On a recent radio quiz program, a contestant was given the category of “television.” She moaned that “I don’t watch television,” then went on to answer all the questions.
We’ve all met people who turn up their noses at television, as though it is any more odious than radio or the Internet or opera.
Decades ago, when television was stealing audiences from moviehouses, there was righteous indignation that a little black-and-white screen was pulling people away from the glorious experience of a wide screen, a booming soundtrack and 90 minutes of plot, dialogue and action.
Today, though, some people have TV sets in their homes that rival the theater, and the movie-going experience puts us in the midst of dolts who don’t know how to sit quietly, turn off their phones and keep their hands to themselves. Television is often the better option, so it’s difficult to believe anyone would say “I don’t watch television.”
In truth, some of us watch too much of it. I do. I get hooked on programs and don’t want to get free. Pretty soon, they’re like that closet full of T-shirts we all have. We’ll never need all those shirts, but each one has some unique meaning to us.
I didn’t grow up with television from the start, but I more than made up for it. Before we bought that first RCA Victor when I was 8, we would visit with uncles and aunts on the nights that some interesting show would come on. Everybody did that back then; when TVs became commonplace, family visits died down drastically.
I caught up fast. Reruns helped me see things I had missed: Milton Berle, Howdy Doody, Your Show of Shows and the wonderfully surrealistic Burns and Allen Show. (George Burns addressed the audience between scenes, talking about what was going on in his house. He even tuned in to Gracie’s shenanigans by way of a TV screen!)
TV was the great social hour at school. Just as office workers gathered at the water fountain or coffee pot, we kids met at the ball field or the jungle gym on the playground and discussed the previous night’s Rifleman or Walt Disney program.
From the start, we wore cowboy shirts and Davy Crockett caps and carried Superman lunchboxes.
Today, I hate the new season each fall because it means more opportunities to watch TV, more hours to spend in front of the set. Summer is a respite when reruns rule and I can take or leave them, but I dare not miss an episode of something new or I won’t understand it ever again. That’s because TV episodes no longer are self-contained, but chapters in a series.
My parents never invested a big part of their lives in TV, and their parents, hardly any at all. Oh, they listened to radio, which was TV without the pictures. They read, but more likely, they just worked.
They would never have understood our addiction to television today.