Assignment Earth: Season Three DVD Commentary, Composing, 06/10/2013

What I find particularly interesting thinking about these Assignment: Earth exercises is getting my perspective into what was and wasn’t possible in the television of the early 1970s in the United States. My imagined show would actually be an anomaly in the television landscape of that time and place. My compatriots in blogging, Phil Sandifer and the mad prophet of Vaka Rangi, would have some more detail on the subtleties of the era, since their fields of study are media. My interest in media is more amateur than professional intellectual. My intellectual profession is philosophy, while my popular profession is literature. This little exercise falls within my popular scope.

Now, nobody tell Archie that he's been on a liberal show the
entire time. He'll flip.
Probably the most important aspect of television during the early 1970s for my thinking is the rise of socially progressive TV. Basically, I’m talking about the empire of Norman Lear. Lear was a television producer who designed shows that explored the social and political transformations of the era. All in the Family wrung comedy from the collision of the blue-collar conservative past and the more white-collar liberal present. Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons were two of the first mainstream shows that focussed on the lives of black people. There were many other shows in the Lear fold (credit also due to his creative partners Bud Yorkin and Charlie Hauck), all of which contributed to the immense popularity in the early 1970s of what was called social issues, or socially progressive, television.

All of these shows were sitcoms. The popular dramas of the period were action and crime shows, which rarely engaged with the social issues of the time, and more often than not tended to a more reactionary perspective. Science fiction of the period usually settled into this action-TV model, apolitical at best and socially regressive at worst. Then there was the original Battlestar Galactica, which was many things in its time, none of which being intelligent. Vaka Rangi has done an excellent job so far of showing just how reactionary Star Trek usually was, contrary to the mythology that has grown up around the original television show, and transformed the franchise as a whole into the progressive utopianism it has become.

My imagined Assignment: Earth is a creature that never actually existed in our world of American television in the 1970s. A socially progressive sci-fi-action television show, whose stories, centred in the dangerous New York of the time, steps away from neglect and decline from which the city would never recover in quite the same way, explored a society in uncertain transition. The alien eyes of Gary Seven could see the social conflicts of the time from a perspective that would escape the constraints of humanity itself. The concept of the show is to explore the collisions of his character with our world. Gary’s missions involve him with the politics of a volatile world. His life involves him with the less politically influential people who are often the victims of the power games his alien masters play. Their lives are defined by conflicts that Gary doesn’t fully understand because Earth isn’t where he grew up. These conflicts make him question the wisdom of the missions and orders and plans of the aliens who raised him. Season three is where these more fundamental political conflicts come to the forefront.

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