by Robin Reed
I was asked recently if I want to review TV shows for this site. I thought about it for a while and got a crazy idea. I want to review TV. Not shows, but all of television. At least my experience of it. At this point, many of you have already gone on to read other posts, thinking I am nuts. If you are still with me, I promise not to take up too much of your time.
My first TV memory is of my brothers and I trying to get my parents to let us watch “The Flintstones.” It was a prime time show, not a Saturday morning cartoon. It was hot. Celebrities did guest voices. It was “The Simpsons” of its day. But it was shown on a school night, and the absolute rule in my house was that there was no TV on school nights.
My second TV memory (which may have taken place before the first, the timeline is a little fuzzy in my mind) was a weekend in November, 1963. I was really mad because there were no cartoons on. Instead of cartoons every channel was showing what I called “some dumb funeral.” The funeral was for President Kennedy. Hey, I was six.
Third, I was watching the Mickey Mouse Show some afternoon, and it was showing kids visiting a submarine. I can’t verify that that ever happened but that is my memory. The TV went dark and never worked again. This is an important memory because my father, who always thought TV was a bad influence on children, refused to get a new one. We didn’t own another TV after that day in the early sixties until we lived in another city and I was a freshman in high school, which was 1974.
My father was born in 1911. His entire childhood went by before commercial radio existed. I never heard any stories about sitting around the Philco and listening to The Shadow or Fred Allen. His stories were about working on his father’s apple orchard and going to college during the depression with no money to live on. I suspect he was as doubtful about radio as he later would be about TV.
In the gap, we sometimes rented a TV on special occasions. Thanksgiving was one such occasion, and we usually watched “The Wizard of Oz.” We rented black and white TVs so I never saw the transition to color when Dorothy arrives in Munchkinland until I saw the film in a movie theater when I was in college.
On another occasion I enjoyed an evening of TV while my parents were out. When they got home they asked what I thought of the educational show about Queen Elizabeth I on public TV. They got mad when I said I didn’t watch it. I swear to this day that no one told me I was supposed to watch the Queen Liz show.
Because we didn’t have a TV in those years, I missed a lot of shows that other people of my generation consider treasured memories. I still haven’t seen all the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. I know they show them again every year but it seems silly to watch them now.
I was a voracious book reader in those years. I suspect I would have read fewer books if there was a TV in the house. If my father thought I would expand my education with books, as he did in the apple orchard, allowing him to get a degree and become a professor of anthropology, he was disappointed. I read a lot, but almost all science fiction and fantasy.
Our first TV after the gap was banished to the basement. My father wouldn’t have it in the living room. It is cold in the basement in winter in Chicago, but that didn’t stop us kids from watching. That’s when I started seriously catching up. Reruns of “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” after school. Whatever Quinn Martin was producing at the time. “Happy Days,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Rhoda,” and on and on.
Cartoons. I have always been able to watch cartoons, even ones that are aimed at little kids. (Though the Japanese shows that are on now, based on card games, where the characters endlessly explain the rules of the game, are instant remote-clicks.)
So much TV has passed in front of my eyes that I should get an Emmy for Best Audience Member. I remember watching “The Match Game” almost every day for a while. Gotta love Gene Rayburn.
One day I read that the Public TV station in Chicago, WTTW, was going to play an odd English comedy show called “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” I had to stay up late to see it. I didn’t think much of the first episode, but after a few shows I was hooked. WTTW also had “Doctor Who” with Tom Baker, and then they went back to the beginning, grumpy old Doctor and all the others. That started at 11:00 p.m. on Sunday nights, and they played an entire adventure edited together, not the original half-hour episodes. So I was up until 1:00 a.m. or later.
I went to a college in Boston, and saw the first “Saturday Night” episode in the hallway outside my room, my little TV sitting on a stool, because my roommate didn’t want the noise in the room. (No, it was not called “Saturday Night Live.” No one remembers that Howard Cosell, of all people, was host of a variety show that debuted the very same night and was named Saturday Night Live. I assume it was on CBS because it was shot at the same theater as the Ed Sullivan Show, now home of David Letterman.) The late night show didn’t reclaim the word “Live” until years later.)
Okay, so what’s the point of all this? Anyone can recite his or her history of TV watching. Well, I haven’t gotten to the review part. I have some things to say about TV, but I will give you a chance to tell me “Dear God, STOP!!” If you don’t, I will post Part Two in a few days.