UT professor Lewis Gould compiles the best of his father Jack Gould's columns into an enlightening discourse on the early days of television.
Watching Television Come of Age: 'The New York Times' Reviews by Jack GouldEdited by Lewis Gould
University of Texas Press, $22.95 (paper) It's difficult to find a refreshing voice among media critics. That is, unless you've happened upon the work of New York Times writer Jack Gould. There's a reason his name may not be familiar. He wrote for the paper from 1937, first as a "reporter city staff -- drama," then as the paper's first television reporter and critic. Gould critically watched television, following his beat until his retirement in 1972. His son, University of Texas history professor Lewis L. Gould, has collected more than 70 of his late father's best columns, focusing on the period from 1947 to 1961 ("the period of his greatest influence"), and compiled them into Watching Television Come of Age, a fascinating study of early-American television history.
The senior Gould's style is sometimes fussy and his voice oh-so-serious. There's none of the snarkiness or tiresome attempts at cleverness that invade so much of contemporary media criticism -- otherwise known as "entertainment news." Strangely, it's Gould's dryness that makes his work so refreshing. I suspect Gould was not as interested in providing a dazzling read as he was in carefully telling a story or offering a candid, well-informed review. It's his diligence, his dead seriousness toward his work, and ultimately his passion, that makes Watching Television Come of Age enormously instructive.
The blacklisting of the 1950s, the quiz show scandal, early questions on the impact of television on children, the career of Edward R. Murrow -- Gould was there to watch and report on it all. Unlike academic research, written with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Gould's pieces captured the unfiltered pulse of the moment. If he's off the mark on a subject or two (he calls television a director's medium; I say it's a writer's medium), he's to be forgiven if only for his tireless work and deeply felt ideas about the possibilities -- and dangers -- of the then-new medium.