DATE December 4, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Bruce McEwen discusses the response of the body to
stress and what happens when the body's stress response turns
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Stress can make us sick. Dr. Bruce McEwen has been studying why. He's
written a new book about the paradox of how the human body responds to stress.
The physiological response to stress helps us cope in the short term, like
pumping adrenaline so we can run away from danger. But when the stress
response is activated over the long term, it can cause damage and accelerate
disease. Dr. McEwen's new book is called "The End of Stress as We Know It."
He's the head of the neuroendocrinology lab at Rockefeller University in New
York City and specializes in studying the interactions between the brain, the
glands and the immune system. He's coined a new term to describe the
long-term effect of stress on our body systems when the stress response turns
against us and starts harming the body. That term is allostatic load. I
asked him to explain what it means.
Dr. BRUCE McEWEN (Author, "The End of Stress as We Know It"): There are two
parts to it. First, the parent term, allostasis, which is a word that sounds
very strange, but it means from the Greek literally `maintaining stability
through change.' It's the active coping response, physiologic coping
response, how the body expends energy to meet a challenge, and usually
succeeds in adapting, at least in the short turn, to this challenge and
surviving. That's the whole purpose of the systems in the body that help us
handle the stressors that we experience.
For each event of allostasis, there are downstream consequences for the body.
Cells in the brain, cells in the immune system, cells in the heart, cells in
the liver, all over the body, are responding to the mediators, the hormones
and the neurotransmitters that are produced. But there's another side to
this, which is a set of changes in these cells that, if they repeat over and
over again, can cause wear and tear, and even put the body into a state of
what we call pathophysiology, something leading to atherosclerosis, to
hardening of the arteries, to changes in the body that are damaging. That we
call allostatic load, almost an inevitable cost to the body of being alive, if
GROSS: So allostasis is what the body does to keep you going when you're
exposed, for instance, to great risks or to threats, and allostatic load is
the long-term consequences of what your body is doing in the face of stresss.
Dr. McEWEN: Exactly. It's the wear and tear that's almost inevitable for
organisms that are functioning in an active world.
GROSS: Let's talk about the difference between the long-term and the
short-term effects of these chemicals on our body when we're under stress.
Let's start with adrenaline and the heart rate. When we're under stress, our
heart beats more quickly so we could run away from the cause of stress,
because the assumption your body's making is that you're being attacked by a
lion or an enemy of some sort.
Dr. McEWEN: Right. Right.
GROSS: So talk about why the heart is beating fast.
Dr. McEWEN: OK. So adrenaline is produced, it gets the heart beating fast so
that we can pump the blood to make this mad dash away from a predator, but at
the same time, as the heart is pumping, the blood vessels are being expanded
and they're being subjected to a certain amount of stress and strain, I mean
in the physical sense. And if this goes on a lot, which it does in all of us,
it can cause some minor damage to the blood vessels, and those are places
where the atherosclerotic plaques, the fatty deposits that cause the coronary
arteries to clog up, they begin to be deposited. So this very act of pumping
the blood can also, over long periods of time, cause cumulative wear and tear,
leading to atherosclerosis, which is made worse if we're eating a rich diet
with a lot of fats and if we have certain genetic predispositions.
GROSS: Now let's get to cortisol, which is something that helps you, again,
if you're under stress and you need to run away from the enemy. What are some
of the bad effects of a long-term increase of cortisol?
Dr. McEWEN: A long-term increase of cortisol leads to--encourages the
metabolic system to produce fat. It also causes muscle proteins to be broken
down to be converted to fat and to usable energy. It causes gradual loss of
mineral from bone and weakens bone. And over long periods of time, it can
cause cells in the brain to shrink and, under very dire circumstances, it can
actually cause some cells to die.
GROSS: Now one of the things you consider a real recipe for disaster, if
you're under a lot of stress, is eating a big dinner or a big late dinner.
What does that have to do with stress and with cortisol levels?
Dr. McEWEN: It doesn't have a lot to do with stress. This is one of the
reasons that we need to look at a broader view of what cortisol is. It's a
hormone not only of response to stressful situations in our lives, but it's a
basic housekeeping hormone that is secreted in a diurnal rhythm. It's
elevated in the morning and it should go down to low levels at night. And it
helps to synchronize our activity, our patterns of eating, our patterns of
sleeping. When cortisol is elevated in the evening, and a large meal will
cause it to be elevated--a large meal at almost any time of the day will, but
in the evening it's particularly dangerous because our liver has a biological
clock, too, and it happens that our liver's biological clock makes it
particularly susceptible to have elevated cortisol in the evening, because
that leads, then, to the conditions that cause the liver to produce more of
these bad fats that are deposited in the wrong places in our body.
GROSS: So eating a lot at night, not a good idea.
Dr. McEWEN: Is not a good idea.
GROSS: And even worse if you're under stress, because you've already got a
high cortisol level.
Dr. McEWEN: Right. And your stress may cause you to eat more just as a
behavioral antidote to feeling better, eating comfort foods because you feel
stressed out. So it's a positive feedback loop.
GROSS: So it's like a vicious cycle.
Dr. McEWEN: A vicious cycle, yeah.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dr. Bruce McEwen. He's the
head of the neuroendocrinology lab at the Rockefeller University in New York
City. He studies stress and stress hormones and their effects on the brain,
you say stress and health. His new book is "The End of Stress as We Know It."
If most of your cause of stress is happening while you're in a chair--office
stress, stress at home where you're, you know, sitting around the dinner
table, say, and it's very stressful or--you know, people are basically in
chairs so much of their life now. All of that fight-or-flight stuff isn't
going to be real helpful because you're sitting still.
Dr. McEWEN: Yes.
GROSS: What happens...
Dr. McEWEN: You may be grabbing the wrong things to eat as well.
GROSS: Yeah, but say you're not. Say you're not even grabbing the wrong
things to eat. What are some of the long-term issues that you can get
healthwise as a result of this kind of stress if you're not doing much
physical activity, if you're basically leading a pretty sedentary life?
Dr. McEWEN: One of the most immediate or first signs is an elevation of
blood glucose levels, a resistance to your own hormone insulin, the beginnings
of what could become Type II diabetes, which, of course, is very prevalent
GROSS: Well, why is that happening?
Dr. McEWEN: I think partly because people are eating--consuming more calories
than their bodies need for the amount of energy they expend. They're also
experiencing using eating as a way of dealing with feeling under pressure.
They're responding to the commercialism we see around us in terms of the
marketing of food and providing larger meals than we need and feeling the
sense that we have to get our money's worth. And so we do consume more than
we really need.
GROSS: Now hormonally, what's happening that contributes to the glucose
Dr. McEWEN: Hormonally, when you eat a fat-rich diet, when you consume a lot
of calories, the body is producing more of these same hormones, more cortisol
and more adrenalin. Under those conditions, the cortisol and the adrenalin
work with insulin to make the body produce more fat. The more calories we
have in our bodies--leads to something called oxidative stress. Oxidative
stress is what is directly responsible for damaging blood vessels in the brain
and in the heart and leading to the production of more what are called
inflammatory cytokines. These are hormones of the immune system, but they're
also produced by cells throughout the body, by cells in the blood vessel wall
linings, by circulating immune cells. These inflammatory cytokines trigger
again a cascade of events that increases the deposition of these
GROSS: My guest is Dr. Bruce McEwen, author of the new book "The End of
Stress as We Know It." We'll be back after our break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Dr. Bruce McEwen. He studies the long-term effects of
stress on the body.
Part of what you do is study the body's response to stress and all the
different hormones that are secreted, the changes in neurotransmitters and
basically the biological response of the body to stress. If you were to
examine a patient, could you tell by studying the release of these hormones
and other secretions in the body how much stress the person was under and how
their body was reacting to it? In other words, is there a kind of more
medical-biological diagnosis of stress now that we're capable of?
Dr. McEWEN: There is. I mean, the beginning, which is still very useful, is
the measure of things like your cholesterol level, your high-density
lipoproteins. This is part of a biological diagnosis of the allostatic load
that your body is experiencing. We can expand that, and have, in studies that
are done on fairly large groups of people to look at how their health is
affected by various things like their education and income and so on, by
measuring things like their waist-hip ratio, the amount of abdominal fat that
they have. We can measure overnight production in urine of cortisol and of
adrenalin. And remember, I said that it's supposed to come down at night. So
in the sleeping hours, if it's elevated, that's a particularly sensitive time
to tell you that the system is out of regulation. We can measure systolic and
diastolic blood pressure. We can measure these things called inflammatory
We can measure something we haven't talked about yet which is called heart
rate variability, which is a sign of how--it's like a shock absorber in your
car. The heart rate has a beat-to-beat frequency which is not perfectly
regular, and there's a certain amount of variability in that which helps to
reduce the shock on the blood vessels that can accelerate atherosclerosis.
And if you have low heart rate variability, then your cardiovascular system is
much more vulnerable to the shock effects that will cause the atherosclerotic
GROSS: But should we try to, like, chemically intervene in the body's
response to stress? Like if there's too much cortisol, should we be trying to
manufacture a cortisol inhibitor?
Dr. McEWEN: OK. And that's also a very interesting question. I think not,
because one of the things--there is a cortisol inhibitor, which is actually
the same--it's called RU-486--is the same as the drug that causes termination
of pregnancy, because it will block not only the progesterone receptor, which
is involved in pregnancy, but also the glucocorticoid receptor, which is
involved in doing the things we're talking about. It has a different name,
mifepristone. If you use it, the cortisol levels go up, because what you're
doing is you're blocking negative feedback. So you give mifepristone and your
cortisol levels go up, but the high levels of cortisol can, for the most part,
do nothing because the receptors are being blocked, at least temporarily.
However, this is not a good situation because there are some things that
cortisol does which are not blocked by mifepristone. So those things will go
on because there's more cortisol in the body. So this is not a good solution
to prevent the effects of cortisol. It is a good solution and has been used
in something called psychotic depression. People who are depressed and have
hallucinations--there is no other treatment available except electroconvulsive
shock therapy, and there is a new attempt to use mifepristone to help to bring
the psychotic attacks under control.
I mean, one other aspect that maybe--we haven't talked about the brain yet,
and there are some really interesting aspects that sort of parallel the immune
system and that get into exactly what we're talking about. How--so I don't
know if you want to do that.
GROSS: Yeah, I would. Well, what are some of the interesting things you're
learning about mood, for instance?
Dr. McEWEN: Well, let's go back to the basic idea that in, for example, the
immune system, the acute stress response, these hormones help the immune
system fight an infection. But chronically they can cause problems,
impairment of immune function. The brain is just the same way. There's a
part of the brain that we have studied for many years called the hippocampus
which is named because it looked like a sea horse tail to early anatomists.
And it's very important for learning and memory, the kind of memory that helps
us keep track of events in our daily lives, what you're going to do this
afternoon, what you did yesterday or this morning. It also keeps us oriented
towards where we are. And it's the part of the brain that helps us remember
where we were and what we were doing when, for example, September 11th
occurred, the sort of indelible memories associated with place and time.
When the hippocampus begins to fail, as it does in the early stages of
Alzheimer's disease, we lose that contact with who we are, with our daily
lives, the events. The hippocampus is very sensitive to stress hormones, to
cortisol especially. But like the acute response in the immune system, these
hormones actually help us remember where we were and what we were doing. They
have a very important effect to stamp into our memories so that we can--the
next time a situation like this occurs, we can perhaps avoid it, if it was
like the place where you ran into the lion, if you know not to go back there
or to be particularly wary, that's going to help you survive another lion
attack. That's the good side of stress hormone effects on the brain, on the
The bad side is when we get into this chronic stress disregulation. Then the
hippocampus shows allostatic load. Its nerve cells begin to shrink. Memory
becomes impaired. There's part of the hippocampus which generates new nerve
cells continuously through adult life, and the replacement of these cells is
presumably very important for our ability to learn and remember things. This
ability to produce nerve cells is suppressed by chronic stress and even by
certain kinds of acute stress.
So the brain is very much part of the same system showing this protection in
the short run and damage in the long run as all of these other systems of the
body. And when we talk about mood, we talk about remembering where you were
and what you were doing. If you have a functioning hippocampus, you are
better able to associate place and time with a very emotionally powerful set
of events. If you don't have a functioning hippocampus, then you're going to
generalize. And the same cues that you can say, `OK, this took place
yesterday and I don't have to be worried about it today because it's a totally
different situation,' you may not be able to do that because, in fact, you
generalize. People who have depression, people who have post-traumatic stress
disorder, tend to not be able to associate place and time, and they have then
free-floating anxieties and flashbacks and things of that sort, which are at
least partly related to having a malfunctioning hippocampus.
GROSS: Dr. Bruce McEwen is the author of the new book "The End of Stress as
We Know It." He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, more on the body's response to stress with Dr. Bruce
McEwen. Also, a new book collects the reviews and essays of one of the first
TV critics, the late Jack Gould. He covered TV for The New York Times from
1947 to '72. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, will talk with Gould's son,
historian Lew Gould, who edited the book.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Dr. Bruce McEwen, the
author of the new book "The End Of Stress As We Know It." McEwen is the head
of the neuroendocrinology lab at Rockefeller University in New York. He
studies the effects of long-term stress on the body, the impact stress has on
our glands, our immune system and the brain.
Are there any implications for the research you're doing now for the effects
of stress on the body? Any implications for things like chronic fatigue
syndrome and these new mysterious syndromes that people seem to be developing
that aren't easily diagnosed? Some doctors aren't even sure if they exist.
But for the people who are suffering from them, they know that they have no
strength, no energy and they're very prone to all kinds of kinds of illnesses.
Dr. McEWEN: Well, I mean, certainly, chronic pain and chronic fatigue,
something that's called multiple chemical sensitivities, which amounts to
probably the same set of syndromes, debilitation, lack of energy, are indeed
very mysterious. And most likely they are related to an imbalance in the
system I mentioned earlier, that is, inflammatory cytokines are produced in
bursts and they will make us feel very tired and even sick. Most of the
evidence suggests that it's related to an imbalance, too much of these
inflammatory cytokines, too little of the counterregulatory systems like the
cortisol which can bring these systems under control. It's hard to document,
to actually show that this is the main cause. I think that there are new
attempts to really bring these disorders under some sort of more careful
The question is then: what do you do about them? You have to somehow reduce
these bursts of these inflammatory cytokines. It's not easy to figure out a
way of doing this. But it is a direction that a lot of this research is
moving and I wouldn't be surprised over the next several years is if there
will be some better sort of medical understanding of these conditions.
GROSS: One of the larger problems we seem to be facing now in terms of stress
and how our bodies respond to it is that our bodies are hard-wired from the
dawn of man era when stress did mean that, you know, a brontosaurus was
attacking or, you know, some creature was attacking and you had to run away.
I mean, do you think our bodies will ever adapt to that fact that the kind of
stresses that we're often facing now are different, they're mental stresses,
they're desk-related stresses, they're relationship stresses, and the response
our body is providing for us isn't necessarily the response that we need.
Dr. McEWEN: Right. And I think we're talking about what direction will
evolution be taking us, what selection...
Dr. McEWEN: ...is made for people who are able to handle this kind of modern
GROSS: Yeah, do you think our bodies will ever adapt to that?
Dr. McEWEN: Well, I think--I mean, one factor that's very important is this
social support aspect. And people who by their nature are able to go out and
establish networks of social contacts are doing themselves a big favor because
they're able not perhaps to directly deal with the sources of their stress but
to deal with how they handle them by perhaps realizing through interactions
with other people that there are other aspects to life that are worth living
and relationships are as important or more important than the things that are
causing them grief. And help to find a way to actually circumvent these
situations. And, of course, ultimately, if you're in a difficult job or
difficult relationship, you may have to leave it to find some other way
of--some other kind of relationship or some other kind of job. To have the
courage to do that also requires good social skills and good ability to make
decisions. So I think it's those kind of qualities that are perhaps, if you
will, being selected for by evolution on top of this basic system which is
still very helpful when we get into dire emergencies.
GROSS: Well, Dr. McEwen, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Dr. McEWEN: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
GROSS: Dr. Bruce McEwen is the head of the neuroendocrinology lab at
Rockefeller University. His new books is called "The End Of Stress As We Know
We're going to take a minute to say happy birthday to guitarist Jim Hall, who
is 72 today. Here's a track from Hall's new CD, "Down Beat Critics' Choice."
This is a piece that he composed and arranged called "Circus Dance."
(Soundbite of "Circus Dance")
GROSS: Coming up, our TV critic David Bianculli talks with historian Lew
Gould, the son of one of the first TV critics, Jack Gould.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Professor Lewis Gould discusses editing "Watching
Television Come of Age," and his father, Jack Gould, who
reviewed TV for The New York Times from 1947 to 1972
TERRY GROSS, host:
After World War II, when radio began to give way to a new medium called
television, The New York Times responded by assigning its radio writer to
cover TV on a regular basis. That writer was Jack Gould, who became one of
the first and most influential TV critics at a time when the medium was fresh
and experimental. He reviewed "Howdy Doody," "I Love Lucy," "Marty" and "See
It Now." He also wrote essays about TV's big issues of the day from the quiz
show scandals and blacklisting to the increasing popularity and impact of
television itself. Gould covered TV for The Times from 1947 until 1972, and
died in 1993. His son, Lewis L. Gould, a professor of American history at
the University of Texas at Austin, sifted through thousands of his father's
reviews and essays and has just published a book collecting 70 of his father's
most historical, original and passionate columns. The book is called
"Watching Television Come of Age: The New York Times Reviews by Jack Gould."
Lew Gould provides historical context for each entry, and we dispatched our
own television critic, David Bianculli of The New York Daily News to seek some
historical perspective on Lew Gould and his late father.
In 1947, when Jack Gould began reviewing television, he moved his family to
Stamford, Connecticut, and began working from home.
Professor LEWIS GOULD (University of Texas, Austin): Well, he believed he
should see television, which was mostly live in those days, except for, you
know, the old movies and things--that he should see it the way people at home
saw it, and this imposed on him severe deadlines because The Times had to put
the paper to bed by, I guess, 11:30 at night, so when the programs ended at
11, he had about 15 to 17 minutes to write a 300-word review. It was a
gut-wrenching experience for him, but he learned how to do it. And then he'd
call them up and dictate his piece over the phone to the city desk and it
would appear the next day.
Well, take us into the Gould living room or the TV room back then. When he
started, you would have been--What?--eight, seven? How old?
Prof. GOULD: Yeah, I'm really not too familiar with it until I was about--in
my early teens, which would have been the early '50s. He didn't like much in
the way of disturbances then, and young boys tended to be more disturbing than
encouraging. And there was some--if you read some of the pieces where he
talks about us bouncing on the sofas and otherwise distracting him, you'll get
a sense of how we could drive him crazy. But by the early '50s as we got to
be more mature, in our early teens, I, at least, he would ask us in to watch
and we could sit there as long as we didn't say anything. And then when he
was done, he would say, `That's it,' and we got--that was our cue to get out
of the room. And the typewriter would start away. By the time I got to
college, I could sit in the room and watch him type and still not say
anything, and then sometimes he would let us read the pieces and see what we
thought of them. But it was an awe-inspiring experience.
I can remember one occasion when we were watching the--one of the
television--televised national political conventions and Huntley and Brinkley
were on the set where they were very close together and he said, `It looks
like those guys are playing kneesies out there.' And the phone rang and it
was somebody from NBC and he said, `By the way, are Chet and David playing
kneesies out there?' And about five minutes later over the air Huntley and
Brinkley says, `Someone in the East says we might be playing kneesies out
here,' and I thought `That is amazing stuff.'
BIANCULLI: That is amazing.
Prof. GOULD: But most of the time he didn't, you know, get involved in the
actual program, but just watched.
BIANCULLI: Before we get more into what your father thought of television as
one of the first professionals critiquing it, what you thought of television,
because I figured you guys had to have TVs before just about anybody else in
the neighborhood. You had to be watching television before just about anybody
else. What were your earliest memories?
Prof. GOULD: Well, we always sat too close and we were already flipping the
dial to the point where on some sets--the set--the family set that we had in
the den, that we broke the handle--the channel-changer because we would flip
it too much. These were very delicate instruments and had little ball
bearings inside and we would smooth them out and my father would come in and
say, `You got to sit back and you can't keep flipping that channel.' So we
were ready for those clickers 40 years--I guess, 30 years before they were ever
invented. And I guess we were as much television hounds as all the kids to
follow us would be.
We also had--he had three television sets almost from the beginning for
this--where he watched in the den. And when people later said that Lyndon
Johnson had three sets, I thought, `Gee, didn't everybody have three sets?'
You had to monitor the networks.
BIANCULLI: That's funny. When you were looking at your father's columns and
gathering them, did you get a different sense in retrospect of how important
Prof. GOULD: Yes, I had a sense that he was important sort of anecdotally and
I knew it later, but the sheer range of what he wrote about and the number of
subjects that he covered and the way in which people responded to him I think
really impressed me. I was--just the volume of his work as a critic--I knew
it was large but I'd had no concept of how large and how eclectic he was in
the things that he was interested in.
BIANCULLI: It is interesting when you read the columns 50 years later and
he's writing about Lucille Ball, he's writing about Rod Serling, he's writing
about Paddy Chayefsky. And now these people are Lucille Ball, you know, Paddy
Chayefsky, Rod Serling, they're icons. But back then, they were just other,
you know, performers or writers and you're seeing icons being shaped. And--go
ahead, I just wonder...
Prof. GOULD: Well, that--yeah, that--but this was what was on Tuesday. And
he would go in there and sit down and you didn't--part of the excitement was
that you might have a "Marty" or a "Patterns." Now sometimes you had a
clinker and a dud, but when those magical moments came, with a play that--like
the--"Julius Caesar" or "Patterns" or "The Days of Wine and Roses," there was
an immediacy and a power about it that whatever the technical quality of
television now, and it's impressive, I don't think it has that same sense that
it was an event and that the next day when you went to school or talked to
people, they would say, `Did you see that last night?' And that sense of a
shared experience of people in the late '40s and early '50s is something, I
guess, except for, you know, cable or some news broadcast now, there's not
that sense of excitement.
BIANCULLI: Did your father's tastes strike you as odd in any respect in
looking over these things?
Prof. GOULD: Well, his taste in culture generally tended to be pretty
congruent with mine. I suppose that's the norm growing up with somebody,
though I was more interested in modern jazz than he was. But I had not
realized how much he was involved as a young reporter with the nightclub
scene in New York, jazz and the swing era. He wrote a terrific article
about Count Basie and how black bands at that time were discriminated against
by white booking agents, which I was quite surprised to find. Gratified, but
But he had a kind of New York theatrical kind of sensibility. As I say in the
book he thought Rodgers and Hart was terrific and was less impressed with
Rodgers and Hammerstein. Which is a continuing debate in that area. But not
having gone to college, he was somewhat sensitive about his intellectual
credentials and defensive in some instances on that. But he seemed to be a
very well-read and interesting man in the way that he dealt with opera, shows
like "Omnibus" and things where there were a range of artistic development
involved. So I came to have a great deal of respect. He was obviously
reading more than I thought as a child when he seemed to be, you know, too
busy to talk to me.
BIANCULLI: Was it his passion for the moral issues that had him write so many
columns, or at least so many that you collected in the book, about
blacklisting, about the quiz show scandals?
Prof. GOULD: Well, of course, as you know, reporters tend to have a deep well
of cynicism about human nature but there's also a vein of idealism in there in
the best of them. And he was--I think it's fair to say, I mean, allowing for
prejudice, a very moral man in his view of what the networks and television
should be. And he had a sense of fair play. And I think the biggest reason he
was outraged by blacklisting and the quiz show scandals is that the networks
had really betrayed the faith of their audience. And that he, I think,
believed that that was unforgivable, that it was their--they had the power,
they had the influence over society, and it was up to them to play fair and to
do the right thing. And so in some ways, now a naive and innocent view, but I
must say reading back on it I found it as attractive now as I did at the time.
GROSS: You're listening to our TV critic David Bianculli speaking with Lew
Gould, who has just published a book collecting the reviews and essays of his
father, the late TV critic Jack Gould.
We'll continue the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Our TV critic, David Bianculli, is an admirer of the late Jack Gould,
who was the TV critic for The New York Times from 1947 to '72. Gould's
reviews and essays have been collected in a new book edited by his son, Lew
Gould. Let's get back to David's interview with Lew Gould about his father.
BIANCULLI: Lew, I think the next thing I think I'd like to ask you to do is
to pick your own favorite passage from the book and maybe read a paragraph
Prof. GOULD: OK.
BIANCULLI: If there's something that you can single out that--as a son, as an
historian, for whatever reason that you're especially proud of being able to
disseminate in this new form.
Prof. GOULD: I think the thing that impressed me was the "See It Now" column
from 1951, November 19, 1951, where he talks about Nurrow and his trip to
Korea. And they have a documentary film made in Korea and it talks about he
soldiers on the front and when we think about North Korea and the axis of evil
and the problems that we have today, it makes you realize how short history is
and how much we're still living the results of the 1950s.
BIANCULLI: Well, go ahead. Read it for us, please.
Prof. GOULD: `The last half of the program was devoted to a documentary film
that CBS had taken in Korea. It showed all the hardship, good humor and
tension of the average soldier's existence at the front. The film was tough
and real, but always thoughtful. And Mr. Murrow's sparing comments cut to the
viewer's heart. When the film showed the GIs digging their foxholes, he
remarked, "If you dig before dark, you have a better chance of living until
`Then came the climax. One by one, the soldiers stepped before the camera and
merely gave their name and hometown. Mr. Murrow reported on what had happened
to the company since the film was made. Fifty casualties. With searching
eyes, Mr. Murrow looks straight at the camera and said that some of the
wounded might need blood. "Can you spare a pint?" he asked. To television in
short finally has come Mr. Murrow's rare feeling for the value of
understatement in reporting the news and telling the facts as they are. Those
qualities obviously were a source of inspiration for all who contributed to
the success of "See It Now." And, more important, to the persons privileged
to watch their records. Television had a taste of its true glory yesterday.'
I can't read that--every time I read that I choke up a little bit. I remember
seeing the program but it just seemed to me that was Dad at the top of his
form. And Murrow, too.
BIANCULLI: Now he was a television critic--we've been focusing on the early
years of television because that's just so fascinating, to me anyway, for him
to start in 1947 as a television critic. But he actually didn't retire as a
TV critic until 1972. So he had a large body of work. What was your sense of
him in the later decades in terms of his relationship with television?
Prof. GOULD: I think he became progressively more disillusioned. He would
say that he was written out, that he'd spent 20 years glued to the tube, that
he was repeating himself, that he had nothing new to say. And I think some of
that was true. It was a high-tension job that wore him out physically and
emotionally. But I also think that by the mid-'60s, he had the sense that
whatever the promise of television had been 15 years earlier, it was not to be
realized or it didn't seem to be realized. And after the Newton Minow episode
in the early '60s with the Kennedy administration and the vast...
BIANCULLI: The vast wasteland, yeah.
Prof. GOULD: ...wasteland issues, that that was not going to change. I think
he became convinced that repetition and money-making and the high ratings were
going to dominate, and that television, while it would have its moments, was
not something to which he wanted to devote the rest of his life, and I think
it was time. He was only a man in his late 50s by the time he retired. But
he had said most of what he wanted to say and most of what he could say. And
there was an arc to his career that told him that it was time to move on, and
it was clear that it was.
BIANCULLI: When your dad finally decided that he'd had enough of television
and retired in 1972, what did he do then?
Prof. GOULD: He spent most of the time watching television, actually. He
(Soundbite of laughter)
BIANCULLI: Let that be a lesson to you.
Prof. GOULD: Well, he got a satellite dish early on when they retired to
California, and he would spend time watching the Canadian Parliament. And he
also loved to listen to police bands and airline pilots on the radio, on the
shortwave radio. So in some ways, he went back to his roots and just followed
television and radio as a fan of the sort of more technical inside aspects of
the business; you know, the way daily life was carried on by people who
communicated, not so much for the public but among themselves, but also using
what he could of satellite technology. So he also slept a lot because of
circulatory problems and things.
BIANCULLI: Well, Lew Gould, I'm so glad that you came to join us on FRESH AIR
Prof. GOULD: Thank you for having me.
GROSS: Lew Gould spoke with FRESH AIR's TV critic David Bianculli. Gould has
edited a book of TV reviews and essays by his late father, Jack Gould. It's
called "Watching Television Come of Age."
Two classic TV themes are featured on a new CD by someone who specializes in
American popular song: Michael Feinstein. The composers of those themes, Jay
Livingston and Ray Evans, also wrote songs for Bob Hope, Rosemary Clooney and
Doris Day. Feinstein performs the songs of Livingston and Evans on his new
CD. Livingston joins Feinstein to sing and play his two TV themes.
(Soundbite of "Bonanza" theme)
Mr. JAY LIVINGSTON: (Singing) We've got a right to pick a little fight,
bonanza! If anyone fights any one of us, he's going to fight with me. When I
run to saddle up and run, bonanza! Any one of us who starts a little fuss
knows he can count on me.
One for four, four for one, that's how it must be. We'll make our stand on
our land, this we guarantee. We've got a right to pick a little fight,
bonanza! If anyone fights any one of us, he's going to fight with me.
Mr. MICHAEL FEINSTEIN: (Singing) This is the night I'm gonna hit a bride,
bonanza! I'm in a whirl with a pretty little girl and she's in love with me.
I'm gonna light the middle of the night, bonanza! I'm gonna go with the
glitter and the glow, that's how it's gonna be. I'm in love, she's in love.
We don't have to guess. I'll unfold more than gold when she answers yes.
This is the deal that's gonna bring a real bonanza! I'm in a whirl with a
pretty little girl and she's in love with me.
(Soundbite of "Mister Ed" theme)
Mr. LIVINGSTON: (Singing) A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no
one can talk to a horse, of course. That is, of course, unless the horse is
the famous Mister Ed. Go right to the source and ask the horse, he'll give
you the answer that you'll endorse. He's always on a steady course, talk to
People yakety yak to speak and waste your time of day, but Mister Ed will
never speak unless he has something to say. A horse is a horse, of course, of
course, and this one will talk to his horse, his horse. You've never heard of
a talking horse?
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. LIVINGSTON: (Singing) Well, listen to this...
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. LIVINGSTON: (Singing in deeper voice) ...I am Mister Ed.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Songwriter Jay Livingston with Michael Feinstein, from Feinstein's new
CD, the "Livingston and Evans Songbook."
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.