Tuesday, December 9, 2008

New Show: The David Susskind Show

Episodes: Nine 58 minute episodes (as opposed to the 42 minutes in a modern one hour show. Damn commercials!)
Clips: None
Studio: Historic Films
Rank: A
I don't know whether I should be ashamed that I didn't know who David Susskind is before I tuned into this Hulu offering (hmmm..."tuned in" doesn't really apply to a digital medium, does it?).

Well, if you're as ignorant as I am on the matter, you should know that Susskind was one of the first talk show hosts in the country, and spent 30 years interviewing interesting people before his death in 1997.

Nowhere on television can you get such an in-depth portrait of this period of American history. President Harry Truman, comedian Jerry Lewis, and actress Mary Tyler Moore each spend a full hour with Susskind, responding to his thoughtful questions as he attempts to parse some intellectual meaning from their experiences.

I don't know that I've ever watched an uninterrupted hour of unscripted television from the 60s, and I was very forcibly impressed by the way American speech has degraded in the last 50 years. Aside from the fact that Jerry Lewis comes off as an arrogant cad, I was spellbound by the endless flow of grammatically correct, complete sentences that kept unspooling themselves from his mouth.

Okay, so what do I think of the show other than the fact that the rules of verbal intercourse have changed dramatically?

Well, it's great to see a piece of Americana frozen in time, in a way that only film can do justice to. The nine offered episodes are spread out over 28 seasons, and there's something fascinating about seeing the issues of the day change while one man, Susskind, also changes.

Susskind himself goes for an intellectual spin, with varying degrees of success. His calm and professional demeanor is a welcome change from more modern hosts, and his soothing, sonorous voice is borderline-hypnotic. Dignity in a talk-show format? It's time for that trend to come back around, let me tell you. After wallowing in the filthy crassness of a Tyra Banks episode, this will feel like a refreshing shower.

You may not find yourself wrapped up in Susskind's interviews the way I was, and the topics are defnitely hit or miss. Listening to successful restauranteurs from the 70s is not as compelling as listening to Harry Truman (who reportedly told Susskind that he would never be a houseguest because of Susskind's Jewish heritage). But I recommend that you do tune in to some of his work, even if only to get a five-minute taste of yesteryear.

Here's Jerry Lewis getting a little testy about the critics

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