My take on Television Characters by Vincent Terrace

My take on Television Characters by Vincent Terrace

“Sit down, turn on the TV, and start doing your job!”

Vincent Terrace has one of the coolest jobs ever!

Well, I don’t know if it’s exactly a job.  I’ve seen something that says he was a “research contributor for ABC television”, but I’m talking about the books he writes.  He’s written over 25 books, the vast majority about TV.

Okay, that could be fun…but these are books about the actual shows.  Not the politics, or gossip.  These are the fictional “facts” you can get from watching the shows themselves.

I just read (yes, cover to cover)

Television Characters: 1,485 Profiles From 1947 to 2004

No question, it’s a wonderful book for a pop culture geek like me.  Did you know that Herb Tarlek went to State College?  That Ricky Stratton worked as a waiter at Chicken on a String?  Or that T.J. Henderson reads Sister Girl magazine?

If your response was “Huh?”, “Huh?”, and “Huh?” this may not be the book for you.  😉

However, I do have a few cautions.

First, some of the information is not drawn from the series.  For example, Sulu from Star Trek is entered as Hikaru Sulu.  The problem is that only the original series is cited, and he was not given that name until afterwards (Vonda McIntyre gave him the first name in The Entropy Effect novel in 1981).  That would be okay if it was all identified, but since it isn’t, it could be confusing for someone looking for information just on the series.

Second, the information is basically drawn from dialogue, which can lead to some interesting transcription irregularities.  B.J. Hunnicut, for example, a character from M*A*S*H, is described as being born in Mill Valley, California.  Later on, according to the entry, he does his residency in “Salsalido”.  I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I assume this is Sausalito, a town fewer than ten miles away.  I can completely see how this could happen, but it does lead to errors.

Third, the book could have benefitted from basic proof-reading and copy-editing.  One funny mistake: a character is said to have volunteered as a “candy stripper” at a hospital.  While that conjures up some odd images of a dessert-covered ecdysiast, it should be a “candy striper”.  I believe in a single entry, the same pets are described as both rats and mice.  It would be easy to pull these up if the book was in e-book form, but unfortunately, I have a papercopy (I don’t see that an e-book version is available).  A fact checker/editor/proof-reader would conceivably have caught both of those.  I’m not saying there wasn’t one, and maybe that sort of thing only bothers me.  🙂

Fourth, it looks to me like the dates that shows aired are given as the dates that events (such as weddings) happened.  That could be wrong on my part, but I don’t think of my fictional TV worlds as being on the same timeline as my real world.  That’s picky, I know.

Fifth, there is a tendency to treat female characters differently from male characters.  There are entries for “The Girls of Baywatch” and “The Girls of Degrassi”, but no entries for “The Boys of…”  Female characters are often described as attractive or sexy.  Out of all the entries, I think I only ran across two that described male characters in a similar way.  You would never guess the two.  Nope, not Magnum.  Not Face from the A-Team.  Peter Gunn and Richard Diamond.  Both of these late 1950s/early 1960s crimefighters are described as “handsome”.  Many times, we get a female character’s measurements, and oddly, there are quite a few bra sizes given.  I’m assuming the characters mention their bra sizes on the shows…that seems strange in itself, and it make sense to report it.  The physical description of the female characters seems particularly offputting with characters who are minors, although again, that might be how the shows describe them, rather than Terrace.

Those quibbles out of the way, it’s an incredible work.  Not just for the entries: Terrace thoughtfully includes an index by show (and they can be pretty obscure…there are a number of “one season wonders”), by character’s last name, and by performer.  On that last one, it would be nice to actually see the character names, rather than just the entry references…it would be fun to see Bob Newhart’s characters in a list…you know, the ones that all have Bob as a first name.  😉 

I’d love to interview Vincent Terrace (even electronically), to get more of a sense of how this is all done.  I saw a reference to the closed-captioning…I can see how that would work.  Does he do this at home?  Does he go to one of the places you can watch old TV shows?  He can’t simply turn on the TV to see shows from the 1940s!  Does he do a marathon of one show, or jump around?  Mr. Terrace, if you are out there, I’d be happy to hear from you.  🙂

Even though this book is $75 (and crying out for an e-book edition…it would be great to be able to search it), Terrace has many books at a variety of price points and with a range of specialization.    You can get used Vincent Terrace books from the Amazon Marketplace for under a few dollars:

Vincent Terrace books at Amazon

 If you know somebody (or are somebody) who is into TV, trivia, or Old Time Radio, I’d recommend Vincent Terrace’s books. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.


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