Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"The Farnsworth Invention"

I'll confess this upfront. I'm an Aaron Sorkin fan. "The West Wing," at least until he left the show, was a show I hated to see end each week. I wanted to spend more time with those characters. I have no idea why his follow-up, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" never found an audience. It was very smart and addressed big issues. Oops, guess THAT was why it never found an audience. "Sports Night" was also a terrific, but short-lived show.

So I stepped into The Music Box this afternoon fully prepared to enjoy the story of how David Sarnoff basically stole television from inventor Philo Farnsworth. And did.

Others -- you, for instance -- may not appreciate a certain lecture-y quality that seeps out from this densely (but elegantly)-packaged history lesson, seen through the eyes of two titans: Sarnoff, the Russian-born exiled Jew who created modern broadcasting, and Farnsworth, the Mormon farm boy who saw the key concepts necessary to making possible perhaps the most influential technological breakthrough of the 20th century. (Hank Azaria plays Sarnoff with unapologetic ambition, and Jimmi Simpson does good work as a simple genius, overwhelmed by powers far beyond his experience.)

But me? I love the quick repartee of Sorkin's characters, the efficiency of his exposition, the richness of his characters. It's not a great show, and it's not for everyone (and it probably won't survive long on Broadway), but it tells an amazing story -- and it's going to be the perfect thing for high school drama departments that need shows with big casts that shed light on important moments in history.

And no matter what opinion you may hold of the "vast wasteland" of "57 (or 557) channels and nothin ' on" that is broadcasting today, it's impossible to argue that the introduction of television marks a watershed in human history, and watching its birth pangs is pretty darn compelling.

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