East Side/West Side (1963)

Kathleen_Maguire_East_Side_West_Side_1963East Side West Side is a CBS television series that aired from 1963-1964 that was unusual in that it completely went against the new “escapist” kind of programming popular at the time.  In fact, the network went so far as to not consider East Side/West Side as entertainment.  CBS was in the process of perfecting a television model that hinged on the idea that if the news and documentaries would focus on the serious topics, it was the network’s job to completely avoid it and offer an alternative, an escape.

The most problematic part of East Side/West Side was the manner in which it addressed social issues, rather than individual narratives. For CBS executives, this was problematic because it made the issues on the show inherently more difficult and even impossible to solve within the episode—this was hardly the proper format for escapist television.  However, this is exactly the point of the show: to grapple with the hard issues.  The writers and producers of this show refused to ignore what was happening in the world around them.

Consider the plot of an episode entitled “Who Do You Kill?”  The episode follows a young couple, Joe and Ruth, and their young son who dies at the end of the episode due to a rat bite.  Joe is an angry man who expresses his frustration at their poorly maintained home and neighborhood—trash on the street, condemned buildings, and a lack of jobs and so on.  What is remarkable about this episode, and the entire series in general, is the way in which the writers refused to provide any easy way out.  Instead, East Side West Side challenged its viewers to think critically about the program’s content.

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