Accent on Living

THERE are two programs that seem to be all over television — serials, I should say — and the viewer finds that he is always getting in on the same installment. It’s quite baffling.

Always, in these two programs, people are fleeing and other people are chasing them. Let us examine briefly the ingredients of these situations. The situations are really identical, but there are enough differences in their details to make one distinguishable from the other. I am told that these are probably children’s programs, but there is nothing in the scripts to that effect, and they are acted by adults, although I must admit by not overly bright adults.

In the first of these programs we see a white man and a girl of indeterminate race in what is presumably a jungle. They tire running. The man is thin and is wearing a white pith helmet; therefore we know he is on the level and probably a doctor, and if not a doctor at least one possessing a kit of powerful medicines. (Any fat white man who wears a white pith helmet is always a bad lot who drinks too much, ogles the native women, and violates important taboos.)

As I say, the man and the girl are on the dead run, and into the jungle glade which they have just vacated comes pelting after them a pack of savages, each brandishing a spear and wearing an ostrich-feather headdress. We know they are savages because of the primitive language they speak to each other, the word which occurs most frequently sounding something like “Boonk or “Boink,”emitted in a sort of yelp as if the speaker had just been stuck by a pin.

“BOONK-BOONK?” barks one of the savages.

“BOINK!” responds one of his companions. Both scowl balefully and wave their spears at the camera before taking out after Pith Helmet and the Girl.

More running by all hands. Running (in fact the entire interval of hot pursuit) is highly regarded by producers and especially by writers. It eats up time as well as distance, and not even the savages can have much to say to each other as they go crashing through the underbrush. The whole episode of the chase is enlivened from time to time by quite arbitrary glimpses — just library shots — of a lion, and occasionally a leopard, growling and looking thoroughly out of sorts. We are shown a vulture wheeling overhead. But these come to nothing and are not developed further. After all, what would happen to the serial, or indeed to the installment of it, if the principal characters were eaten up at what looks like the halfway mark?

Quite a lot of running brings the white man and the girl to the savages’ village, where they outwit their pursuers for the moment simply by getting behind the grass hut of the chief. We know it’s the chief’s because it’s the biggest.

The savages, baffled, are waving their weapons and barking at each other near by. The man ducks around the hut and in through the door. These savages can track Thomson’s gazelle by scent, so keen are their senses, but the man makes it without attracting their notice.

Inside the hut is a less ferocious looking savage, flat on his back and unconscious. He is either the chief or the chief’s son, it matters not which. The witch doctor, a thoroughly wrong sort, has put the whammy on him, and it remains to be seen whether the white man’s magic medicines will have more force than the jinx. The trouble is, as the man in the pith helmet muses, there at the bedside, so to speak, his medicine is new and relatively untried, potent and dangerous. It will kill or cure, he tells the girl, who, like the man, has entered the hut unperceived by the savages.

If the unconscious man is the chief, the girl is his daughter. If he is the chief’s son, the girl is his intended bride, and either way will keep the runners on the move in further jungle outings. Sooner or later he regains consciousness, stares wanly at the camera, and totters to the door of he hut.

The savages sight the convalescent and come leaping across the clearing. BOONK-BOONK-BOONK-BOONK-BOONK. The chief — or the son, as the case may be— points to the witch doctor. “BOINTK!" he says, and then if not in Oxford at least in Hollywood English: “The white man’s magic is good.” At which the witch doctor nips off by himself behind the hut. BOINKBOINK-BOINK.

The TV viewer can readily see the flexibility with which this kind of drama can double back on itself, mark time, or branch out in various directions, and this is equally true of the second program, which seems to occupy any channels not already given over to the savages and their running.

In the second program, the changes are nominal, the action much the same. The running is not through a jungle but up and down a rather barren countryside in the American West, not on foot but on horseback. Instead of the grass hut there is a lonely prospector’s shack. In it someone — man or woman, girl or boy — is bound and gagged. The pith helmet is replaced by the ten-gallon hat and the savages’ spears by about the same number of unaimed revolvers.

In the earlier years of television, considerable lament was expressed over its disinclination to show the same production twice. Here was a wonderful new medium developing wonderful new programs, so the argument went, and the pity was that anyone who failed to see one of these marvels on its first showing would never get another chance at it. It was a great shame.

Things are different today.

After them, boys! BOINK-BOINKBOINK!