Women in American Sitcoms of the 1950s and 60s
Sitcoms – situation comedies – are probably the most “American” of all TV formats. They convey a high degree of viewer identification, as they show scenes of everyday American life. If the viewer identifies with the series, is the series representative to the viewing society? I will try to elaborate on that question by comparing to sitcoms of the 1950s and 60s and the image of women that they carry. Life with Elizabeth was one of the earliest sitcoms in U.S. television. Produced as a low-budget series for first-run syndication, it was shown in several networks throughout the US from 1953 to 55, usually in early evening slots. The half-hour episodes were made up of three ten-minute vignettes that displayed comedic scenes of a newlywed marriage; those vignettes were narratively not connected. The entire series centered around the person of Betty White, who was not only performing the main character (Elizabeth) but was also – 28 year old – creator and producer of the show, because of which she could be considered “one of only two women to have creative control both in front of and behind the camera during the early days of the medium”. This show was regarded as one “that cannot offend the most sensitive viewer, and the word wholesome might have been invented for it.” It is entirely filmed in a studio with live audience (there is audible laughter, and the audience is visible at the end of the episode). A commentator leads into every vignette and communicates with the figures. The three vignettes of an episode consist of one scene each with just few different shots; whenever needed, vignettes open with an establishing shot and continue mostly in medium shots. The set has the feel of a theatre stage (maybe due to its low-budget production style), but as the studio situation is obvious, the viewer should not be disenchanted with the authenticity. The identification with Betty White also surfaces as she personally says...
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