I always carried mixed feelings about the decade of the 1960s. As pop culturally brilliant it was, the racial turmoil might have been too much for me too handle if I was around then. I had always come to this conclusion when I read my textbooks in school and any PBS specials I had seen. Yet, as I just wrote that, I again realize how lucky and grateful I am to have been born in the late ’80s in which by the time I was in pre-K, no matter what skin tone the child behind me had, they too had to wait their turn to get a sip of water from the same fountain.
On Thursday May 29, CNN began its mini-series The Sixties: The Decade That Changed America, which is co-produced by 2-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks. The first episode leaned more towards the light-hearted end of things and was about the impact of television. While the 1950s brought us the uproarious Honeymooners and I Love Lucy, by the ’60s, networks were making big attempts to be more advanced in production (though labeled “campy” by today’s standards) and took baby steps in writing storylines with more of an angle on tackling racism, societal progress, and even featured housewives that were a lot of sassy than previous generations. However! The biggest excitement of all was the allure of watching your new favorite TV shows in color.
That aspect may had been the most fascinating moment in the first hour. For a nation, to see moving images in color felt highly revolutionary. It was like viewers responded to their sets with enlarged eyes asking “How did they do that?” One of the most popular shows of this time when color TV was the new frontier was Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. It was fascinating to see the TV commentators recall how remarkable it was for Americans to witness color television. In later years, this would be seen as normal, and watching anything in black and white had become a relic of vintage ways and treated as unique. I remember back in 2003, up until everything went digital, we had a mini analog TV that only showed in black and white. Sometimes, even though I had access to a big, color screen, it felt like a treat to watch the first season of The O.C. on it as I plugged it in on the nightstand next to my bed.
A great highlight of “The Sixties” part 1 was when they featured women-led shows and the prominent female characters of some of the decade’s biggest hits. They were clips of Joan Rivers on nighttime TV, Mary Tyler-Moore on The Dick Van Dyke, the start of the iconic comedienne career of Carol Burnett (who I adored in the 1982 film Annie), Sally Field as the blithe teenager Gidget and later on as The Flying Nun, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura on Star Trek (she was one half of television’s first interracial kiss) and of course the groudbreaking show of Julia that cast Diahann Carroll, an African-American actress as its lead.
All of the women mentioned and their respective works, I remembered watching in the ’90s during Nickelodeon’s NickAtNite. Collectively, they all might had my earliest visions of girl power. Moore was both a smart stickler and loving wife to Dyke and so I definitely watched his show for her presence. She would later star on her own namesake sitcom in the 1970s which definitely sparked my ideals of what a having what it all really means.
I didn’t see as many episodes of Julia as I would’ve liked, but Carroll, with her honeyed voice and calm assurance, was always a pleasure to see and the Bronx-born, Harlem raised actress went on to have a storied career and is an Academy Award nominee.
And for Burnett, as the kids would say, was everything to me in Annie, and when I discovered more about her career, I witnessed a sharp-tongued, abrasively smart, and warm to society’s urge to break free from the norm iconoclast. I always viewed Burnett as a pioneer of women in entertainment and of smart comedy in general.
Also as a part of “Television Comes of Age” were nods to Dragnet, Batman, Hawaii 5-0, Gilligan’s Island, the many variety and late-night shows from including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Get Smart, and Bonanza.