Classical Music Programming and the Problem of “Visual Interest” in Early US Television
This chapter traces the development of cinematography and editing styles designed to add visual interest to presentations of classical music during US television’s initial expansion period in the 1940s–1950s. Pursuing a production studies approach, it treats these emergent techniques of spectacular sound as (1) industrial responses to economic pressures and (2) bids by industry workers to assert their identities as a new class of creative professionals. As television audiences broadened and commercial sponsorship grew, classical music proved a growing economic liability, and its predominantly aural appeals conflicted with industry workers’ understandings of television as a visual medium with presentational demands distinct from radio. Analyzing the critically acclaimed NBC series Meet the Masters, the chapter shows how the program successfully deployed emergent techniques of spectacular sound in combination with dramatic frame stories to resolve and reflexively comment on classical music’s twin problems of visual interest and mass appeal.
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