Appointment Television

A Bedtime Story

by , posted on May 31st, 2011 in The Movie & Television Issue


I’m going to tell you a story, children. It’s a little scary. It’s about your parents.

Don’t leave. You should know this about them. It will help you understand.

Here goes. When most of your parents were little, there was no Nickelodeon. No Cartoon Network. No Disney Channel. There were only a handful of stations to choose from.

I know!

There was PBS, which had shows for them in the daytime, like Sesame Street, which you’ve watched. There were Saturday mornings, when all three networks showed cartoons. That was back in the days before soccer and so many parents having to take kids places on Saturday mornings.

There was The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights. Also, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, which a lot of people watched, even if they didn’t really care to know how boa constrictors dealt with their prey.

I guess what I’m saying is, a lot of times your parents had to watch television that was not created explicity for them. They might have spent hours on rainy Sunday afternoons watching golfers putt or skiers jump. They watched game shows, soap operas, westerns, variety shows, sitcoms set in Santa Monica, dramas set on cruise ships. National news, local news, 60 Minutes. The Lawrence Welk Show, for God’s sake. There was a level of tolerance.

A few other technical points. Not every television had a remote or was in color. Some households had only one television that everyone had to share. And unless you left the room for more Ho Hos or French-braided your sister’s hair, you watched the commercials. All of them. No fast-forwarding.

I realize it’s a lot to take in.

Here’s the second big thing. Your parents had to watch programs when they aired. There was no way to capture programs and watch them later. If you missed an after-school special because you had to go to band practice or your brother’s football game, you were out of luck. And if the president needed to send the nation a message while The Wonderful World of Disney was on, there was nothing you could do about it.

You couldn’t just Tivo all the Christmas specials or call them up on YouTube, you had to watch them during the broadcast. You couldn’t see two things that aired at the same time unless you flipped back and forth between channels.

That’s right. I’m talking hard-core.

Your parents knew things you might never know. They knew what it looked like when a jackal took down a rabbit. They knew that Earl Anthony was the best pro bowler. They understood what “the agony of defeat” was, and that it was nothing like “the triumph of victory.”

Movies were something you either saw in a theater or watched on the rare occasions a television station broadcast them. They were not something your parents kept shelved in a cabinet or played for you on their laptops or smartphones. They were not something you’d seen so many times, you’d memorized most of the dialogue.

Once a year, The Sound of Music came on. Everyone watched, unless they were off writing chain mail or campaigning for Jimmy Carter. Another day every year, The Wizard of Oz aired.

Give your parents a little squeeze the next time you see them. They lived through a lot.

Your grandparents? Oh, don’t even ask.

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9 Responses to “Appointment Television”

  1. Cheryl @ Mommypants Says:

    June 1st, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Ha! I loved this! We totally watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Donny and Marie, too – shouldn’t we get extra sympathy for that?


    Elisabeth Reply:

    I think you should! Donny and Marie was big on our roster too–I actually can’t believe I forgot it.


  2. Tress Says:

    June 2nd, 2011 at 1:20 am

    That was great – thanks for the flashback!


  3. Weber Says:

    June 2nd, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Didn’t even mention the rabbit ears! It gets worse, kids…
    In terms of bowlers, I was always partial to Dick Weber.


    Elisabeth Reply:

    Oh the rabbit ears! The hairline nuances of their adjustment!


  4. Liz Says:

    June 5th, 2011 at 2:13 am

    For a while we had 2 TVs, one with picture (black and white) and one with sound. We just stacked them. No biggie. One source of conflict in our household – M*A*S*H came on at the same time as Smurfs. Caused a major rift between my younger and older sisters.


    Elisabeth Reply:

    Love the image of stacked TVs with complementary abilities! And I’d like to have seen a Smurf/M*A*S*H mashup. Hawkeye in blue instead of army green…


  5. Leslie Says:

    June 5th, 2011 at 2:46 am

    Love this! So many flashbacks & memories! I remember when cable didn’t exist, channels were changed by rotating a knob, and there were UHF & VHF channels. Oh the horror! :-)


    Elisabeth Reply:

    And remember how the UHF channels seemed so second-rate: the equivalent of a bad neighborhood, from an entertainment standpoint.


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