Forty years ago, TV was in its infancy.
It was fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants television. Shows were done live, complete with gaffes and goofs, and broadcast in grainy black-and-white.
Yet some of the greatest dramatic shows were produced during the so-called Golden Age of Television. Actors such as James Dean, Charlton Heston, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint, Paul Newman and Julie Harris cut their teeth in dramas written by the likes of Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling and directed by newcomers John Frankenheimer and Sidney Lumet.
Beginning Thursday, KCET Channel 28 will rebroadcast The Golden Age of Television, a series featuring five legendary dramas from that era, all of which were eventually remade into features.
Get out your handkerchiefs for Thursday's offering: Bang the Drum Slowly. Based on the novel by Mark Harris, "Bang the Drum" originally aired Sept. 26, 1956, on the "U.S. Steel Hour."
A 31-year-old Paul Newman gives one of his most poignant performances as a major league baseball pitcher who befriends the team's mediocre catcher (Albert Salmi) who is dying from an incurable disease. A baby-faced George Peppard is featured in the supporting cast and sings "Streets of Laredo."
In 1973, Michael Moriarty and Robert De Niro starred in the acclaimed film version.
Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie (Catherine Martell of "Twin Peaks") headline The Days of Wine and Roses (July 18). J.P. Miller penned this emotional drama, which aired Oct. 2, 1958, on "Playhouse 90."
Robertson and Laurie play a young married couple from unhappy families who find solace and security in the bottle. Eventually, alcohol becomes more important to them than each other and they split up.
In 1962, Blake Edwards directed the film version, which starred Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, both of whom received Oscar nominations.
Next up is Rod Serling's masterful Requiem for a Heavyweight (July 25). The first original live 90-minute television drama, "Requiem" aired Oct. 11, 1956, on "Playhouse 90."
Jack Palance received an Emmy (as did the drama and director, Ralph Nelson) as Mountain McClintock, an aging, punchy fighter who tries to keep his dignity despite his seedy manager (Keenan Wynn) who wants him to wrestle to pay off his debts. Ed Wynn is wonderful as Mountain's beloved trainer; Kim Hunter is the social worker who finds herself attracted to Mountain.
Anthony Quinn, Julie Harris and a young boxer named Cassius Clay appeared in the 1962 film adaptation.
Paddy Chayefsky's Marty (Aug. 1) premiered on "Goodyear Playhouse" in 1953 and is considered one of the finest dramas from "The Golden Age."
Rod Steiger (then 28) stars as a homely 36-year-old bachelor who works as a butcher and lives with his mother. One night he goes to a cheap dance hall, where he meets an equally unattractive woman, played by Nancy Marchand (Mrs. Pynchon on "Lou Grant"), who has been dumped by her blind date.
Two years later, Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair starred in the Oscar-winning film version, which Channel 28 plans to air Aug. 4.
No Time for Sergeants (Aug. 8) is the only live production from "The Golden Age" that was shot in front of a studio audience. The reason, according to its writer Ira Levin, is that Andy Griffith's performance as Will Stockdale, the Georgia farm boy who will do anything to win the respect and love of his sergeant, was so funny the producers wanted a live reaction.
"No Time for Sergeants" was adapted by Levin from Mac Hyman's novel and aired March 15, 1955, on the "U.S. Steel Hour."
The production was such a success that Griffith starred in the 1956 Broadway version, for which he received a Tony nomination, and the 1958 film adaptation.
"The Golden Age of Television" airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Channel 28.