Television has changed tremendously since I was a kid. Until I was in my teens, we had only one set – an elderly floor model that was older than me. It got 3 VHF channels, back then, and there was an antenna on the roof to pull in the signal. We also got PBS on the UHF band, and, later, there were two other channels – FOX and Channel 45 (might have been the precursor to TNT, but I don’t remember).
We got to watch those channels unless there was something on them we were forbidden to see. Verboten shows included Monty Python’s Flying Circus (my parents didn’t like that form of British comedy, though my mother loved Benny Hill), M*A*S*H (“War isn’t funny” said my father, in a classic case of missing the point entirely), and, later, for me, Star Trek (because my mother didn’t like science fiction, and didn’t understand how “someone as smart as you could love a show as stupid as that.”).
But there were a lot of shows we did get to watch. When I was five, the best show on TV, at least to my mind, was Adam-12. Carol Burnett was a favorite, as well as The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, and Kung Fu. My mother loved Hawaii 5-0 (the original), and Barnaby Jones. I got to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom every Sunday night, and half of the Disney movie that followed. It was on after 60 Minutes, which we watched weekly.
And there was In Search Of…, narrated by a man whose voice could make seven-year-old me run from anywhere in the house to listen. His name was Leonard Nimoy, and, years later, even being forbidden wouldn’t stop me from falling in love with a pointed-eared character who shared it.
There was a lot of judgment passed while we watched. As my siblings and I got older, we watched shows like The Dukes of Hazard and Knight Rider. My mother didn’t like those shows, but my father did, so she just griped every time she passed the set.
One thing that was non-negotiable was the news. Every night, while we had dinner, we would sit silently until the commercial break. Then my father would want to discuss the broadcast. It might have been more pleasant, but the set was in the living room, and I couldn’t see it from my seat. More importantly, my father had strong opinions on pretty much everything – and expected his children to agree with those opinions. Expressing a differing viewpoint exposed the volatility that was never far beneath the surface of our family life.
These days television is a much less significant part of life. As a teen, I was desperate to get cable on the tiny portable set in my room, so my mother couldn’t forbid me the midnight Star Trek broadcast on WPIX out of New York City. Last spring, I canceled the cable service to our home. I realized that the kids never watched it at all, and I was using it only for Star Trek (some things never change) and a few shows on HGTV. Jim had been the cable watcher in our family.
When I realized I could get all the things I watched via streaming, there wasn’t any reason to spend an extra $100 a month (which we couldn’t afford then, anyway). We added Hulu for $11.99 and haven’t regretted the decision. We could afford cable now – but why would we?
Till Next Time!