The so-called Golden Age of Television is a bit of a moving target, but is generally thought to have run from the early 1950s to perhaps the mid 1960s. Depending on where you draw the line it began with the first mega-hit sitcom, I Love Lucy, and ended with the launch of the original ( Kirk, Spock, Bones) Star Trek.
A key characteristic of that age was the limited number of channels available. There was no home video of any kind, no way to record a show and later skip the commercials, and (at least in the ’50s) black and white viewing on an enormous 21-inch (or smaller!) screen. As primitive as all that sounds, television was then the hot new entertainment technology, and the ratings for the best shows (with their limited competition) were enormous by today’s standards. We might laugh today at the TV options of that era, but remember that TV nearly killed off the movies. Audiences in 2100 might well look back at what we have todayand laugh.
Our current cornucopia of options now features 99-channels of cable (and nothing to watch!), content streamed from a range of services (and over $100/month to pay for them!), and an unlimited variety of physical video discs (and yes, physical media is struggling but still far from dead).
Then there’s YouTube, a free service supported by advertising.
Up until a few weeks ago I considered YouTube an Internet oddity devoted to cat videos and looney stunts. But around the recent holidays I discovered that it was more. A lot more. In fact it would take a lifetime to slog through its millions of offeringsand by then it would be filled with enough new content for a second lifetime. Like most social media sites, YouTube does have a bad habit of occasionally “filtering” content that doesn’t follow its sometimes fluids guidelines, particularly on politics, Covid, or the politics of Covid.
But apart from that there’s plenty on YouTube to satisfy almost anyone. Its main postings come from an army of commentators, many of whom have their own “channels” of information. A YouTube “channel” is simply a subset of YouTube’s millions of entries, a subset created by an individual or a group to present information on a given topic.
Often, the runners of such channels are called influencers. They offer information in exchange not only for a bit of fame but also to receive profit-sharing payments from YouTube. The amount they receive is based on the size of their audience. The payment may only be a penny or pennies per hit, but if your audience is in the tens (or hundreds) of thousands it can add up fast.
In our own field you’ll find channels devoted to home theater, two-channel audio, TVs, DIY loudspeakers and electronics, and much more. Some of these channels include reviews, some offer advice on how to set up a new system, improve your current system, or even help you to set up a specific product, such as an A/V receiver. These dedicated channels are very different from direct access websites, such as Sound&Vision.com, where we post all of our commentary.
The technical quality of YouTube postings is all over the map, partially depending on the quality and speed of your Internet service. But it’s often exceptionally goodbetter in fact than my local cable service. For example, the most striking YouTube imagery I found, purely by accident, was in short documentaries on the Jack Chapple channel including such titles as Australia Controls Everything. The images are only slightly related to the narration, so if the latter doesn’t draw your interest you can mute the sound and simply enjoy the images. You can also search for and find a limited selection of 4K and HDR demo material, but be careful here. Much of the 4K content is not HDR). You can also find a range of test patterns useful for scoping out your TV’s performance.
YouTube also offers a wide variety of films for download, either for rent or for purchase. I haven’t tried these (I prefer to avoid registering with Google), but suspect that some of them would be of decent quality judging by the best of YouTube’s free offerings. And an occasional rental here should be cheaper than a little-used Netflix or Disney+ subscription.
You’ll also find a wealth of documentaries, many of them covering British history (the BBC is an endless source of them). There’s also the occasional free TV movie or long-form drama. The most compelling of the latter I found was a full presentation of two classic mini-series from the ’80sThe Winds of War and War and Remembrance. They’re presented here as individual, full episodes. There’s too much soap in them (which I often scanned past), too much filler clearly aimed at making room for the dozens of the commercials in their original presentations needed to pay for them, actors often too old for their roles, and video quality that’s mediocre at best. But both are addictive. War and Remembrance, however, with its brutal depiction of the Auschwitz concentration camp in two or three episodes, is not family friendly.
On a much lighter note you can also find classic episodes of old TV sitcoms. For example, search for two episodes of the old Mary Tyler Moore show from the ’70s:
Chuckles the Clown and Sue Ann’s Sister. If they don’t have you rolling on the floor you have no sense of humor. Later, however, they’ll also make you sad at today’s quality of TV comedy, both in the writing and the performances. Laugh tracks are usually annoying, but in these two examples they earn their keep.