A rich time, garnished with exploration and innovation. Back in the good old days of black and white cinematography. Low-definition. Rabbit-ears antennae, unless you lived in the burbs. In the burbs, you needed a ten-prong lightning-rod to draw the weak analog signal. The television was a monstrosity. No doubt a Zenith, Philco, or an RCA. According to my mom, “everybody owned a Zenith”. They were “furniture”, huge wood cabinets standing on four pedestal legs. Mom’s favorite lace doily protected the television top from scratches; scratches the antennae may leave – the antennae no child was allowed to touch.
The tuning dials, one for VHF and the other for UHF, required adjustment from time to time. “Jiggle the dial!” Mom or dad would frantically shout from across the room. When the dial wore out from the many episodes of frantic fidgeting dad would “fix it”. He ripped a piece of paper from his book of matches and jamb it under the dial. “Now don’t mess with it.” He would caution. “I don’t want to have to repair it again.” Then he would spend the remainder of the day adjusting the antennae. If one of those flimsy metal “ears” cracked off the antenna, he would repair it with a trusty old standard clothes hangar.
Finally, everything would be going well. Then, the horizontal control began to go wacky. The picture would begin to jump roll. Dad would climb behind the Zenith. A twist of a dial here a few words of wisdom spewed out of dad’s mouth, a low mutter of blasphemy, then the picture began jumping in the other direction. A few hours into the mess; low and behold, we are ready to begin watching television.
Back in the old days, there were only channels 2, 5, 7, and 9, channel 11 came out in the mid 60’s and aired educational programming titled “TV College” and nobody in my house was interested in college. Channel 26 didn’t come out until 1964, it ran Spanish programming (we didn’t speak Spanish), channel 32 didn’t come in clear and it came out in 1966, most of their movies were European dubbed in English so we really didn’t care that we were missing channel 32. We had a total of four channels available on the black and white Zenith. No VCR, no DVD, no TiVo, no Netflix, Blockbuster or video games of any sort; the technology simply was not available back then. Yes-sir-ye, those were the good ole’ days.
Nothing like watching first runs of cinematic iconic greats such as, Jackie Gleason, Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis, they brought us hours of magnificent performances, and gut-busting laughs. Ahh, yes, the memories of the silver screen. Then came the color television (when nobody was looking, my mom would adjust the knobs and change it back to black and white, because that’s what she was used to). The spectacular miracle of being among the first to witness The Wizard of Oz in “Technicolor”.
Daytime television was the smash with hits like The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and I would race home from school not to miss the next episode of Clutch Cargo featuring Spinner and Paddlefoot. Even with color television, we still had black and white programming, on weekends it was Superman followed by The Lone Ranger. In the evening, my parents would excitingly anticipate The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson and my mom’s all-time favorite The Carol Burnett Show. Movies of the 20th and 21st century have capitalized on the fame of our beloved and revered heroes of Baby Boomer TV with blockbusters like Batman, Flash Gordon, Ironman, Superman, The Green Hornet (always loved Kato!), and so many more.
Technology has sure come a long way. Today, my cellular device wakes me from my evening slumber, reminds me of an appointment, I tap “snooze” for another five minutes, and again. When I do finally fall out of bed and wipe the crust from my eyes. I realize I overslept. I am running late. I throw “breakfast” into the microwave. Quickly check my e-mail. Hurriedly, I jolt out the door and forget my breakfast and morning coffee. No worries, I’ll slide through the drive-through and grab a speedy cup of my favorite blend, that’s why it’s called fast food isn’t it. Checking my day-planner on my Blackberry. Whew, ten minutes to spare. Did I set the TiVo? No matter, I’m sure there’ll be a rerun. If not, I’ll just download a copy on my PC.
Sound familiar? When I was a lad back in the good old days of nostalgic TV, there was only one program airing reruns – I Love Lucy. The I Love Lucy show starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez Jr. began airing on October 15, 1951 and started running reruns in 1960. It is the longest running program in the history of television; it continues to air today and it is in its 61st year.
Bygone days of television rendered its audience a colossal benefit; one today’s spectators are deprived of – anticipation. I recall the “coming attractions” at the end credits of evening programming, not during the Hamm’s beer commercials, or the Borax laundry soap commercials, but at the conclusion of your favorite sitcom, drama, or movie. These days, marketing strategies have shifted to “tease”, and inundate the public with previews in hopes millions of viewers will tune in. Commercials pop up during programming, in commercials; magazines, in the daily newspaper, post mailings, even on cereal boxes; the children have become the number one marketing target for Hollywood.
At times, we would wait an entire week, sometimes two weeks, even a month, contemplating the airing of our beloved thespians imminent performance. The anticipation would build. The women would gather in the back yard and gossip would ring through the air about the next broadcast, or last night’s performance. The day would finally arrive. Dad and mom would gather the children round the tube. The fragrance of butter-lathered popcorn would soak the air. Not a sound to be heard, except the monotone reverberations the speakers the Zenith created when we assembled to pay homage to the now mostly deceased, and the then budding motion-picture talents, doing what they did best, creating and composing relationships with unknown audiences and cinematography cameras.
Television evolve into what it is today, with its modern-day conveniences, high-tech gadgetry, unlimited screen size, maximum resolution, stereo high-fidelity reproduction, analog signal, recorders, DVD-VCR players, Blu-ray players, computer capabilities, gaming options, and let’s not forget about its portability benefits when it comes to hand-held devices and micro-computer advances, it a wonder we can “experience” television at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the benefits of technology. If it were not for the advances in computer technology, I wouldn’t be writing this article, posting it to my blog, for people around the globe to access and enjoy (I sure hope they enjoy it!).
But I will never forget the family huddled around the mammoth piece of magical furniture with the funny looking rabbit ears and the torn matchbook cover holding everything in place. Streaming black and white images, hours on end, night after night, popcorn bowl after popcorn bowl, transporting us into the future and far beyond our imaginative bounds with state-of-the-art award-winning entertainment.
I admit; I love a good movie. But I often wonder, if a child of today, say, between the ages of 7 and 16, were placed in front of the old rabbit-eared Zenith monstrosity, were told to watch a classic Buster Keaton film like Oh, Doctor!, or The Bell Boy, how long would it be before they rolled their tiny little eyes, blurted out, “There’s something wrong with this thing, there’s no color”, and soon walked away from the television looking for the PS3 or the Wii controllers.
As sad as it is anticipation and excitement has taken a new form. Today it is all about special effects, controversy, and the three best-sellers in Hollywood – sex, violence and American greed. Perhaps one day we will see a rerun of values in television and the Golden Age of the silver screen will once again hold its proper place in the hearts of children.
I guess I’ll head over to the Starbucks for a Venti White Chocolate Mocha, then “invest” a couple hours in the PS3 while I am waiting to nuke the dinner, and I’ll throw movie in the Blu-ray player, or see what I have recorded on the TiVo; a classic no doubt!
This has been a… View From My Loft
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