The Sex Pistols Make a Scandalous Appearance on the Bill Grundy Show & Introduce Punk Rock to the Startled Masses (1976)

The brainlessness and hypocrisy of television has long been a source of fun and social commentary in punk rock—from Black Flag’s “TV Party” (“I don’t even bother to use my brain anymore”) to the Dead Kennedys’ “M.T.V. –Get Off the Air” (“… feeding you endless doses / of sugar-coated mindless garbage”). It’s fitting then that one of the seminal moments in punk history happened on television, orchestrated by Sex Pistols manager and arch provocateur Malcolm McLaren, who knew as well as anyone how to manipulate the media. The notorious Bill Grundy interview, which you can watch—likely not for the first or even second time—above, rocketed the Sex Pistols to national infamy overnight, simply because of a few swear words and some slightly rude behavior.

Though the U.S. does its damndest to keep up these days, no one in 1976 could match the outrage machinery of the UK press. As rock photographer and manager Leee Black Childers put it in the oral history of punk, Please Kill Me, the tabloids "can work the populace into a frenzy.” McLaren goes on record to say, “I knew the Bill Grundy show was going to create a huge scandal. I genuinely believed it would be history in the making.” We might expect him to take credit after the fact, but in any case, it worked: the day after the band’s appearance on the Grundy-hosted Today show on Thames Television, every tabloid paper featured them on the front page. The Daily Mirror provided the title of Julien Temple’s 2000 documentary with their clever headline, “The Filth and the Fury.”

Even in 2008, a survey showed the Grundy interview as the most requested clip in UK television history. With all this hype, you might be disappointed if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it. Though f-bombs on TV can still cause a minor stir, a few mumbled curse words will hardly garner the kind of publicity they did forty years ago. McLaren claims punk rock began that day on the Today show, and that’s true, at least, for the viewing public who would have been treated to an appearance from Queen if Freddie Mercury hadn’t developed a crippling toothache. Instead, they were introduced to Paul Cook in a Vivienne Westwood naked breasts t-shirt, and Glen Matlock, Steve Jones, and Johnny Rotten tossing insults at Grundy, who egged them on, hit on the teenage Siouxsie Sioux, part of the band’s entourage, and may have been drunk, though he denied it.

It may be one of the least witty exchanges in television history, and that’s saying a lot. But for all the pearl-clutching over the band's crudity, it's maybe Grundy who comes off looking the worse. More interesting than the interview itself is the hyperbolic fallout, as well as what happened immediately afterward. The station was flooded with complaints, and for some reason, its telephone system rerouted unanswered calls to the green room, where the band and their followers had decamped. “A producer on the programme ignored instructions to remain in the room," notes Jon Bennett at Team Rock. "The result? The group started answering the phones and dishing out even more abuse. How this evaded the press at the time remains a mystery.” Indeed. It’s doubtful McLaren could have planned it, but the image evokes the sneer of every punk who has ever spit on the pious insistence that TV spoonfeed its viewers middle-class decorum with their advertising, sports, wish-fulfilling fantasies, and infotainment.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

When Roald Dahl Hosted His Own Creepy TV Show Way Out, a Companion to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone (1961)

In an odd twist of history, two of the wisest and weirdest children’s writers of their generation also happened to have both been fighter pilots during World War II. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, flew reconnaissance missions for the French Air Force before the 1940 armistice with Nazi Germany. Roald Dahl, author of—among many others—Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and The BFG, flew with the Royal Air Force. Both wrote about their flying exploits and both writers, it so happened, were once shot down over Libya, which also happens to be the title of Dahl’s first published story, written for grown-ups and published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1946.

There are maybe other uncanny similarities, but one thing Saint-Exupéry never turned his hand to is television. Dahl, on the other hand, had the opportunity to host two TV shows during his lifetime: Way Out in 1961 and Tales of the Unexpected, which aired from 1979 to 1988 and featured several episodes based on Dahl’s own stories. Although he has become renowned for his high-concept kid’s books, at the time of Dahl's entrée onto the tube, he had mainly achieved fame as a writer of macabre tales published in the New Yorker as well as a script written for Alfred Hitchcock Presents called “Lamb to the Slaughter.”




Dahl seems a natural fit for the medium, not only as a writer but as a presenter, with his dry wit and suave personality. But his first show, Way Outeight episodes of which you can now watch on YouTube—came about entirely by accident, or rather, as the serendipitous result of another program’s spectacular failure. This is no exaggeration. Jackie Gleason, perhaps the most famous comedian of his day, had decided in 1961 to attempt a celebrity game show on CBS called You’re in the Picture. The show was such a bomb that it only aired once, and the following week, Gleason appeared on a bare stage for half an hour, the authors of a Filmfax Magazine article write, and “apologized to the American public for the insult to their intelligence that had been perpetrated the week before.”

This went on for several more weeks, then Gleason invited celebrity friends on for impromptu interviews and “when things started getting desperate,” had a chimp on as a guest star. One CBS network head at the time remembered the show later as the greatest disaster of his decades-long career in television. Enter producer David Susskind, “a man who could deliver a program quickly and under pressure,” and a great fan of Roald Dahl. Cooking up the idea of “an eerie, chilling creepy drama,” Susskind says, with “a nether world sense to it,” he approached Dahl with an offer to replace Gleason’s travesty with adaptations of his stories and the opportunity to host.

Only one of Dahl’s stories made it into the show, the first episode “William & Mary” (above), about a man planning to become a brain in a jar. But the show was an instant hit with critics, especially Dahl’s brief, darkly humorous opening and closing monologues. One critic described him as “a thin Alfred Hitchcock, an East Coast Rod Serling.” And like Serling’s show, Way Out—which was spelled in a title card after the first episode with an inexplicable single apostrophe as ’Way Out—trafficked in sci-fi and psychological horror. But the two shows were not in competition. Twilight Zone and Way Out both aired on the same network, CBS, and the time slot of Gleason’s failed show happened to directly precede The Twilight Zone, just then ending its second season. Dahl’s show was billed as a “companion program” to Serling’s.

Sadly for all the praise showered upon Way Out, it did not attract a large enough audience to get renewed for a second season, and it would be another 18 years before Dahl returned to television. But even had he never returned, or never even made his first program, Dahl's significant contribution to TV history would be secure. His first children's book, The Gremlins, originally written in 1943 for a failed Disney project, inspired what is perhaps the most well-known Twilight Zone episode of them all, the William Shatner-starring "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which involves a certain terrifying shock on an airplane and was so effective, it was remade for Twilight Zone, the film. The episode adapted a story by Richard Matheson, but it was Dahl who first came up with the idea.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Steve Martin Make His First TV Appearance: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1968)

“What if there were no punch lines?" asks Steve Martin in his autobiography Born Standing Up. "What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax?" These questions motivated him to develop the distinctive style of stand-up comedy — in a sense, an anti-stand-up comedy — that rocketed him to superstardom in the 1970s. But before the world knew him as a banjo-playing funnyman, Martin worked for a couple of his especially notable comedian-musician elders: Tom and Dick Smothers, better known as the Smothers Brothers.

"We happened to be walking through the writer area of the show, and there he was, sitting at one of our writers' desks," Tom says of Martin on the 1968 broadcast of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour above. "Later we found out that he actually was one of our writers. Since he hasn't been paid for his work, we thought we'd let him come out tonight and make a few dollars."




So introduced, the 22-year-old Martin begins his television debut by re-introducing himself: "As Tom just said, I'm Steve Martin, and I'll be out here in a minute. While I'm waiting for me, I'd like to jump into kind of a socko-boffo comedy routine." With his prop table ready, he then launches into "the fabulous glove-into-dove trick."

Though the studio audience may look pretty square by today's standards (or even those of the late 1960s), The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had already built a reputation for pushing the envelope of mainstream television comedy. Still, it's safe to say that its audience had never seen any performer – and certainly not any prop comic — quite like Martin before. In this short set, he performs a number of deliberately botched or otherwise askew magic tricks, using his tone to generate the humor. "If I kept denying them the formality of a punch line," as he writes more than 40 years later in Born Standing Up, "the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation. This type of laugh seemed stronger to me, as they would be laughing at something they chose, rather than being told exactly when to laugh.”

Watching today, Martin's fans will recognize his trademark sensibility more quickly than his appearance, since the clip predates both the white suit and the white hair. Even then, he wanted to perform in a way that, in the words of The Guardian's Rafael Behr, "would unnerve and alienate the audience, but also, through self-deprecation, engage them in conspiracy against himself." Martin seems to take a dim view of his own early television work, having described himself in a 1971 Virginia Graham Show appearance as "mannered, slow and self-aware. I had absolutely no authority," a quality that he has since developed in abundance, and of which "the art of having an act so bad it was good," as Behr puts it, demands a surprising amount.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How TV Addles Kids’ Brains: A Short Film Directed by Godfrey Reggio (Maker of Koyaanisqatsi) & Scored by Philip Glass

On October 4, 1982, "more than 5,000 people filled the Radio City Music Hall to experience a remarkable event. That event was the world premiere of Koyaanisqatsi." So says the poster for the wide release of that film, an experimental documentary without spoken words on the natural and manmade environment that neither looked nor sounded — nor felt — like anything many of its viewers had ever experienced in a movie theater before.

Unable to muster any of their standard reactions, they had no choice but to sit and observe as, in slow motion and fast motion and every speed in between, waterfalls thundered, chasms yawned, skyscrapers soared, commuters scurried, and rockets launched before their eyes — all to the music of Philip Glass. You might say that Koyaanisqatsi (see trailer below), as well as its formally similar sequels Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi, puts its viewers in an altered state of mind.




The trilogy's director, a former monk-in-training named Godfrey Reggio, might say the same thing about television, whose flickering blueish presence emerges from time to time in his work, but he wouldn't mean it in a good way. In 1995, between Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi, he made a short called Evidence which, in the words of koyaanisqatsi.org, "looks into the eyes of children watching television - in this case Walt Disney’s Dumbo. Though engaged in a daily routine, they appear drugged, retarded, like the patients of a mental hospital."

Accompanying and in a sense commenting on their glazed, often slack-jawed expressions, we once again, as in Reggio's transfixing feature documentaries, have a Glass-composed score. Unlike moviegoers in a theater, "television viewers become prey to the television’s own light impulses, they go into an altered state — a transfixed condition where the eyes, the mind, the breathing of the subject is clearly under the control of an outside force. In a poetic sense and without exaggerating one might say that the television technology is eating the subjects who sit before its gaze."

In the more than two decades since, this kind of criticism of television has given way to a more general criticism of electronic media, most of whose currently popular forms didn't exist in 1995; Reggio and Glass' most recent collaboration, 2013's Visitors, deals with "humanity's trancelike relationship with technology." You and your children may have escaped the "tractor beam that holds its subjects in total control" as Evidence depicts it, but in the 21st century the number of tractor beams has greatly multiplied. And so the question remains worth asking: which ones have you under their control?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Last Surviving Witness of the Lincoln Assassination Appears on the TV Game Show “I’ve Got a Secret” (1956)

Let's rewind the videotape to 1956, to Samuel James Seymour's appearance on the CBS television show, "I've Got a Secret." At 96 years of age, Seymour was the last surviving person present at Ford's Theater the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth (April 14, 1865).

Only five years old at the time, Mr. Seymour traveled with his father to Washington D.C. on a business trip, where they attended a performance of Our American Cousin. The youngster caught a quick glimpse of the president, the play began, and the rest is, well, history.

A quick footnote: Samuel Seymour died two months after his TV appearance. His longevity had something to do, I imagine, with declining those Winstons over the years.

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Note: This post originally appeared on our site in August, 2011.

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Marshall McLuhan Predicts That Electronic Media Will Displace the Book & Create Sweeping Changes in Our Everyday Lives (1960)

"The electronic media haven't wiped out the book: it's read, used, and wanted, perhaps more than ever. But the role of the book has changed. It's no longer alone. It no longer has sole charge of our outlook, nor of our sensibilities." As familiar as those words may sound, they don't come from one of the think pieces on the changing media landscape now published each and every day. They come from the mouth of midcentury CBC television host John O'Leary, introducing an interview with Marshall McLuhan more than half a century ago.

McLuhan, one of the most idiosyncratic and wide-ranging thinkers of the twentieth century, would go on to become world famous (to the point of making a cameo in Woody Allen's Annie Hall) as a prophetic media theorist. He saw clearer than many how the introduction of mass media like radio and television had changed us, and spoke with more confidence than most about how the media to come would change us. He understood what he understood about these processes in no small part because he'd learned their history, going all the way back to the development of writing itself.




Writing, in McLuhan's telling, changed the way we thought, which changed the way we organized our societies, which changed the way we perceived things, which changed the way we interact. All of that holds truer for the printing press, and even truer still for television. He told the story in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy, which he was working on at the time of this interview in May of 1960, and which would introduce the term "global village" to its readers, and which would crystallize much of what he talked about in this broadcast. Electronic media, in his view, "have made our world into a single unit."

With this "continually sounding tribal drum" in place, "everybody gets the message all the time: a princess gets married in England, and 'boom, boom, boom' go the drums. We all hear about it. An earthquake in North Africa, a Hollywood star gets drunk, away go the drums again." The consequence? "We're re-tribalizing. Involuntarily, we're getting rid of individualism." Where "just as books and their private point of view are being replaced by the new media, so the concepts which underlie our actions, our social lives, are changing." No longer concerned with "finding our own individual way," we instead obsess over "what the group knows, feeling as it does, acting 'with it,' not apart from it."

Though McLuhan died in 1980, long before the appearance of the modern internet, many of his readers have seen recent technological developments validate his notion of the global village — and his view of its perils as well as its benefits — more and more with time. At this point in history, mankind can seem less united than ever than ever, possibly because technology now allows us to join any number of global "tribes." But don't we feel more pressure than ever to know just what those tribes know and feel just what they feel?

No wonder so many of those pieces that cross our news feeds today still reference McLuhan and his predictions. Just this past weekend, Quartz's Lila MacLellan did so in arguing that our media, "while global in reach, has come to be essentially controlled by businesses that use data and cognitive science to keep us spellbound and loyal based on our own tastes, fueling the relentless rise of hyper-personalization" as "deep-learning powered services promise to become even better custom-content tailors, limiting what individuals and groups are exposed to even as the universe of products and sources of information expands." Long live the individual, the individual is dead: step back, and it all looks like one of those contradictions McLuhan could have delivered as a resonant sound bite indeed.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Randy Newman’s Tour of Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard, and You’ll Love L.A. Too

"The longer I live here," a Los Angeles-based friend recently said, "the more 'I Love L.A.' sounds like an unironic tribute to this city." That hit single by Randy Newman, a singer-songwriter not known for his simple earnestness, has produced a multiplicity of interpretations since it came out in 1983, the year before Los Angeles presented a sunny, colorful, forward-looking image to the world as the host of the Summer Olympic Games. Listeners still wonder now what they wondered back then: when Newman sings the praises — literally — of the likes of Imperial Highway, a "big nasty redhead," Century Boulevard, the Santa Ana winds, and bums on their knees, does he mean it?

"I Love L.A."'s both smirking and enthusiastic music video offers a view of Newman's 1980s Los Angeles, but fifteen years later, he starred in an episode of the public television series Great Streets that presents a slightly more up-to-date, and much more nuanced, picture of the city. In it, the native Angeleno looks at his birthplace through the lens of the 27-mile Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles' most famous street — or, in his own words, "one of those places the movies would've had to invent, if it didn't already exist."




Historian Leonard Pitt (who appears alongside figures like filmmaker Allison Anders, artist Ed Ruscha, and Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek) describes Sunset as the one place along which you can see "every stratum of Los Angeles in the shortest period of time." Or as Newman puts it, "Like a lot of the people who live here, Sunset is humble and hard-working at the beginning," on its inland end. "Go further and it gets a little self-indulgent and outrageous" before it "straightens itself out and grows rich, fat, and respectable." At its coastal end "it gets real twisted, so there's nothing left to do but jump into the Pacific Ocean."

Newman's westward journey, made in an open-topped convertible (albeit not "I Love L.A."'s 1955 Buick) takes him from Union Station (America's last great railway terminal and the origin point of "L.A.'s long, long-anticipated subway system") to Aimee Semple McPherson's Angelus Temple, now-gentrified neighborhoods like Silver Lake then only in mid-gentrification, the humble studio where he laid tracks for some of his biggest records, the corner where D.W. Griffith built Intolerance's ancient Babylon set, the storied celebrity hideout of the Chateau Marmont, UCLA ("almost my alma mater"), the Lake Shrine Temple of the Self-Realization Fellowship, and finally to edge of the continent.

More recently, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne traveled the entirety of Sunset Boulevard again, but on foot and in the opposite direction. The east-to-west route, he writes, "offers a way to explore an intriguing notion: that the key to deciphering contemporary Los Angeles is to focus not on growth and expansion, those building blocks of 20th century Southern California, but instead on all the ways in which the city is doubling back on itself and getting denser." For so much of the city's history, "searching for a metaphor to define Sunset Boulevard, writers" — or musicians or filmmakers or any number of other creators besides — "have described it as a river running west and feeding into the Pacific. But the river flows the other direction now."

Los Angeles has indeed plunged into a thorough transformation since Newman first simultaneously celebrated and satirized it, but something of the distinctively breezy spirit into which he tapped will always remain. "There‘s some kind of ignorance L.A. has that I’m proud of. The open car and the redhead and the Beach Boys, the night just cooling off after a hot day, you got your arm around somebody," he said to the Los Angeles Weekly a few years after taping his Great Streets tour. ”That sounds really good to me. I can‘t think of anything a hell of a lot better than that."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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