There is an awful lot of television lately, and I might add, a LOT of AWFUL television. As I watch promo’s for shows I don’t watch, new shows I will never watch and current shows I sometimes secretly watch, I have been reflecting on the decades past of TV. The change of television in MY lifetime has been astronomical. But what I have learned is that the television viewing habits of my youth made me who I am today. And, by the way, that’s not necessarily a good thing, just—in my opinion—better than what current TV appears to be doing to the general populace.
I grew up watching television that was happy, family oriented and most of all, astonishingly unreal. I loved every moment of its fantastical and near mythical stories, wrapped neatly in packages to make you think that you were watching “reality”. My brain and heart live in this place where every story has a happy ending. There is no stress, drama, disaster, crime or illness that cannot be resolved in 30 minutes or at most 60. In any case, there was always the unwritten promise of happy smiling faces while the credits rolled. Sadly, I have been living a life expecting to be in this parallel universe of 1970’s and 80’s TV.
As I searched my brain for the corresponding television shows that led to whatever flaws, neurosis, idealism and downright disconnection with reality I had, I enjoyed a Pleasantville type skip down memory lane. The shows during the time I grew up are categorized—probably by no one but myself—but categorized none-the-less. These were simpler TV times. Not necessarily simpler times—just that TV portrayed it as such, and therefore leading impressionable young girls like me into a future of idealism muddled with naiveté.
You had your family shows, with traditional families intact, and honestly of the ones I watched, traditional is the last thing I would call them. The Brady Bunch blended two families together, (both having deceased spouses—you will see a COMMON theme in the dead spouse throughout. And, of course there was Eight is Enough. The mom in the first season of that show passed in real life, so they quickly married dad off in season 2 to someone else. (This however, might be closer to real life than I originally thought.) And for a family without children, there would be Green Acres. As a child I believe I liked the farm idea, perhaps because I grew up in the burbs, but still kind of fantasized about the “penthouse view”. As an adult… well I believe I actually aspire to it. Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue. 😉
I preferred the slightly different take on family life–the shows that all had someone to help out–The nanny, the Gentleman’s Gentleman, the aunt, the uncle, the brother-in-law. Yes, these were the families where the mom was mysteriously DEAD before the show began, thus leaving dear old dad to not quite fend for himself. Now this was awesome reality TV! In no particular order there would be, My Three Son’s, (also the beginning of my infatuation with Converse Chucks), who had Uncle Charlie helping raise the little monsters. You had Family Affair, with a man who gets custody of 3 orphaned kids when his brother and sis in law are killed in an accident—and luckily has Mr. French to pick up the slack—I really wanted a Mr. French. Aah, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. People let me tell you ’bout my best friend… This was a fabulous tale of a widower, with a young son that constantly plays wing boy to get his father a new wife, not that he wanted a new mom, he just wanted his dad to be happy. Thanks to Mrs. Livingston, the very proper Asian help, theirs was quite a beautiful and idealistic life, sans a mom and all. Then there was the uber rich Dad with the country club daughter on Different Strokes who takes in 2 African-American boys and has the help of Mrs. Garret, of course—who you know went on to have her own show, The Facts of Life. Somehow this was less real than the others to me. I had not known many stuffy Park Avenue types at the time. Now THEY scared me. Perhaps most memorable to my younger friends, was Full House. I mean where on earth would those kids be without best bud Joey and Uncle Jesse? And who didn’t want John Stamos in the house, then OR now?
This brings me to the single mom portion of my skewed look on life from TV. Well, this was some brave new territory. Of course everyone had a dead spouse—running theme, remember? The Partridge Family: where a single mom with 5 kids and an AGENT can live in a big house, drive a gas guzzling bus, do maybe one gig a month, and live happily ever after. Yes, that sounds feasible. There was One Day at a Time, where mom seems to just have a plumber as her BFF. To this day, I am not sure what to think of that show. The tiny little mom on that show was abrasive and well, irritating, but I imagine the premise revolved around that “strong” woman, I thankfully, related to Valerie Bertinelli’s character, Barbara, since she was closer to my age. In retrospect, probably the better choice. Going a little farther back in time would be The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. A widow—shocker—rents a house in a fishing village in Maine, with her 2 kids, housekeeper and DOG! And I didn’t even mention the most realistic part of this particular show was the slightly creepy ghost who lived in the attic with a telescope.
Considering the time, there were also the strong and impressive single woman. I was young, but impressed by the guts of That Girl. She moved away from upstate New York, to be an actress in New York City. She somehow made a go of it with sporadic temp jobs and a boyfriend who was a journalist for a magazine. Again, the underlying and astonishingly unrealistic premise was fabulous. Sure, I thought, this could be me. It’s not as if she lived in a shoebox apartment in Manhattan living on Ramen noodles. She was living the dream, and I was buying it. On TV all can be perfection and no explanation is necessary. But it gets BETTER. The Mary Tyler Moore Show may have featured the premier woman of a generation. As far as I am concerned, ANY generation. 30-year-old woman, never married moves to Minneapolis and applies for a secretarial job—which is taken—only to get the very similar job of associate producer of the 6 O’Clock news! I mean, you honestly can’t hit any closer to home when it comes to reality. YES, I believed all of this! That is exactly my point. And while I am on the subject of shows with strong and single women that had me bamboozled, I did love The Flying Nun. I am not sure if this is the proper category for Sister Betrille, but it was a great show… and let’s be real, she was single. (I also scoured streets looking for a nun with a hat—cornette–like that FOR YEARS, hoping to catch one on a windy day.)
Perhaps one of my favorite self-made categories would be the RIDICULOUS. This might also be where my life went terribly astray. I have an affinity for the absurd. The more absurd the better. Wonder Woman. What can I say? There is still nothing today that I wouldn’t give for her golden lasso. Not to mention the fact that she was strong and beautiful and well, amazing. Before the decades of everyone needing to be blonde, there was Lynda Carter, a kick-ass brunette, who will always hold a special place in my heart. There was something about the kick-ass woman I really admired. Charlie’s Angels was perhaps the paramount bad ass, brilliant, beautiful woman show on TV–that made me want to be a private investigator–you’ll notice I wanted to be lots of things as a kid. But you have to admit with Charlie’s Angels, who didn’t want a boss you literally NEVER had to see. I mean, awesome, right? And The Bionic Woman. That EAR of hers! As an amateur eavesdropper, one can only imagine how much I loved that show. While on the subject, eavesdropping inevitably led to wanting to be a spy. Get Smart had that covered. Before Wayne Gretzky, the REAL 99 was a kick-ass woman who was a spy with ‘knockout’ lipstick, but honestly, that was the 60’s–yet still so realistic, even in syndication!
While on the absurd, I really did love the 6 Million Dollar Man—totally realistic, and I still don’t understand how he got all fixed up and I still have a screwed up back, but I digress. There was Knight Rider—talking, self-driving car! Mark that down as next year’s birthday gift. Thanks. But there is so much more. I am starting to wonder when I had time to do school work, be a cheerleader and manage to go outside and play. But I did, and I turned out perfectly……… Where was I?
You had your so-called police shows, Starsky and Hutch, CHiPs, Hawaii 5-0–which is still one of my favorite theme songs. And, in retrospect, perhaps where my misconception that all Cops were the moral compass of a community… whoa! There were medical drama’s that I loved, Emergency and then later, St. Elsewhere. You have to admit the epitome of my lack of reality wound up in St. Elsewhere taking place in a snow globe. Yeah, and I’m delusional? There were the shows that everyone watched like Happy Days, and Welcome back Kotter, Laverne and Shirley—I won’t tell you what I related to in that—suffice it to say, in Thailand–I heard–they prefaced the show with “The title characters in the following program are actually escapees from an insane asylum….”. But getting back to MY issues, would be my infatuation—to this day—with I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. I loved that Bottle of Jeannie’s and still want one, velvet sofa and all, and quite frankly, I have Samantha’s twitching nose sound as a message tone on my phone. Yes, absurd was the word. I didn’t want REALITY TV. I live in reality, I wanted pure unadulterated fantasy. Or, in my head, possibilities. There are darker more sinister versions of the paranormal on TV today, but it’s just not warm and fuzzy. Not at all warm and fuzzy like Major Tony Nelson or either of the Darren’s.
There were entire genres of shows that are gone. The musical variety show. There was always music in my house, ALWAYS! There was Sonny and Cher, or the big favorite in my house, The Carol Burnett Show. For that matter, The Muppet Show. This was as “grown up” as I ever wanted to get. There were so many famous people on there, and it spawned some of my favorite characters, Swedish Chef, Beaker, Gonzo—who may explain my magnet type adherence to all people strange and “off”, and of course, the first drummer I ever loved, Animal.
I would be remiss and quite possibly disowned by friends if I did not mention a staple in my history. One so strong that it is celebrated every November 13th–Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife. The Odd Couple. Plain and simply a show that was truly amazing. And the first time I recall not killing off a spouse, but merely divorcing them. Hmmm, reality was sneaking into my life. But it was FUNNY and how else would I know what it means when you “assume”? There was The Bob Newhart Show with him as a psychologist–that I don’t recall having anything to do with Dr. Drew–in the 70’s. You had WKRP in Cincinnati in the 80’s, which totally glamorized radio stations—which really were not that glamorous.
Then there was the beginning of reality type game shows, with The Dating Game. Such innocence and badly placed double entendres. Gratifying stuff. There was Gilligan’s Island, a little off the reality scale to me unless YOU travel with a trunk of dresses on the Circle Line in New York–the OTHER 3 hour tour. There was BJ and the Bear that had me LITERALLY wanting to be a truck driver because I thought I could get a monkey too. There was SO much good-natured purely entertaining television. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great deal of more modern television that is smart and thought-provoking, like The West Wing was and The Newsroom IS, but one must admit it is different. So different that the space between children’s TV and “TVMA” has become an expansive void.
But I will leave you with one of my guilty pleasures. I have to say I was a really big fan of The Love Boat—soon will be making another run. The Love Boat, promises something for everyone—finally truth in advertising. Best cruise crew EVER. I wanted to be JULIE more than anything. Looked like all she did was… well…nothing… I loved that job. I wish every bartender I ever had was Isaac. I wish everyone named Gopher became a member of the U.S House of Representatives. No, I am not making that up. But mostly, I loved that every twisted person who came on that cruise for whatever reason, walked off that boat HAPPY.
And my friends, my life through television should give you all a glimpse into my addled brain, unwavering faith in pure fantasy, and my strange affinity to my High School Graduation Song.
Don Quixote said it best.
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause.
Yes, that about sums it up.