When I first started watching TV as a little boy (way back in the day), there were only three networks to choose from. For sure, everything on wasn’t high quality programming. But there were moments of greatness, especially in what was called The Golden Age of Television where anthology shows presented live plays, featuring well-known stars, or soon-to-be stars. And those plays were written by such great writers as Rod Serling (of later The Twilight Zone fame), Paddy Chayefsky, Reginald Rose and Gore Vidal. Even at that young age, I watched those dramas with youthful enthusiasm and great enjoyment. And in watching those jewels, I learned the lessons of great storytelling and drama, which I carry with me to this day, and have used in my attempts at writing.
So it is any wonder that as the years passed, I became more and more disappointed with the fare presented on the screen. Ever wonder where the term “boob tube” came from? And I wasn’t the only one who saw what was going on. Harlan Ellison, a fantastic author of speculative fiction, wrote a series of articles for the Los Angeles Free Press in the late 60’s, early 70’s, later compiled into a book, The Glass Teat. The title of the book suggests that TV viewers were un-weaned kids. And many of his articles were a scathing commentary on the effects of television on our social culture. That was then; it’s even worse now than ever! With the coming of satellite and cable offering hundreds of channels, the programmers have to find something to fill all the hours with. Can you say “paid programming”? Thirty minute infomercials for some useless product. BORING! But at that, some of the infomercials are more entertaining than the actual shows available.
As for the three original networks, I gave them up long ago; 1993, to be exact. That’s when Quantum Leap aired the last show of that mind boggling series. And what an awesome episode that was. A true finale that didn’t leave you hanging, though it did leave you with a bittersweet sense of sadness.
But, seriously, that was the last time I watched any of the three original major networks on a regular basis, other than watching my local news. I’m sure there may be some quality out there network wise, but I don’t have the time to sit thru all the reality shows and other crap that they call entertainment just to find what jewels may be lurking there. I have, however, been fortunate to discover three independent channels on my cable system who play a potpourri of classic old shows, as well as several channels who exclusively play older movies.
As for the shows, they’re some of my nostalgic favorites: The aforementioned Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone as well as his later Night Gallery; Boris Karloff’s Thriller, an anthology series of pure horror; The Naked City, a series based on the classic 1948 film noir movie; and what baby boomer can forget the eerily bizarre sci-fi series The Outer Limits. I’ve actually been able to DVR all forty seven of The Outer Limits episodes, so I’ll soon be able to say I’ve seen ’em all, just as I have seen all 156 episodes of the Twilight Zone, plus the first piece that Serling wrote for CBS to air, Time Element, a time travel story which led them to offer him the chance to do a series of that nature. And the rest, as is said, is history. I’ll not even attempt to go into all the golden classic movies I’ve watched as of late. I’ll save that for another time.
Don’t get the idea that I live in the past. I live a full and productive life in the right now. I do watch TV other than all the old stuff. I seldom miss an Atlanta Braves baseball game, and then there’s the college basketball season, watching my Carolina Tar Heels. Other things I enjoy are my talking-head political shows on MSNBC. And then there’s always the great PBS shows Frontline and Nova as well as their program of eclectic musical performances, Austin City Limits. And there has been a glimmer of hope for the future recently. TNT had a series which just began its second season, The Last Ship, and then aired another one, Legends, which put me in mind of all those great Tom Clancy books I’ve read. Truly great drama, well written with compelling plots, both. Then TNT did a series based on a movie series, The Librarians, a fantasy-type story line full of adventure as well as humor. The entire family anxiously awaits the second season of Legends and The Librarians.
I will have to admit, though, that ABC has caught my attention again with a couple of series. Last year they had Agent Carter, a female dealing with sexism in a government special ops agency, based on a Marvel Comic character introduced in the Captain America comic series. In Agent Carter, she’s teamed with Howard Stark, the father of Tony Stark who later becomes Marvel Comics Iron Man. Of course, being the Marvel Comic fan I was as a kid, and loving all the new Marvel movies, I totally enjoyed this series. And just this season, ABC introduced the series The Astronaut Wives Club. Though based on a book, on watching the first couple of episodes I couldn’t help but be reminded of another book, Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, telling the story of the Mercury 7, America’s first astronauts, in a tongue-in-cheek, new-journalism way. And the movie based on this book is one of my top ten favorites. This new series approaches the story in a more dramatic, up-close-and-personal way.
But if ever comes the time I can’t find one of my old golden nuggets to enrich my viewing pleasure, or any of the new shows I’ve come to love are on haitus, I have my two all-time favorites on stand by: several Twilight Zone episodes on VHS tape and I have the Quantum Leap series on DVD which allows me to journey through time and history with Sam and his sidekick Al, to put right what once went wrong. And what better way to close than by using Sam’s classic line at the end of each show when he leaped into a new situation…”Oooh, boy!”