Insight

TV classics: Insight

USA 1960-84, 23 seasons,  250 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, Syndication, black & white and color. Presented by Ellwood Kieser. Guest performers: Beau Bridges, Jimmy Doohan, Patty Duke, Barbara Hale, Jack Klugman, Walter Matthau, Bob Newhart, John Ritter, Martin Sheen, Bill Williams et al.

Plot summary: An anthology series, Insight presented a different cast and topic each week, mainly focusing on the meaning and perception of everyday issues concerning love, life and death.

Insight sample episode “A Thousand Red Flowers”

Review: Insight was an award-winning show produced by Paulist Productions and created by the show’s early day presenter, Ellwood Kieser, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Paulist Fathers. The weekly half-hour series was a religious program presented in an anthology format which introduced different settings, scenarios and characters each week. The show attracted a variety of actors, including Martin Sheen, Walter Matthau, Patty Duke and Beau Bridges and was rewarded with of a number Emmy nominations and awards in the 1970s and 80s.

In 1969, Barbara Hale appeared on the program along with working actor husband Bill Williams. The episode is an excellent example for the diversity of the show, presenting a tale about loss, hopelessness and death. Shot like a staged production, “A Thousand Red Flowers” (see link above) used theatrical elements as well as basic special effects while relying on the power of its excellent cast of actors and their gripping lines. The episode, like so many, picked up on what society was struggling with at the time. It presented two sides of the coin, that of a young man in his world and that of his grieving parents. The writing of the episode was top notch and the acting fabulous. I know I may be biased, but trust Barbara Hale to haunt you with her portrayal of a mother who’s overcome by her emotions at the unexpected loss of her son. A difficult topic most delicately done.

“A Thousand Red Flowers” is not the only outstanding episode Insight had to offer back in its days. Unfortunately, the program has not been released as complete collection so far and is currently unavailable on DVD, selected episodes are available online however. So go check them out if you’re the slightest bit interested in spirituality and religious programs that used television as more than just an entertainment medium. You never know, you may even come across an episode that leaves a mark on you like “A Thousand Red Flowers” has left on me.

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General Electric Theater

TV classics: General Electric Theater aka G.E. True Theater

USA 1953-62, 10 seasons,  approximately 300 episodes, ca. 25 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Presented by: Ronald Reagan. Cast selection: Ann Baxter, Charles Bronson, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Tony Curtis, Bette Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., James Dean, Joan Fontaine, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Greer Garson, Barbara Hale, Kim Hunter, Michael Landon, Joi Lansing, Charles Laughton, Piper Laurie, Myrna Loy, Walter Matthau, Suzanne Pleshette, George Sanders, James Stewart, Dean Stockwell, Natalie Wood – and many others

Plot summary: Host Ronald Reagan presents an always prestigious cast of actors in an anthology of teleplays of multiple genres, including crime, drama and westerns.

Review: G.E. Theater was a television program that presented an adaptation of novels, short stories, plays, film or general fiction on each episode, featuring working actors as well as Hollywood starlets and stars in different roles every week. The program featured live as well as filmed segments before it turned into a fully filmed show in 1957. Presenter Ronald Reagan served as host with his already familiar Hollywood face to give the show a touch of continuity.

Each episode differed from another and it’s safe to say that for everybody who enjoys watching an ever changing cast of decent actors in a different set of roles, this program is a real gem, a fabulous opportunity to discover great talents like Bette Davis, James Stewart, Myrna Loy or my personal favorite Barbara Hale in individual episodes, often supported by a beautiful stage setting and quality.

In essence, G.E. Theater is a beautiful example of 1950s television and its connection with the golden Hollywood era of the days. It also shows a genre coming into its own, little by little, step by step, with its own aesthetics and perception of storytelling.

For those of you who are not familiar with teleplays and their magic, I’m asking you to give them a chance. I’m sure you will soon find it’s worth getting used to a different viewing pattern, a different understanding of having your imagination teased and tickled. I, for the most part, am a big fan of teleplays and recorded theater, and highly recommend some of these rare episodes that you will find scattered on the internet and on a couple of DVD collections. Go get them!

Sample episode with James Dean (1954)

Sample episode Judy Garland musical special (1956)