Monday, January 01, 2007

TV on New Year's Eve and New Year

There are certain traditions on TV on December 31st and January 1st. Mostly it's about certain short programs shown on these days.

New Year's Eve means two things: "Dinner for one" and a certain episode from the old TV-series "Ein Herz und eine Seele" (a good translation, as this is also a saying in German, would probably be "One Heart, One Mind"). New Year in recent years means the complete rerun of "100 Jahre" - "100 Years", a mere 15 and a half hours program about the history of the world throughout the 20th Century.

I know that "Dinner for one" is shown in other countries as well, but I'm not sure in which countries, so I'll give you a short description of it. The additional title to "Dinner for one" is - translated - "The 90th Birthday". It's a sketch with only one scenery and two actors, one male (Butler James) and one female (Miss Sophie). The background is thus: Miss Sophie is in the habit of celebrating her birthday with her four best friends (all male) ... but as men usually don't live as long as women and 90 is still a venerable old age, the four men have died already. James is nevertheless putting up dishes and cutlery for five people (the guests and Miss Sophie). But while food is only served for one person (the living one), the various alcoholic breweries to accompany it are served for five. James is drinking instead of Miss Sophie's four friends and - as you might have guessed already - getting quite drunk. Each of the four does have certain characteristic quirks which he acts out throughout the meal (Admiral von Schneider for example always clicks his heels together while toasting to Miss Sophie, but James is not very good at it and always asks whether he'll be allowed to forgo it).

Most of the comedy of the sketch actually comes from the situation. For example, there's a tiger's fur on the floor (complete with it's prepared head) and James usually trips over it - but he misses it once, looking back at it very surprised, and jumps over it later on. It's hard to describe all the funny situations, it's something you have to watch.

In Germany this old sketch (still in black and white and probably one of the few early TV-programs not in German, instead someone explains the more important sentences "Same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?" and "Same procedure as every year, James", the two key sentences) is only shown at New Year's Eve - but today, with most regional TV-stations being accessible everywhere in the country through cable or satellite, you can usually watch it more than once. It's a tradition, very much like the fireworks at midnight.

Another program usually shown on New Year's Eve is an episode of "Ein Herz und eine Seele" which actually takes place on New Year's Eve and is quite fitting. The series, originally produced by the WDR, a local TV-station in the western area of Germany, was a counterpoint to the usual 'family'-series of this time which always featured a 'perfect' family.

The Tetzlav's weren't one of those. Alfred, the husband, was a tyrant at home, still thinking a lot along the lines of the Nazis (the program was mostly produced throughout the 60ies and early 70ies) and using a vocabulary of swear words you didn't hear on TV often these days (he usually referred to his son-in-law as an 'asshole' about four or five times during the 30 minutes of one episode). His wife Else was a little slow on the uptake, you might also call her naïve. His daughter Rita had married a young man from 'the Eastern Zone', meaning East Germany, who was a socialist and usually arguing about everything with his father-in-law. They were a normal family for this time: the husband working at a factory (but not as the lowest grade of workers), the wife not working at all, the daughter working as a sales-woman in a big department store (the cosmetics department) and the son-in-law Michael working at a workshop. I know now that the format itself - though remodelled to fit with German realities - came from Australia, but it's still a good and rather honest series about families at that time. A lot of people didn't like it then, because it held a mirror to their faces and made them see how they, too, acted at home.

The New Year's Eve episode of the series is a nice example for how the whole 'traditional' evening at the end of the year really worked out for most people ... and obviously, given that it runs on as many stations as "Dinner for one", people still love watching it.

Unlike the two programs mentioned above, "100 Jahre" is a very long program, indeed. Originally the short episodes were shown throughout the year 1999 as a retrospective of the 20th Century. Put together, the series runs 15 hours and 30 minutes - still a short time for a documentary about the whole of the 20th Century which was a pretty lively century, if you get down to it. It's running today again and, as somebody who likes history a lot (why else would I have studied it otherwise?), I'm going to watch at least some of it. Not all, though, because I've got better things to do today and, as it is shown quite often (Easter is another holiday on which it usually runs).

But the series is done quite well, with original footage, a couple of witnesses talking about the things which happened and a narrator offering additional information.

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