December 23, 2011
At the risk of coming across as schoolmarmish in every post, I must raise a point of order in a matter of semantics.
Criterion’s re-release of 12 Angry Men, on DVD and Blu-ray, is turning up on a lot of best-of-the-year home video lists. Also on those lists I’m frequently seeing two of the disc’s extras – kinescopes of the original Studio One “12 Angry Men” and the completely new-to-home-video Alcoa Hour “Tragedy in a Temporary Town” – referred to as “teleplays.” The nomenclature traces back to the copy on Criterion’s website and on the discs themselves.
As far as I know, however, a “teleplay” is just a script written for television. A show derived from a teleplay is something else – an “episode” or a “broadcast” or just a “show.” The Writers Guild of America, all the TV writers who have ever used the term in my presence (which is not many; they usually just call ‘em scripts), and even Wikipedia make this distinction. You could stretch the point and argue that Criterion has used the term this way in order to emphasize the primacy of the writer’s contribution in live television, but that’s not really how their copy reads. Particularly cringeworthy is a reference to “Frank Schaffner’s teleplay of 12 Angry Men,” which implies that Schaffner was the writer of that show rather than its director.
Of course, I realize that the term “teleplay” (or, um, “kinetoscope”) probably has no meaning at all to the average consumer today. But if I, or any hardcore TV fan or anyone in the industry, picked up the Criterion 12 Angry Men in a store and read the jacket copy, I think we’d expect to find a PDF file of the scripts on the disc rather than the shows themselves. I think Criterion has muddied the terminology in a narrow field here, and I hope this misuse of the word doesn’t spread.
Incidentally, I haven’t seen the 12 Angry Men disc. I wrote about Sidney Lumet and “Tragedy in a Temporary Town” earlier this year and didn’t think I had much else to had in this space. But I’m curious about the extras, and I’m delighted that Criterion is seeking out live television material to incorporate into its disc releases.
Every time I think I’ve found all the good oral histories, something new pops up. When I was researching last week’s Walter Doniger obit, I learned that Doniger had been interviewed in a book by John Ravage called Television: The Director’s Viewpoint (Westview Press, 1978). Around the time I was busy being born, Ravage, an academic, spent some months on television sets in Los Angeles, talking to about a dozen working directors. Some of them (especially Boris Sagal, Buzz Kulik, and Doniger) gave few other interviews of substance before they died.
I didn’t have Ravage’s book when I wrote the piece on Walter, but it arrived today and it’s very good. Frankly, a lot of these interview books fail because the interviewer doesn’t know what he or she is doing, but Ravage understood how television actually got made and asked really good questions. This one is worth buying for a penny on Amazon.
Meanwhile, I hope to have something more substantive up before Christmas and, if not, then soon after. Several suppiers of review copies (and one nameless publicist who apparently only thought about sending me that DVD set rather than actually putting it in the mail) had asked me to write about their wares before the holidays and, well, I guess they know better now. Anyway: happy holidays to everybody. Treat yourself to some classic TV DVDs and maybe you’ll accidentally buy one of the ones I was supposed to plug.