Old television programs. Like a warm sappy hug on a cold winter’s day. The Andy Griffith Show, Gunsmoke, Mickey Mouse Club, The Hardy Boys, My Three Sons, Cheyenne, Dick Van Dyke, Donna Reed, Mary Tyler Moore, Sky King, The Cisco Kid, Superman, Make Room for Daddy, Leave it to Beaver, Bonanza, I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Fury, My Friend Flicka, Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, Gilligan’s Island, Perry Mason, Bewitched, The Flying Nun, That Girl, Patty Duke, Bachelor’s Father, Dobbie Gillis, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, I Dream of Jeannie, Munsters, Get Smart, Hazel, The Brady Bunch, etc.
This is a pretty eclectic group of programs. From singing cowboys and avenging indians to kids learning to grow up to teenage angst to young married life to parenting outrageousness to spy spoofs to road trips to small town life to who-done-its to farm kids and their animals to superheroes and masked men there is one thread that runs through all these shows — the censors must have had really boring lives. I mean, their biggest ruling was the nonsense of making sure Laura and Rob Petrie slept in separate beds. These were shows you didn’t have to worry about watching with family members, didn’t have to put the kids to bed by 8:00, or didn’t have to worry about someone coming into the room at the wrong time. Some shows were better than others. Some way way better than others, but we could all be entertained for a few hours by people with bleached lives where the biggest problem of the day was who was Wally taking to the dance and will Lassie get help to the well in time to save little Timmy. It was truth, justice, and the American Way. No ifs, ands, or buts. Much of the humor was lame, the situations rarely made sense, but it wasn’t uncontroversial, and everybody could smile and feel good about it. “That Barney. What a loveable little goofball.” There may have been a bad guy, but you knew ahead of time that they were going to be defeated. Our challenge was usually how they were going to be caught, not if they were going to be caught. The bad guy never won; after all, they were bad.
Living in a small town in the country a half century ago kind of isolated us from the harsh realities others were living all over the world. I can’t say I was ever too interested in the news or newspapers past checking our school’s basketball scores and who had the most points or the time I was the school spelling bee champ and my picture was on page 3. The nightly news was 15 minutes long and always at dinner time. There was no television during supper. After us girls took turns setting the table, we sat in our assigned seats, took turns saying grace, Dad filled our plates, we passed them down to the next waiting participant at the table, ate, talked about our day. “Man, you should have seen it. Dale threw up all over the gym today. Yuk!” That was about the heaviest the conversation got. The world was out there. The struggles were dark and real, but where I lived innocence cloaked the bubble we were in. Television did not break through that facade. The people on TV were good looking, wore full makeup to bed, woke up looking like hair and makeup worked on them while they were sleeping, and got dressed up to cook a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes, coffee, and juice thereby reinforcing that American life was just the best ever. Flowers in the garden didn’t even wilt unless it was written into the script. Like the time Aint Bea’s roses may or may not win the blue ribbon at the fair. Such tension.
Of course, television changed, the world changed, the people wised up and got real. We found out there were some real, terrible, dramatic, frantic, dark and hopeless struggles out there. The way people’s lives were portrayed in those days-gone-by shows were the exception, not the norm. The veil has lifted, our eyes are wide open, we have an awareness of not just our neighborhoods but of the world as a whole now that is being brought to us through the same medium that once was responsible for our ignorant bliss. Jeannie has been let out of the bottle and the bubble no longer resembles a package of individually wrapped America cheese slices but more like partially moldy Swiss cheese with varying sizes of holes. There’s good parts, there’s bad parts, we cut out what we don’t want, we enjoy what we can.
However, one day of vegging out in my flannel Tweety Bird jammie’s with my fuzzy slippers, a nice soft blanket, and a cup of chai tea while sitting on the couch with my purring cat on my lap in front of the boob tube watching old re-runs of a nonexistent utopia feels like just the right thing to do today while the wind whips the snow in the country to white-out conditions, the temperatures plunge to subzero temperatures, and schools are closed. Just another day in paradise. By the way, that Beaver is just so darned cute… Sandy