In a recent conversation with a friend, we reminisced about the old days of television. Back when the screen went to a test pattern at midnight, followed by a deafening high-pitched tone, then nothing on until 6:00 am. Imagine only being able to watch TV for 18 hours a day!
Back in those days, there were no remotes, no way to record favorite shows and only three channels, four when we got PBS. Yes, I’m dating myself in this post, as this was back in the 60s and 70s.
I remember having a black and white model. It had the proverbial rabbit ears and tinfoil to capture a better signal. The results were sporadic and when you changed the channels you’d have to fiddle with the foil and antennae again before you could see a clear picture. I also remember the time my dad surprised us with a brand new color TV. My mom and I had left to go grocery shopping and we came home to see the screen filled with green grass and blue skies, instead of gradient shades of grey.
We spent quite a few memorable evenings watching that set as a family. My dad and I would watch The Lawrence Welk Show, Hee Haw, and the Ed Sullivan Show together. When All in the Family came on, he would always call me into the front room to watch the opening credits with him. Each week when Archie and Edith Bunker played the piano and Edith hit the high notes in the opening credits, he’d react with a roar of laughter like it was the first time watching it.
Every weeknight we watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. I was only five when President Kennedy was shot, but I can still see the image of my mom wiping her eyes as she watched the reports coming in about his death. I didn’t understand why she was sad and just sat in her lap as she wept.
I loved watching television so much I planned activities around favorite shows. I remember faking sickness in the 5th grade to miss my piano lessons one Friday afternoon because Lost in Space came on at the same time. Friends would joke that I could tell the time of day by which programs were on, and to be honest, I think they were right.
My dad was picky about the shows I watched and in high school I wasn’t allowed to watch The Mod Squad – too much violence, he said. Even though I tried using the “but everyone else is watching it” ploy, he never budged and I had to deal with it.
When I got in trouble (very rarely) my parents would ground me from my most treasured pastime – no TV for a week. During the ‘blackout period’ I’d lay on my tummy in the hallway, pressed up against the door to the front room hoping to hear dialogue from my favorite shows.
Although my TV addiction tended to get in the way of life at times, I did benefit from watching all those episodes of Gilligan’s Island, The Partridge Family and Medical Center. Now I can pretty much ace all the Trivial Pursuit questions in any television category, which has come in handy more than once.
Along with the series programs I also enjoyed watching the originals of several game shows.
Hollywood Squares (with Peter Marshall and Paul Lynde), Let’s Make a Deal (with Monte Hall), and the Newlywed Game (with Bob Eubanks). When the family took a trip to Los Angeles my dad requested tickets for a new game show called The Price is Right. We were in the audience for the 2nd show filmed with host Bob Barker and had a lot of fun watching the craziness in-person.
Years ago when I realized my TV watching was getting in the way of life I stopped cold-turkey. I didn’t watch a single show for three years straight. At times it killed me to not know what was going on with my old favorite shows, but I did find there was more to life than sit-coms and police dramas. Going without watching for those years unhooked me from my addiction. I got to the point where I didn’t really care what was on or if I kept up with characters or plot lines.
Now with cable or satellite TV there are hundreds of channels 24/7 in SD (Standard Definition), HD, 3-D – almost too much to choose from. Although most of the time the choices range from a movie that’s been shown a bazillion times that month, to not a darn thing on worth watching.
In recent years I’ve found a few favorite shows to record on the DVR and then watch them later. There are a few we watch as a family bringing back memories of when my parents and I would watch our favorite characters. Sometimes I miss those times – the coziness of all of us crowded in one room, enjoying some silly show. In the words of Edith and Archie Bunker “Those were the days!”