I seem to be particularly good at finding TV shows which have been on the air for a long time, and never had or took the opportunity to watch, or have been on the air, and now are cancelled; and I absolutely love and cannot watch them enough. Recently, I stumbled upon a spy show which also is so funny, I often have to clap my hand over my mouth, because I usually am watching it after everyone else in the house is asleep, and do not want outbursts of laughter to wake up peaceful slumberers. Turns out this show was broadcast from 2007-2012, and I never had heard of it, much less viewed it before now. No matter, it is such a treat to watch, even if its cancellation was almost two years ago, and once again, I realize just how much I appreciate television, and how grateful I am for it.
Television and I go way back. It is a sixty year history of being amazed at the technology, and joyful to have had access to all it has provided over these years. Always puzzling to me, though, during my hand clapping and ear to ear grin moments at this broadcast marvel, I do not recall a single year or decade where someone was not bashing TV and its inherent evil, the influence upon and destroyer of all things wholesome, intellectual, and family. I found a simple solution to anything objectionable early on; change the station or turn the set off. There; easy fix to a simple problem. In addition, attrition usually took care of poor programs, anyway. Shows that were not watched by a faithful, regular audience did not last, and it seemed a good indicator, lending evidence to support the theory, principle or law of natural selection in the entertainment industry: strong shows survived, the weak faded away, or sometimes nose-dived, into a collective oblivion.
Point in fact, television has been in most of our homes for approximately six decades, and it comes down to choice; we can watch it or not. Its programs are likely to reflect who we are, and where we are at any give time, providing us a glimpse into our national, or individual psyche. Like it or not, it is an integral part of our culture, and a significant standard by which we can measure our growth as citizen participants in this country’s contribution to the humanities. And its history is so much a part of our journey, because it influenced us early on, mirrored who we were, and gave us information, equipping a generation to seize the reins of our own lives, and move in directions previously untested, untried.
For this Baby Boomer, television arrived in our home in 1953. I was six years old, and was in awe of it. Not only were there people, music, action, dramas, but there also were programs for children. Just for children. My family was the first in our neighborhood to own a television, and people dropped by continually to take a look at it. Being the morning person of our family, and loving having other children around to play with meant it was only natural for me to extend invitations to anyone I knew who wanted to come to my house on a Saturday morning, and play.
By play, I meant watch TV with me, because not only did I have a television, I was the proud owner of a Winky Dink and You kit. This seriously was the first interactive electronic toy for kids. The program came on, and anyone lucky enough to have the kit stuck a piece of green see through plastic on the TV screen, and participated in the show by using the crayons included in the kit, and drawing on the plastic sheet everything the host and Winky Dink instructed us to draw.
There were some Saturday mornings early in our TV ownership that prompted a little behavior modification for me. I had been told on several occasions not to bring other children into our house until my parents were out of bed and had gotten on with their day. Because I tended not to take anything too seriously until it became a major issue, I did not readily comply with this rule. I continued to allow friends to pop in and play with me and my Winky Dink and You kit, until the Saturday morning when my dad stumbled out of his bedroom wearing only boxer shorts, heading to the kitchen to make coffee. He sleepily walked into the living room to find his three children, and five other neighborhood kids whose heads all swiveled around simultaneously to look at him. Their mouths dropped open, as did his. He turned and hurried back to my parents room, with the next sound emanating from there being my name yelled in unison by two very angry grown ups. I remember scrambling to open our front screen door, and shouting, “Quick, get out; run!” All those children ran for their lives, because they all were familiar with that volume and tone from their own parents. I finally received the correction that took, and curtailed my Saturday morning socializing from that day forward. Winky Dink was not as much fun after that, but still made me happy even playing with it alone.
There were so many shows broadcast during those beginning days of television; so many were just pure entertainment, some silly, or instructional, several were adventure programs, and happily, a few super heroes were thrown in for good measure.
As fun as watching television was, there were some events along the way that gave even a child pause. Ex-vaudevillian, Pinky Lee, who hosted a live, high energy children’s program, collapsed during his show one day, and did not get up. At first, everyone thought he was just being funny, writhing around on the floor, but then the camera cut away from him. I remember feeling puzzled, and wondering what happened, when my mother began shouting he had died right in front of us. That experience became a huge ordeal, and one a small child did not readily assimilate. But, thankfully, Pinky had not died, he collapsed from an infection, and lived for many more years, although his career on live TV abruptly ended, for the most part, that day. There was one favorite who actually did die, and his death was the most inconceivable of all: Superman killed himself. I absolutely could not fathom how it was possible. Nothing could kill Superman but Kryptonite, and I heard my parents say he shot himself with a gun. Nope. Not possible. But they stood firm, saying Superman was just a show, and the man, George Reeves, who played him, was dead, and I needed to stop being silly about it. I did, but because of that, and having lost a little childhood faith, I never again was able to tie a bath towel around my shoulders, and fly around our neighborhood righting the wrongs only a super hero could fix.
Aside from a few bleak moments, there was a wealth of good, happy programming that enthralled, amused, touched, and helped define who I would become. I adored Miss Frances and Ding Dong School. She sat there, all prim and proper, and spoke to me, and it never, not one time, occurred to me she did not hear my answers to her questions. If she asked what day it was, I told her it was Friday. What was I going to do over the weekend? I was going to play, and go fishing with my dad. As the show proceeded, she would acknowledge each of my responses with approval, and genuine interest. I loved that woman, because she cared what I thought. I also always watched Andy’s Gang with Andy Devine, but admit I found Froggy the Gremlin more than a little creepy, and his “Hiya kids, hiya, hiya, hiya” sent more than one shudder down my spine. But, then I also spent more time than one would expect wondering what Andy’s instruction to “Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy” actually meant. I don’t think I ever figured that one out.
And so it was, The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Howdy Doody with Buffalo Bob and their toe tapping theme song, Ta-ra-ra-Boom-de-ay, Clarabell the Clown, Captain Kangaroo, The Mickey Mouse Club, Mighty Mouse and his “Here I come to save the day…”; friends from my childhood, who gave me hour upon hour of joy and companionship; accompanied by not the least, and actually, one of my personal favorites, Mr Wizard. He was brilliant, and an inspiration to any young child who saw just beyond the ordinary, and was drawn to that mysterious thing called science. These were not programs and years which I have heard described as an intellectual and spiritual wasteland; not to me, anyway. They made me happy. They still do. I will forever remember clapping my hands with Mary Martin in her live Peter Pan performance, believing with my entire being we could raise Tinkerbell from the dead, and I will never forget riding the range as Dale Evans on my imaginary horse Buttermilk, alongside my imaginary Roy Rogers, galloping up and down my street singing at the top of my voice, “Happy trails to you…” And even though I never quite figured out Andy Devine’s order for Froggy to plunk his magic twanger, he did end every show with the admonition, “Yes sir, we’re pals, and pals stick together. And now, gang, don’t forget church or Sunday School”. You were right, Mr. Devine. Thanks to you and all my early TV friends, I learned good and bad things happen on our journey, but pals do stick together, and I did not forget church or Sunday School. Simple words to live by, and to carry one through a lifetime.