As the 1970s wound down, many of the decade’s major critical successes (M*A*S*H; Norman Lear’s politically minded sit-coms; acclaimed Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off Lou Grant; Roots: The Next Generations, followup to the original 1977 miniseries) and commercial hits (Happy Days and its spin-offs; Three’s Company, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and their ilk) were still going strong—but their time was running out. In the wake of the runaway success of Dallas (1978-91), a series of sexy, affluence-celebrating night-time soaps (Dynasty, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest, etc.) proliferated and prospered throughout the Reagan Era, alongside quality dramas like Hill Street Blues and celebrated sit-coms The Cosby Show, Cheers (and its spin-off Frasier), the markedly amoral mega-hit Seinfeld, and—now in its 30th year of new episodes—The Simpsons. At the midpoint of this “Middle Period,” David Lynch’s pioneering, quasi-surrealist Twin Peaks shook up network TV, laying the groundwork for the unorthodox likes of Picket Fences, The X Files, and Lost … and, more generally, for the Cable Revolution that took root in the ’90s, flourished in the ’00s and continues to this day.
Note: If available, Paul’s friend Ed Asner (seven-time Emmy winner; “Lou Grant” in two acclaimed series, 1970–82; Roots actor) will join us for either a Skype or a live audio conversation.
Recommended Readings: “Lou Grant”: The Making of TV’s Top Newspaper Drama by Douglass K. Daniel. Syracuse University Press, 1996. ISBN: 0-8156-0363-0
Note: Reading of the 114 individual episode descriptions is not required.
Seeing Through the Eighties: Television and Reaganism (Console-ing Passions) by Jane Feuer. Duke University Press Books, 1995. ASIN: B00EF0RSCO, ISBN: 78-0822316879
Reflections: An Oral History of “Twin Peaks” by Brad Dukes. Short/Tall Press, 2014. ISBN: 061596883X
Paul McComas ’83 has won international filmmaking awards, plus a national prize for the adapted screenplay of his novel Unplugged, in development as a feature film; another novel has been optioned. Paul has authored six critically acclaimed books of fiction, is under contract for a scholarly media book, and reviews movies and books for the Milwaukee Shepherd Express. He’s taught media, writing, and literature up through the Master’s level, garnering teaching prizes at Northwestern and National-Louis Universities, and now teaches at the University of Chicago. Paul serves on the National Leadership Council of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network—a key organizational partner in his nonprofit Dayna Clay Project targeting rape and suicide. He’s received awards from the Mental Health Association, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin State Senate. Visit www.paulmccomas.com.