Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cult TV

1985, St. Martin's Press edition from later that year
John Javna and various contributors
Cult TV: A Viewer's Guide to the Shows America Can't Live Without!!
Original price $14.95, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback

As you might guess from the double exclamation mark in the subtitle, Javna's writing is much gushier and less intelligent than Peary's, and so I can only marginally recommend this.  It is interesting to get a mid-'80s look at television, a time when we could all believe that "eventually, all of the old TV shows will be on the market."  That didn't happen with VHS or DVD, and it won't happen with Blue-Ray.  (Try getting a last season of some programs that have devoted, if not cult, followings, like The Bob Newhart Show or Mork and Mindy.)  But it was true that many shows from the 1950s onward were available, and I think this homey quality, as well as the relatively inexpensive repeat viewings, made/makes cult TV a different beast than cult movies.  If you're sitting in your living room reciting favorite lines with friends and family (or alone), it's nothing like watching a movie at midnight in a theater. 

The book isn't arranged alphabetically or chronologically or by genre, even within sections.  The main sections are as follows:
  • Lost Cults, shows that had followings in their day but not so much later, e.g. Davy Crockett; Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare; Mod Squad; Upstairs, Downstairs.  (Though with the recent popularity of Downton Abbey, I wonder if people are rediscovering UD.) 
  • Cult Classics, ones everyone knows that may or may not have been popular in their day (I Love Lucy yes, Star Trek no), but picked up fans in syndication.
  • Underground Cults, which sounds redundant, but seem to be shows that have more "limited followings," like Blake's 7 and Super Chicken.
  • Prime Time Cults, which are '80s shows that, other than (at that time) David Letterman, all had great ratings, so I don't think they're cults in Peary's sense, but in Javna's sense of some people loving them, even if to make fun of, like Dynasty.
  • Future Cults, twelve shows that Javna predicts will develop strong cults.  Some are on the money (Green Acres, Police Squad, I Spy), while others are way off.  (Kate and Allie Not that I know of.)  Interestingly, although Gilligan's Island was already a Cult Classic, Javna wasn't the only one to fail to predict that within five years the other Sherwood Schwartz show would have a very devoted cult.

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