Critics have long portrayed Lionel Trilling as a cultural mandarin. However, this well-regarded critical orthodoxy neglects Trilling’s work in the mass media. Trilling’s affiliations with Columbia University and the New York Intellectuals are well attested, but his coeditorship of two book clubs and his work as a guest on radio and television programs have been almost forgotten. Seeking to redress this oversight, this essay focuses on Trilling’s work as a script supervisor for Channing (1963–64), a television series adaptation of his campus fiction “Of This Time, of That Place.” The essay argues that as a public intellectual, Trilling presented himself as a “cultural supervisor” whose criticism and fiction sought to guide the culture as a whole. While Trilling’s supervision rested on having access to a variety of institutions, both elite and popular, he was unable to effect the supervision that he desired in television. Thus while “Of This Time, of That Place” was an antimiddlebrow polemic, Channing drew on the conventions of golden age drama anthologies and was the very embodiment of middlebrow culture. As a script consultant, Trilling resisted these changes, but his advice was disregarded. By delving into this neglected episode in Trilling’s career, the essay shows that Trilling’s position as a supervisor of culture could be assumed rhetorically but could not be achieved in practice. Ironically, in taking on the role of a script supervisor Trilling was unable to act as a supervisor of culture.
Research Article|December 01 2017
Adam Kaiserman; Morals, Manners, and the Middlebrow: Lionel Trilling and the Television Adaptation of “Of This Time, of That Place”. Genre 1 December 2017; 50 (3): 319–342. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-4210907
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