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Case Number 27485: Small Claims Court

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Pioneers of Television: Season 4

PBS // 2014 // 240 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 14th, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Naugle was born with a silver remote in his mouth.

The Charge

A history of the "boob tube."

The Case

Pioneers of Television: Season 4 is a PBS mini-series on how certain shows came into existence, and what the lasting effect was on the creators, actors, and stars of each series. It's a rather fluffy documentary piece (the entire season clocks in at four hours), making for a light if insubstantial look at those who have made their mark on network television.

The four episodes featured this season include…

• "Standup To Sitcom"—A look at the history of stand-up comedians in television. Interview subjects include Home Improvement's Tim Allen, The Bob Newhart Show's Bob Newhart, Seinfeld's Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne's Rosanne Barr, The Cosby Show's Bill Cosby, and Everybody Loves Raymond's Ray Romano.

• "Doctors and Nurses"—This episode focuses, not surprisingly, on shows about the medical field. From Richard Chamberlain in Dr. Kildare to the cast of St. Elsewhere, and the stars E.R. (George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle), it shows how medicine has been a staple on television for as long as the medium has been around.

• "Acting Funny"—This episode zones in on specific comedic talents in the television medium, including Mork and Mindy's Robin Williams and the late Jonathan Winters, 30 Rock's Tina Fey, The Dick Van Dyke Show's Dick Van Dyke, and many others talking about how their specific comedic sensibilities helped shape their shows.

• "Breaking Barriers"—The final episode delves into people of color on television and the barriers that they took down along the way. The episode focuses on Bill Cosby in the classic espionage hit I Spy, Desi Arnaz in the legendary I Love Lucy, George Takei in Star Trek: The Original Series, Edward James Olmos in Miami Vice, and Diahann Carroll in Julia.

PBS gives us an interesting if insufficient look at the history of television. There's a lot of ground to cover here and the series does its best with the running time it has, but mostly the show feels like it's just skimming the surface of each of the actors and shows it covers. Mere minutes are given to each show's inception and run (each narrated by actor Benjamin Bratt), which may frustrate fans and viewers. The truth is, each of the sitcoms or dramas featured on this season of Pioneers of Television deserve their own hour long episode.

If Pioneers of Television gets any major points its in gathering a lot of big name stars and sitting them down to talk about their shows. Some of TV's most famous faces show up, discussing how they were able to snag their own shows (Tim Allen actually turned down an opportunity to do his own show at first), what the legacy and influences are, and how they look today (spoiler alert: Bob Newhart is OLD). It's nice to see Jerry Seinfeld and Tina Fey discussing their shows, it's just a shame they aren't given more screen time.

All four episodes are presented in standard def 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with picture quality that varies with its source. The newer interviews are all crisp and bright, while some of the classic television footage looks a little rough in its original full frame aspect ratio. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio is appropriate with no major directional effects or surrounds to be found here. Also included are English subtitles. There are no bonus features.

There isn't a whole lot to Pioneers of Television: Season 4. If you just want some general background on your favorite shows—as told by the people who starred in them—this is certainly a decent package. If, however, you desire to dig deeper into each of these featured shows, you'll have to look elsewhere.

The Verdict

A passable time waster, but there are better and more in-depth films about the history of TV available.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 76

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 240 Minutes
Release Year: 2014
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


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• Official Site

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