An era of major changes in the economic, technical, and cultural fields followed; electronics made an entrance into the home and the workplace, man landed on the moon, and social and cultural boundaries shifted. People were optimistic, believing in a better future and, although not necessarily in agreement on what it should look like, they at least agreed that change was a prerequisite for progress. New opinions, art movements, youth culture, and music consequently found their way onto television with relative ease and speed.
This is reflected in the way De Groot's shows developed during the first half of the 1960s. None of these shows have survived, but behind the scenes pictures, reviews and stage designs reveal stylistic and substantive changes. Whereas the Weekendshow in 1960 was still staged in a stylised, slightly frilly village square, Van der Does soon started designing modern, abstract sets with set pieces that functioned as two-dimensional graphics under different types of lighting.4 De Groot also searched for innovation in the programme's composition, inviting ballet companies and jazz musicians, and he drew inspiration from the themes and cinematography of the French New Wave. When asked what defined the television genre show, De Groot stated that show is: "a combination of different artistic expressions, from theatre, singing, dance, movement, and even the visual arts" ('t Binnenhof, 1962). With the experiments in the Weekendshow he is attempting to modernise Saturday evening television.
De Groot's mixing of genres and art forms was not an effort to make the avant garde more appealing for the television viewer, nor to give his shows an intellectual edge. Instead, what he intented to do with his ‘experimusiment’ was nothing less than elevating the medium of television. By means of finding a unique and distinguished audiovisual language, television could truly become a dignified medium, like theatre or film. Just as Willy Van Hemert had cautiously labelled his attempts as 'fantasies' years before, De Groot and his team also emphasised the experimental character of their efforts. These were to be seen as attempts toward a goal that was still somewhat uncertain.
The reactions to De Groot's programmes from the 1960s were widely divergent, as evidenced in the reviews collected in a liber amoricum5 by Bob Rooyens in 2001; one reviewer thought them great, the next, terrible. One of the artists with whom De Groot made a number of shows appeared ready for criticism, parrying with, "without experimenting, without restlessly searching for its own form and its own colour, the young medium is already nipped in the bud" (Ton van Duinhoven in Algemeen Dagblad, 1961). Indeed, even critics who disliked De Groots shows, agreed that television must find an authentic form and appreciated his attempts.
De Groot experimented with the synthesis of art forms and devoted a great deal of attention to sets, graphic design, dynamic camera work, montage and direction. Despite this, a unique visual language had yet to be found. There were still obstacles and limitations, such as the absence of colour and lack of efficient prerecording methods. Many of the very elemental special effects and optic techniques possible with celluloid, were unattainable in the 1960s era of live broadcasting. In many regards television was still miles behind.
The missing piece of the puzzle was the discovery of electronic image manipulation. This piece fell into place during the making of the series Hoofdstuk ('Chapter') I to VI, broadcast between 1964 and 1966, of which two shows have been preserved. De Groot produced and directed these with his protégé, the young director Bob Rooyens. In an interview taped at the rehearsals of Hoofdstuk III Rooyens talks about his idea’s for the future of television, "The majority of television viewers consider their television set to be a chocolate box of pleasure in which they like to indulge. We find that annoying; we want to give it a new injection" (AVRO TV-magazine, 1965). This is reflected in the approach of the directors, setting up performing artists in the middle of the studio and letting the cameras travel around and in-between them. Breaking the illusion of the fourth wall, camera operators moved in and out of the frame, and at times the viewers glanced over their shoulders and through their viewfinders. In the other disciplines such as set and lighting design, they also sought people with the mentality to do things differently.
At that time, however, the production protocol6 of the Dutch public production facility stipulated that a director-producer was randomly assigned a set designer and operational crew based on availability. Set designers, lighting technicians, camera operators, and technicians were all supposed to be anonymous, replaceable, and equally good in their job. That was not the case, of course, and this sometimes led to conflicts, especially with the more ambitious producers and directors. De Groot and Rooyens managed to get a number of people of their choosing, who were willing and able to provide the type of ‘new injections’ that Rooyens sought. Thus, in Hoofdstuk II (1965) during a jazz improvisation, set designer Massimo Götz is set loose in the set with a fire extinguisher filled with paint, creating an interesting hybrid of live action painting and a motion smoke machine. In another episode , aired in October 1964, lighting operators Henk de Rover and Ole ter Kuile mount a spotlight onto a track to create moveable lighting, a first for Dutch television.
Hoofdstuk is a synthesis of art forms that illustrates innovative methods of direction, set design, and lighting, but the search for an authentic televisual language is not yet completed. During the preparation of one of the Hoofdstuk shows, Rooyens visites the technician's studio and asks what all the buttons and controls are for, he points to panel of controls and recalls: "to my great delight, the head technician Theo Jansen turned out to be an adventurer who perfectly matched my curiosity. The control panel turned out to be [...] a 'luminance keyer'. On one side was the 'inlay' and the 'overlay' on the other". 'Keying' by means of brightness made it possible to mix moving images directly during live recording to create cross-fades and graphic titles. Rooyens went a step further with this technique by increasing the contrast of his camera images and filling in the black (or white) parts of the image with other moving pictures, photographs, or graphics. His discovery of the capabilities of the luminance keying control panel was nothing less than a revelation for Rooyens. Because the luminance key effect exploited television's electronic nature, he realised that it was an integral step in the creation of an authentic visual language, freeing television from its purely documentary function.
De Groot and Rooyens were the first, but soon not the only ones, to be involved in electronic image trickery and experimental television, but programmes like Hoofdstuk remained exceptional. They were expensive to produce, required longer preproduction time and a carefully assembled crew, and could therefore only be made every few months, if not just once. If this was to be the future of television, the production proces of this new visual language would have to be able to match the fast pace of television production also: it needed to be done faster, cheaper, and more frequent.
In the meantime Dutch youth fell under the spell of pop music. In 1970 weekly programme TopPop starts to cater to their needs. Viewers could send in their five favourite songs by postcard, andTopPop would then broadcast recordings of the most requested songs in the programma. To this end, director-producer Rien van Wijk invites artists to - lip sync - their songs for the television camera’s in the Amsterdam or Hilversum studio’s.
Although there had been regular colour programming since 1976, the first year of TopPop was still in black and white. Broadcaster AVRO was unsure whether a pop music programme aimed a youthful demographic would generate substantial interest and wasn’t keen on investing much. Van Wijk made a virtue of necessity and, together with graphic designer Frans Schupp, created a house style inspired by op art. The programme opened with a fast montage of black and white TopPop logos, photographs, and clips. Schupp designed a simple but dynamic set with spinning op art patterns in which the artists lip synced their songs. The introductory titles and bumpers featured numerous variations on the TopPop logo in striking typography, op art patterns were superimposed or projected over performances and presentation intervals and a letterbox with a collection of strange objects was regularly part of the collage, giving the programme an outspoken, dynamic yet coherent house style.7