When I was a kid, three things helped me weather tough times: my books, my piano, and television. As we grow, life affords us less and less free time and, of my three distractions, TV often wins out. But I find that I don’t turn on modern television very often, choosing instead one of any number of classic programs, many of which have been on the air for more than half a century.
As it is for so many others, TV offers me an escape from the day-to-day grind. For me, those old shows are equal to what some people would call, comfort food. The familiar characters and, sometimes, impossible situations gave me a way to forget the difficulties of my world.
And even the actors of that time left a lifelong impression on me. I could be totally wrong, but I think they cared more about their craft in those days and what audiences thought of them.
Once, while on one of my many extended stays at the hospital, actor John Banner (Sgt. Schultz from “Hogan’s Heroes”) came by to visit the patients. Even at just about six years old, I recognized Banner immediately as he came through my hospital room door.
He was a big man, kind, genuine and even signed a stuffed Snoopy dog that I still have today. Sadly he passed away just a few months later and I still remember how crushed I was to hear the news. Those shows and the actors – many of whom I met later in life – left an indelible impression on me.
Did the shows of the 60s paint a somewhat unrealistic picture between the commercials? Of course they did, that’s exactly the point, and you never had to worry about what the kids were seeing.
By the early to mid-1970s, however, TV began to be less entertaining and more about making a statement. Every producer wanted to be the next to talk about a forbidden subject within the context of his show.
The classic hit, M*A*S*H is probably best example where you can literally watch this very transformation. During its 11-year run, the stories of the 4077th went from campy and smart-witted to actor turned director Alan Alda’s personal political platform. It was still good, but got a bit too heavy at times.
From “Gilligan’s Island” to “Get Smart” and “Hogan’s Heroes” to “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” sometimes TV should just be fun and doesn’t have to preach at you. Believe it or not, the writers of those old shows were just as concerned about social issues as those today, but they presented them to us in a much more palatable form, one that was both easier to swallow and allowed us time to catch up.
Personally, I don’t want to be lectured to when I need to be entertained, especially by television writers. If I do, there are plenty of programs to pick from whose writers are so full of themselves as that the bulk of their soap boxing outweighs the entertainment value. Pretty much anything written by Aaron Sorkin or Norman Lear will do the job, if you’re looking.
This year, more than a dozen classic shows turned 50 years old, including: “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Get Smart,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” and “Lost In Space,” just to name a few. Some are even older and yet still hold up today for entertainment and writing that remains mostly unappreciated by “snobby” TV consumers.
There are some good modern shows I’ll pick, like “Mad Men,” and “Gotham,” but until television gets back to its roots – entertaining the audience – I’m probably going to keep choosing “Gunsmoke” over “Breaking Bad.”
So the next time you grab the remote, remember, it’s OK to just lose yourself in something because you enjoy it. You don’t have to have your easy chair mounted firmly on high moral or politically correct ground all the time. Just relax. It’ll do you a world of good.