There has always been good television. Even Kurt Vonnegut, wittiest of curmudgeons, had to agree in 1991 when he was interviewed in The Cable Guide for his own contribution to the medium, an adaptation of his book of stories, Welcome to the Monkey House on Showtime. Vonnegut did not like television, and compared it to thalidomide. “We don’t know what the side effects are until it’s too late.” He could only go up from there, and did, praising, Cheers, M*A*S*H, and Hill Street Blues, and then saying, “I’d rather have written Cheers than anything I’ve written.”
I never know exactly when to take Vonnegut seriously. He also calls TV everybody’s “rotten teacher” and says “I’m sorry television exists,” but he had long been a TV writer in its “so-called golden days,” as John Goudas put it in a Los Angeles Times interview with Vonnegut in 1993, when his seven-episode run of Kurt Vonnegut’s Monkey House, hosted by himself, would soon come to a close. Vonnegut found himself very pleased by the results, remarking of his stories that “TV can do them very well,” and especially praising “More Stately Mansions,” above, starring an irrepressible Madeline Kahn, whom he called “a superb actress.”
Another very direct, witty speculative writer in the same year’s issue of The Cable Guide, Ray Bradbury, appeared with Vonnegut as part of two “dueling, short features,” notes Nick Greene at Mental Floss,
“under the auspices of promoting the authors’ upcoming cable specials,” Monkey House and The Ray Bradbury Theater. Bradbury was also an old media hand, having written for radio in the 50s, and seeing adaptations of his stories made since that decade, including one on Alfred Hitchcock’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Like Hitchcock, when it came time for his own show, The Ray Bradbury Theater in 1985, Bradbury introduced the episodes and became a public face for thousands of viewers.
He also wrote each episode, all 65 of them, from 1985-86 on HBO and 1988-92 on USA. In his Cable Guide interview, Bradbury calls television, “mostly trash,” then adds, “I’m full of trash… I’ve watched thousands of hours of TV. I’ve seen every movie ever made… everything’s the same.” What did he like to watch? Nova, unsurprisingly, and CNN, which he called “the most revolutionary thing in years.” In his interview (which you can read in a high resolution scan at Mental Floss), Bradbury credits television for “a lot of what happened in Europe”—referring to the fall of Communism, as well as Tiananmen Square, and the Gulf War. “Finally, the message got through,” he says, “and people revolted… CNN,” he concluded, “is very powerful television.” If he could see us now. See Bradbury’s very first episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater, “Marionettes” from 1985, just above. And purchase the complete TV series online.