THE DOCUMENTARY SERIES "The Sixties"
WHEN|WHERE Starting Thursday night at 9 on CNN
WHAT IT'S ABOUT This week, CNN began its new schedule of 9 p.m. programs, and Thursdays (through the end of July) will be devoted to this 10-part Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman documentary production. "The Sixties" begins with television, while future editions cover, among other topics, the JFK assassination (June 12); the war in Vietnam (June 19) and "Sex, Drugs and Rock n' Roll" (July 31).
MY SAY The '60s ... there's an undiscovered terrain for you. A whole decade as if lost in the sands of time, forgotten, unknown, mysterious....
And, of course, I'm being sarcastic. Nothing has been more covered than the '60s -- not even today, as in "right now." It's as though we continue to live through them over and over and over: A Groundhog Day retread that seems to give us some sort of nostalgic succor. Or maybe P.J. O'Rourke had this fixation right when he wrote, "Of all the eras and epochs of Americans, ours is the one that made the biggest impression -- on ourselves."
For this Goetzman-Hanks sprawl, familiarity seems to be both friend and enemy. Yet, "The Sixties" embraces this frenemy only halfheartedly, if tonight's "Television Comes of Age" is representative. Even the title is wrong, or at best half-right: Television came of age in the '50s. It was a precocious brat that figured out exactly how to hook and hold audiences with comedies ("I Love Lucy") or live variety ("Your Show of Shows") that were never fully surpassed. TV news "came of age" in the '60s, but "The Sixties" barely explores that.
Instead, it has assembled some very smart critics -- like David Bianculli -- and some legendary stars (Carol Burnett, the Smothers Brothers) and producers ("Laugh-in's" George Schlatter) to mostly tell us what we already know. Which is: That TV sitcoms were an escape from the times ("The Flying Nun") or that TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" or "Star Trek" tried to slyly attack racism. There are holes in this otherwise dutiful, unenlightening hour. For example, how can any film on '60s TV not once mention the Western? That's like trying to describe an elephant without noting something called a trunk.
Subsequent hours provided for review -- "The World on the Brink" (next Thursday) and "The British Invasion" (July 3) -- look better, if only because they have focus.
BOTTOM LINE Respectable, incomplete survey (on TV) Thursday night, but future installments look better.