Monday, June 29, 2009

Memory Monday: Television

I was born before color television, or at least before it was commonplace among commercial broadcasts. I still remember when prime-time TV fare was split between black-and-white shows and color shows.

TV was a huge part of my family’s life. We followed many of the popular shows of the late 50s and early 60s. I definitely watched more TV than was good for me. As my brother Don and I developed tastes that differed from that of our parents and from each other’s tastes, getting my own “program time” on our single (often unreliable) television set was often a problem for me, especially as the “baby” of the family (= low man on the totem pole). Sunday nights were a particular minefield, with many popular shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color competing with one another.

Saturday mornings, however, were mine. No one else wanted to wake up that early. At first this golden time was devoted to cartoons, but later my interest switched to adventure shows such as Robin Hood with Richard Greene and The Scarlet Pimpernel with Marius Goring. It has been interesting to “revisit” some of these old shows on a few occasions as an adult and see which have retained their interest. To take two old and popular Disney story lines as an example, my family and I watched Swamp Fox (Leslie Nielsen) and Scarecrow (Patrick McGoohan) and we thought that the former series seemed for more dated than the latter one.

One area of particular bad luck for me was that I often became a fan of shows that ran for only one or two seasons, such as The Travels of Jamie McPheeters (young Kurt Russell, anyone? – but even at a young age, I preferred Dan O’Herlihy and his Irish accent) and The Monroes, a story about orphans living on their own out West.

By early adolescence, my interest in TV shows had dwindled in quantity, but this was more than compensated for by an intensity that was mostly reserved for science fiction/speculative fiction, above all Star Trek. For my husband and me, and apparently for many of our contemporaries, the debut of Star Trek was something of a turning point in our lives. Reading had already given me a taste for science fiction, and Star Trek focused and developed that taste into a passion. It was a sad fact of life, however, that in the late 1960s television executives – who did not “get” science fiction or its potential for mass appeal and did not understand the importance of market demographics vs. sheer numbers of viewers – made one of the great blunders (some say one of the great crimes) of TV history and axed Star Trek after only three seasons. (Less than a decade later, during my college years, science fiction would come roaring back with the release of Star Wars.)

As has been the case with so many other aspects of my childhood, I have seen my youthful TV interests come full circle with my children. I watched the British SF series Dr. Who when I was in graduate school, and now my daughters and I watch the show together on BBC America. My daughters agree with me that David McCallum was, is, and always will be awesome. We all went together to see the new Star Trek movie and are absolutely thrilled to see it reinvigorate the franchise, though my husband and I – dutiful, geeky first-generation fans of the TV show – have a minor reservation or two regarding character development. As we have shared some of our old favorite television shows with our children, they occasionally invite us to share in watching some of their favorites, such as the reincarnation of Battlestar Galactica. I’m not sure if I’m ready to let them go off on their own to a science fiction convention, however.


  1. I'm also a huge Star Trek fan (the original series but none of the later re-incarnations). I also really liked the new movie but I agree with you about some of the character development... my friends and I (all diehard fans of the original series) agreed that Spock especially wasn't nearly Vulcan enough (or really at all). I'm a little worried that the people who find the original series due to the new movie will be a little put off and/or confused by the true Spock (Nimoy's version). Any way... great article, it reminded me of all my TV rituals from when I was little (I also loved the Saturday morning cartoons)!

  2. Never got into Star Trek, but Star Wars....that is a different story! One of my earliest memories of black and white TV...early 50's was a kids show called Winky Dink and Me. You would stick a plastic sheet on the TV screen and follow Winky's drawings by tracing on the plastic with a wipe off crayon. Anyone else remember that show?

  3. Leah - Yeah, Spock is the one who's causing us conniptions. I've decided the second movie needs to focus on his adjustment to what happened to the Vulcan home planet, and that has to involve him acting more like a Vulcan.

    Linda - My husband remembers Winky Dink. The first I ever heard of Winky Dink was in college; a friend had a comedy album by a guy named Chris Rush, and, well, he got some laughs from the part of the Winky Dink show where kids drew stuff on the TV overlay thing.

  4. While I grew up with 'color' I do remember the fuss of sharing the tv. We got 3 channels-on a good day. And with 2 brothers-we never agreed on what to watch. Neat post!

  5. Hi, Tipper - our TV was definitely not very reliable; remember how the picture would flip? That drove me crazy. In Southern California we had lots of channels, but in my part of Texas there were only 3.