×

Pioneers of Television

Despite some puzzling production choices, the second edition of "Pioneers of Television" is a great deal of fun, providing a warm and wide-eyed trip down memory lane. Narrated by Kelsey Grammer with an almost visible twinkle, the four weekly installments -- in sequence, science fiction, westerns, crime dramas and local kids TV -- each have their merits, albeit with a heavy skew toward actors, perhaps inevitably, over series creators.

With:
Narrator: Kelsey Grammer.

Despite some puzzling production choices, the second edition of “Pioneers of Television” is a great deal of fun, providing a warm and wide-eyed trip down memory lane. Narrated by Kelsey Grammer with an almost visible twinkle, the four weekly installments — in sequence, science fiction, westerns, crime dramas and local kids TV — each have their merits, albeit with a heavy skew toward actors, perhaps inevitably, over series creators.

The one head-scratcher in “Pioneers” is the use of gauzy recreations to set some of the scenes, such as actors playing NBC executives screening the “Star Trek” pilot. Given the amount of material there is to cover, that’s not only unnecessary but a misguided waste of time, if not so deflating as to detract from the program’s finer moments.

Even TV nerds will likely find something they didn’t know in each of the installments, whether it’s how Gene Roddenberry initially wanted Jack Lord to captain the Enterprise or Martin Landau’s amusing take on the prospect of him playing Mr. Spock: “The thought of it now upsets me. It was the antithesis of why I became an actor.”

Irwin Allen, the producer of “Lost in Space” and “Time Tunnel,” was so notoriously cheap that his shows kept recycling monster costumes. The western segment, meanwhile, explores such worthy fare as “The Rifleman,” “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza” and “The Wild Wild West,” featuring a sequence where Robert Conrad — who famously performed his own stunts — landed flat on his back, causing an injury that shut down production.

Given the number of TV luminaries featured in the project who have passed away — among them Stephen J. Cannell, Peter Graves and Fess Parker, who died last year — there’s something warming about seeing their observations and recollections captured for posterity.

The most intriguing hour is perhaps the last, which truly focuses on a bygone era: Local children’s programs, from “Time for Beany” to the franchised “Romper Room,” which sprang up across the U.S. in TV’s infancy, and eventually all but disappeared. The creativity in those simple formats — and chance to see footage of a young Jim Henson honing his craft — is a genuine treat, if a rather melancholy one.

“Pioneers of Television” is a once-over-lightly treatment, admittedly, but it’s still a concept worth celebrating. Because in a media climate so mercilessly focused on the young, it’s refreshing that even PBS would dare indulge the nostalgic whim for pioneers of anything.

Pioneers of Television

Docu; PBS, 8 p.m.

Production: Produced by Boettcher/Trinklein Prods. Producers, Steve Boettcher, Mike Trinklein; director, Boettcher; writer, Trinklein. 60 MIN.

Cast: Narrator: Kelsey Grammer.

More TV

  • 'Lincoln Lawyer' Series in Development at

    'Lincoln Lawyer' Series in Development at CBS from David E. Kelley

    David E. Kelley is returning once more to the court of legal dramas. CBS has issued a series production commitment for “The Lincoln Lawyer,” with Kelley in position to pen and executive produce. Based on the series of bestselling novels by Michael Connelly, the show hails from A+E Studios in association with CBS TV Studios. [...]

  • Patrick Somerville'Maniac' TV Show premiere, London,

    'Maniac' Creator to Helm 'Made for Love,' 'Station Eleven' for WarnerMedia

    “Maniac” creator Patrick Somerville has signed on to helm two new series, “Made for Love” and “Station Eleven,” for WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming service. “Made for Love,” which will be executive produced and directed by S.J. Clarkson, is a 10-episode, straight-to-series adaptation based on the novel of the same name by Alissa Nutting. The half-hour comedy [...]

  • Naomi Watts and Gretchen Carlson'The Loudest

    ‘The Loudest Voice’ Stars Naomi Watts, Russell Crowe Talk Roger Ailes

    Roger Ailes may have been the force behind the creation of Fox News, but the late newsman’s legacy will forever be his atrocious sexual harassment of several of the network’s female anchors and producers. Showtime premiered its new limited series “The Loudest Voice,” which chronicles Ailes’ rise and fall, on Monday night at the Paris [...]

  • Steve McQueen VSS

    Amazon to Launch Steve McQueen's Anthology Series ‘Small Axe’ in the U.S.

    Amazon has boarded “Small Axe,” the upcoming anthology series from “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen, and will launch the series in the U.S. It will bow on the BBC in the U.K. and BBC Studios is selling it internationally. Amazon’s European content chief Georgia Brown revealed its involvement in the series, Tuesday, at [...]

  • Paula Pell

    Quibi Orders Comedic Murder Mystery From Lorne Michaels, 'SNL' Alums

    Quibi keeps shelling out cash for content: Jeffrey Katzenberg’s richly funded startup has ordered a short-form murder-mystery comedy written by and starring former “Saturday Night Live” writers Paula Pell and John Lutz, and executive produced by Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video alongside Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker. In “Mapleworth Murders,” Pell (pictured above) is Abigail Mapleworth, [...]

  • Sky

    Comcast Expected to Appoint Maximo Ibarra as New Sky Italia CEO

    Colombian-Italian executive Maximo Ibarra is expected to be appointed CEO of Comcast-owned pay-TV operation Sky Italia, which has been without a chief executive for the past seven months, a source close to Sky Italia tells Variety. An announcement is believed imminent that Ibarra will be the Italian paybox’s new chief after it was announced Tuesday [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content