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Ed Sullivan & Political Conventions


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« on: September 09, 2012, 10:16:49 am »

There was a time when you could watch a "variety show" on television.  It was a throwback to Vaudeville--traveling or theatrical entertainment with a mixed bill of entertainers and entertainment types--the clown, the juggler, the stand-up comedian, the ballad-singer, the pop idol, the poet laureate were all given a few minutes on stage in a single show of an hour or ninety minutes.   You may not like every act in the show, but you were exposed to a cross-section of what could nominally qualify as the "best" or "most promising" of each kind of talent in their respective fields.  Experiencing the variety show let you see how different folks from different places achieve a sort of popularity and (occasionally) excellence.  You saw and heard regional differences among the performers.  You usually saw them try their hand at "winning over the audience" which was also a mixed bag of folks off the street--tourists, locals, city folk and country folk, educated and not-so-educated in a single crowd. The vigor of their "applause" and other audience reactions was their only means of expression or acceptance of the entertainer.

Put it this way:  each performer had to convince the crowd of the worth of what he was doing, had a limited time to do it, and knew pretty well whether he succeeded with some or all of the audience before it was over.

Ed Sullivan (and many others) was the master-of-ceremonies, and he took the trouble of auditioning these performers on a weekly basis and combining them on a bill of entertainment each week.  It was up to him how he did this--should it be a "seasonal" theme for the show, a show in honor of some holiday or guest from abroad?  Should the show concentrate on a particular kind of entertainer  or entertainment?

Political conventions used to be more like Ed Sullivan's show. You saw the variety within the conventioneering parties. You saw differences among the politicians and the attendees.  You learned something you didn't know.

After the recent conventions this past 15 days, I learned nothing.  Well, that isn't quite right. I learned politicians have trouble entertaining and many cannot read a script, tell a joke, or provide authentic enthusiasm for anything they do on stage.

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« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2012, 10:31:13 am »

I also learned that politicians are mainly good at expressing wshat I call "righteous indignation" which is something akin to faking anger at the sub-boiling point--you know, right before you smack someone across the face.  It is the one thing politicians can do and --if they have really good timing (in the same way comedians have really good timing with a "slow burn") they can be very effective with the audience.

The audiences at conventions are probably the saddest thing when compared to Ed's audiences.  Ed at least had some real diversity.  Partisan audiences are perhaps visually diverse, but they are of a partisan culture which is essentially 'captured' in the same way a herd of sheep are captured.
Ed Sullivan never really knew the disposition of audience in advance, or their intelligence or circumstances. He had to fashion his bill of acts with some theme or occasion in mind and assume his acts were going to be stronger than Arthur Godfrey's, George Goble's, Steve Allen's or quite a few others in the studios down the block.  He was competing with other tv variety productions, and radio, and live theatre, and bidding against these guys to obtain the most succcessful acts in the hope of capturing his audience.

It wasn't as though he could force feed his sheep and get away with it--that is what I am trying to say.
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« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2012, 10:40:28 am »

---oh yes, I also learned that Clint Eastwood is a better actor/director than he is extemporaneous speaker  and  that Bill Clinton is a better extemporaneous speaker than almost anybody in the media or White House or The Daily Show for that matter.

Neither of them would do a reading of Hamlet much justice if you went into it expecting classical presentation, but it would be fun to contrast and compare them!
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