Within the walls of the United States Capitol Building, Congress has been hard at work passing legislation in the best interest of the American public. Though many may have a cynical view of our lawmakers and their partisan interests, last week Congress was passed an important mandate — not a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” not progress on the DREAM Act, but instead the very important CALM act, or Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act.

This new mandate will require the FCC to regulate volume levels on television commercials, which can sometimes be absolutely blaring compared to the volume of the actual program. Such complaints have been growing steadily for some time, but they are nothing new. Objections over commercial volume have been around since television’s inception in the 1950s.

When people caught on to television’s commercial intentions, a vehement distrust of commercials arose. In 1963, the Wall Street Journal reported on the issue, saying that the FCC had uncovered a problem of truly major significance.

This came only shortly after the revelation that some incredibly popular 1950s quiz shows were rigged — people were disposed to distrust television. This skepticism was manifested in a number of ways before the commercial problem even came along, including a protest of laugh tracks, which were seen as another way television promoted a false image. At the time, this was a serious issue. CBS actually took action by briefly prohibiting the use of laugh tracks in comedy shows.

In my opinion, the criticism and cynicism toward the medium in that era was turned around largely due to one man who took an experimental approach to television and came out with something pretty special. This man is Ernie Kovacs.

Kovacs is best known for his “Silent Show,” a half-hour comedy in which he played Eugene, a Chaplin-esque character who wandered through a surreal story guided only by music and sound effects — no dialogue. Even the commercials were without dialogue. “There’s a great deal of conversation that takes place on television. From way in the morning 6 a.m. … to all hours of the night. I thought perhaps … you might like to spend a half hour without hearing any dialogue at all,” read the opening credits of the “Silent Show.”

The show was wildly praised. It was clever, it was funny and it was artistic. Kovacs employed humorous sketches, which would later inspire shows like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and “Saturday Night Live.” Chevy Chase famously thanked Kovacs for his influence in his Emmy acceptance speech in 1976. The success of “Silent TV” prompted silent episodes of “77 Sunset Strip,” “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Patty Duke Show.” Most important, the show was highbrow and intelligent.

Similar to “Mad Men,” viewers felt smart when watching “Silent Show.” It was a creative experiment unlike anything else on TV at the time. Kovacs enjoyed classical music and used it in many of his programs. Newspapers compared him to Salvador Dali and James Joyce, and he was in television. He received heaps of fan mail, preserved in the Ernie Kovacs Papers, praising his show, offering him ideas for sketches and sending him drawings and photographs influenced by his surreal TV show. He made true avant-garde TV.

However, though his comedic influence is still seen today (Craig Ferguson and David Letterman both cite Kovacs as an inspiration, though Kovacs is better, trust me), it’s quite obvious that silent TV never caught on in the long run. In fact, we see that shows have gotten even louder.

But the recent passage of the CALM Act got me thinking about Ernie Kovacs and his silent entertainment. TV isn’t so different today from how it was in the late 1950s. We’re immersed in a period of television disillusionment where instead of quiz show lies, we’re fed the lies of reality TV and sensationalism. Our television casts the craziest people and manipulates them into fighting, calling it “real” — “The Bachelor” has been known to fill the house kitchen with lots of booze and not much else to make tensions flare. Some of the contestants on “Cash Cab” aren’t just picked off the streets, but are screened or even recruited prior to their appearance — and the cash Ben Bailey hands them at the end of the show isn’t even real. And promos have been known to take a show’s best and juiciest material out of context with thrilling voiceovers telling you, “You won’t believe what happens next,” only to manipulate you into watching sub-par and predictable television.

So while the CALM Act solves one of the problems that Kovacs managed to fix through “Silent Show,” much of our distrust has yet to be addressed. We don’t necessarily need another “Silent Show,” but we could certainly use creativity, innovation and experimentation in the vein of Kovacs’s avant-garde programming. At the very least, let’s keep our fingers crossed for a bill banning the laugh track.

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