common Brit figure of speech here -- inasmuch as the king had practically everyone who crossed him beheaded. Still, the cameraman cut away just as the axe struck.

HBO series Rome was next up on my to-watch list, and I loved it -- loved it until about two-thirds of the way through when one of the actors playing a retired legionnaire went amok and started slaughtering folks right and left, one in a particularly grisly scene that involved beating a man's head on a post until it was a pulp. The camera didn’t cut away, and I don’t how they raised the scene to that level of apparent reality.

Next up: another HBO offering, The Sopranos.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering, “What’s a squeamish, old-fashioned, elderly woman thinking watching stuff like that?” Well, I’ve been watching crime shows on TV ever since they were invented, but believe me, Dragnet and Lenny Bruce’s Law and Order were nothing like this program.

I got to thinking about the increasingly violent television programming the other day after I got one of those computer calls asking me to take part in a survey. I was in the middle of something and barely digested the fact that the poll was about violence on TV before I hung up. Maybe I missed my chance, but such callers, even if they’re computers, generally ask my age and quickly conclude the conversation when I tell them.

I’m being marginalized here, but that’s another column.

Anyhow, if I were about 52 and had answered the survey, I’d have told them that, yes, I do think the violence portrayed in television shows may have something to do with things that are going on today. This morning’s newspaper had an account of a rampage in the Ninth Ward -- two dead and five injured.

Television puts ideas into people’s heads; it’s an intimate, in-your-face experience, and, unfortunately, the staged violence of a Hollywood show can rub off on some of its watchers, transforming into a reality. For much more educated thoughts than I can offer, search “TV and violence” on the internet and discover what others are thinking.

I used the age of 52 above, because that’s how old our daughter is, and she grew up on the silliness of TV shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies.” That generation can remember when a parent could safely leave the kids alone to watch the shows on a rainy summer afternoon.

Television programming gradually changed, and it's still changing. I don’t know when and how it started. And it’s not just in the crime dramas. For instance, I don't remember Marcus Welby ever having sex in every broom closet in the hospital.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]