Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sadly, TV ain't what it used to be

Tommy Rettig as Jeff Miller with Lassie (1955).
Tommy Rettig as Jeff Miller with Lassie
I cut my teeth on television shows like I Love Lucy, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Lassie, The Honeymooners, and Family Classics. I confess that as a child of the 50's and 60's, television largely influenced my formative years and beyond.

English: Publicity photo of Andy Williams from...
Andy Williams performs on The Andy Williams Show
Early television was more than just entertainment. It was a reflection of values, morals, and proper behavior. It inspired children to think. It showed us how to do well, grow up successful, and get along well with others. 

Every Sunday night, my family would gather around the television set at my grandparents' house to watch Lassie

As the star of the show, who didn't love this beautiful, perfect pet dog. Lassie and her supporting cast told stories--always with a happy ending--always with a lesson to be learned,  usually from Ellen or Gramps, the wise elders. Children like me were inspired to think and ask questions about what we'd seen, learned. Lassie invoked discussion with my own grandparents.

In the 50's and 60's, television was rich with a variety of entertainment. We watched shows like The Andy Williams Show, and The Carol Burnett Show, and many others. Variety shows offered a glimpse into the entertainment world through music, theater, and comedy. Viewers were transformed into another world. Entertainment didn't take over the networks but they had a prominent place.

There were also soap operas, dramas, game shows, children's shows, the famous Saturday morning cartoons, and all other types of programming.

Some of my favorite moments in television included the Mickey Mouse Club which included short serials. My favorites were The Adventures of Spin and Marty, which had a western theme centered around two boys who became friends at the Triple R Ranch.  Another was Corky and White Shadow, also a western, about a girl and her dog whose adventures often got her into trouble.

Who can forget comedy skits by The Smothers Brothers, or the hilarity of Laugh-in? These were designed strictly for entertainment purposes, mimicking a night out but in our own living rooms.

The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents
There was drama that took us to new heights with Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, Outer Limits, Playhouse 90, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Naked City--all of which teased our imaginations and tweaked our senses.

Television was a spectacle that inspired a generation.

What the hell happened?

Today, television has one goal--to make money. Isn't it ironic that the act of getting rich has cheapened it?

Today television provides just enough mindless entertainment to keep people watching, always with an eye on keeping the money flowing. Often times it is so sensationalized that we rarely even think about it anymore.

Television, with some exceptions, rarely makes us think. It no longer guides the way for young children or evokes thoughtful conversations, or questions. Instead, they become dazed by the vivid colors and loud sounds.

Murder was often a topic of discussion in the olden days, but it was done much more tastefully. Viewers were not subjected to endless pools of blood, gaping stab wounds, or shooting victims whose brains splatter against colorless walls. They didn't have to. And we were better for it.

We didn't have to see Rob and Laura Petrie or other couples portrayed on TV shows peel each others' clothes off on camera to understand the man/woman relationship they shared. The play between them was apparent enough. Left to our imaginations, it may have even been more provocative.

Women didn't have to wear gowns cut down to their navels to be beautiful.

A one-hour television show now is only about 45 minutes long. The rest of the time is taken up by commercials. Gotta make money! Television programming no longer focuses on content. The focus has completely shifted to the commercial programming. The content must now fit between the time slots for the product sales.

There is nothing more disheartening to me than watching a television drama that is chopped at a crucial moment in the story line to sell some prescription drug, Viagra, tampons, toilet paper, or any other endless number of other products.

This incessant desire to dumb down our television programming is most evident in the news shows.

For example, I've watched Good Morning America since it premiered in 1975. I have been a long time fan of the show, but no more. It used to be a good way to start the day. It was rich in news, weather, and important features.

I can't stand to even watch Good Morning America these days. Its best feature is George Stephanopoulos, who is way over-qualified for the kind of mediocre program GMA has become. While Robin Roberts is a lovely woman, her sappy interviews are painful to watch. Its latest focus on celebrity couples, courtroom drama involving bizarre murder investigations, and the back and forth between Dan Abrams and Nancy Grace is tiresome and annoying. The mediocrity that has overtaken the programming is sickening. Where is the hard-hitting journalism?

If there is a segment I'm interested in on GMA, it isn't usually worth the wait. The endless teases and long commercial breaks are brutal. More often than  not, I opt for turning off the television and simply reading the news on the computer. It just isn't worth the aggravation.

One more thing that is totally annoying about television today, is the endless breaks in programming. Shows once ran for most of the year with a few reruns in the summertime when viewers were busy enjoying the longer daylight hours and warm temperatures. Nowadays, shows are rerun often, with only a few new episodes sandwiched between them.

I feel so sorry for the generations that have missed the wonderful medium that television used to be. But then, television is not alone. There are so many once-powerful institutions that have been taken over by mediocrity. Sadly, much of it can be traced back to the god of the 21st century--money.