Maybe the Sky is Really Green, and We’re Just Colourblind:
On Zapping, Close Encounters and the Commercial Break



Double Take, 2009

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1960s: Stay Tuned


In the early 1960s, another Cold War was in full swing: that of television threatening to liquidate its older sibling. Cinema was losing out to the small screen as many local film-houses were forced to close their doors. While Hollywood struggled to redefine itself against the encroaching presence of the new medium, Alfred Hitchcock, as cinema's delegate, took on the ambivalent challenge of the TV format. A displaced Englishman in Hollywood, Hitchcock readily donned the role of the double agent, sneaking into the American living room as a master of prime, only to deride it. His wry introductions to his TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955–62) were peppered with domestic paranoia that mirrored a catastrophic culture in the making. The heightened tension of the US–USSR relationship and its induced fear of nuclear terror forever loomed on the horizon. So, when the master of the macabre, as Hitchcock came to be known, chose to cross over into television, he took every opportunity to mock this evil twin of cinema, one that had morphed into a "propaganda box": "Television is like the American toaster," he quipped, "you push the button, and the same thing pops up every time." But Hitchcock's real obsession lay with commercials that had infected the format of storytelling. After all, "the story may be unhip, but those crazy commercials are pure poetry," he joked, adding that they "keep you from getting too engrossed in the story". Much to the horror of his sponsors, Hitchcock loftily denounced the accursed ads, and with sardonic mischief urged the early TV viewer to zap away from "these deadly boring commercials: I don't mind you leaving the room during the commercial, but I expect you to be in your seats for my parts of the program!"19