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How Hollywood Survived the Invention of Television

(1956 TV Guide featuring Lassie)

       Postwar social changes and technological advances in America profoundly influenced Hollywood filmmaking.  The invention of television produced direct competition.  Audience expectations demanded more complex characters and more mature themes.  Hollywood adapted by incorporating technology into filmmaking that would fascinate audiences and draw them back into the movie theaters.  Experiments in defying the Production Code led to the screening of more mature films and changes in the code.

       “By 1960 there were 50 million TV sets in homes across the United States, and lots of people were watching a lot of television: in 1960 the average daily viewing time for U.S. households with a TV set was over 5 hours a day” (Lewis 233).  Television was a new toy that people could enjoy, and it was free.  Families could gather around the TV set after dinner and enjoy watching it together.  The advertisements exposed viewers to new products.

       The Hollywood studios adapted by creating new business relationships with the television studios.  “Disney led the way, making a deal with the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) that included the production of a Disney TV show that aired weekly on the network” (Lewis 234).

       These synergies were so successful that multinational conglomerates began buying up Hollywood studios and formulating new ways to produce and distribute films.  For example, “Gulf and Western Industries bought Paramount in 1966” (Lewis 237).  Hollywood studios contracted with TV studios to run their movies as a second run.  Walt Disney negotiated a deal with ABC to create Disneyland, an amusement park.  These deals brought in much-needed revenue to the studios.

       The conglomerates abandoned production in favor of distribution.  They began using market research and tie-ins with books and other merchandise.  Technological gimmicks such as 3-D and widescreen were tried (Lewis 234).  But what finally brought audiences back to the movie theaters was the distribution of foreign-made films and defiance of the Production Code (Lewis 238-247).

       While American audiences enjoyed foreign-made films, these movies were produced by European standards and often came into conflict with the standards of the PCA.  Otto Preminger completed his controversial film The Moon is Blue, in 1953.  When United Artists submitted it to the PCA, it was rejected.  As a result, United Artists gave up its membership in the MPAA to avoid a fine (Lewis 239).

       Theater owners, however, were more than willing to screen an adult-themed film that did not have the PCA seal, and “The Moon is Blue grossed over $4 million in its initial release” (Lewis 239).  Preminger used the same strategy with his second movie, The Man with the Golden Arm.  As more and more controversial films were released, the PCA was forced to relax some of its codes.

       Jack Valenti, who was named the president of MPAA in 1966, agreed to an exception for the release of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.  Warner Bros. labeled it For Mature Audiences and left it to the theater owners to decide whether to screen it or not.  Pretty soon, Welcome to Hard Times was released with the label NO PERSON UNDER 18 ADMITTED UNLESS ACCOMPANIED BY A PARENT (Lewis 244-245).   Finally, in 1968, the MPAA came up with a new voluntary rating system: G (General Audiences), M (Mature Audiences and parental discretion), R (Restricted and no one under age sixteen unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian), and X (no one under sixteen admitted).  Films with an X rating could not receive a PCA seal (Lewis 283).

       The new rating system gave Hollywood the latitude to create a greater variety of films.  With social change rapidly advancing, the studios began targeting the youth audience and the social issues which were important to them (Lewis 285).  For a short time, studios began promoting “topical movies with a political edge” (Lewis 286) produced by new, young directors (auteurs) who could tap into young audiences’ interests.  The most famous and most profitable movie produced was The Godfather in 1972, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.  But as iconic as many of these films are today, studios wanted more formulaic films whose success could be easily reproduced, and the “auteur renaissance” (Lewis 282) ended.  Action blockbusters formed the new wave of Hollywood films by the 1980s.

       Hollywood has been resilient over the decades and found ways to adapt to new technologies, changes in audience interests, and restrictions placed on them by the Supreme Court.  Always alert to new avenues of revenue, Hollywood has survived by its willingness to negotiate new (and more profitable) deals.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 17, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

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E. Scott Levin’s Black Friday Commercial

E Scott Levin baritoneOur friend, E. Scott Levin, was in a Wal-Mart Black Friday Commercial. You might have seen him on TV!

Watch the video here:  http://ispot.tv/a/759A

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