Westport’s Eric Burns spent years on TV. He hosted Fox News Watch, served as a media analyst for the network, and was an Entertainment Tonight commentator.
So his latest book — Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television’s Conquest of America in the Fifties — is a natural outgrowth of his boob tube career, right?
Burns’ book — which Library Journal likened to “having a delightful, intelligent conversation with a cultural expert” — is an outgrowth of his written works. He’s covered the Founding Fathers and journalism, and social histories of tobacco and alcohol, among other topics.
He next wanted to tackle a more current history. He calls the 1950s “the most fascinating and formative decade” of his life.
Yet McCarthyism, the Cold War, the space race — all had been done before. Burns’ brainstorm was to write a history of the ’50s as TV portrayed it. As with the author himself, that decade was the most formative period in television’s life.
His research included reading conventional histories, and dredging up his and his peers’ memories.
He also pored over contemporary newspaper and magazine stories, concentrating on analyses of critics and researchers of the then-new medium.
He spoke with Paul Newman — who starred in live television dramas — before the actor died.
Burns also includes a quote from Westporter Bill Harbach, who once produced The Steve Allen Show. The anecdote involves Allen’s televised reaction to a racist letter criticizing him for having kissed Lena Horne on camera.
However, Burns does not want to predict the future of TV based on its past.
“I’m a historian, not a futurist,” he parries. “I write about the past in part because I don’t like living in the present. Immersing myself in days gone by enables me to insulate myself. The future is even more of an unpleasant prospect for me.”
Invasion of the Mind Snatchers is generating plenty of pre-publication buzz. Stay tuned for more.