I was a child of TV. From the time I was about 4 and we got our first television, I think it was a Dumont — an enormous piece of furniture with doors on it and a tiny, tiny screen — I was hooked. Each time my father or mother clicked it on, my impatience quickly rose to the fore waiting for the mahogany behemoth with the black-and-white screen to “warm up” and show me “Captain Video and the Video Rangers.”
Yes, I was a child of TV. True, it had only seven channels and rudimentary production techniques, but I was witness to some of the best acting in television history and stories that were well-written, beautifully directed, and left a lasting impression. Studio One, Playhouse 90, Climax, all performed live with actors who were professional enough to not make a mistake ... and knew how to cover if they did, working with scripts written by some of the giants in broadcast history. We had CBS, NBC, and ABC, then there were four New York-based channels that had everything from women’s roller derby every Saturday to “Picture for a Sunday Afternoon,” which showed wonderful weekend movies with great plots, memorable performances, and usually a theme song that would eventually become an Oscar contender for Best Song.
I was indeed a child of TV, but today, decades later, I am most definitely not an adult of TV. Today I prefer live radio broadcasts, especially talk radio, well written newspaper articles, and magazines with compelling, intelligent content. Those seven channels to which I clung religiously have now morphed into hundreds of innocuous offerings with everything from programs about storage lockers to shows about strange addictions, to news channels whose sources are often questionable and whose reporting is often sensational, to the vacuous, talentless Kardashians doing absolutely nothing and still attracting an audience. Kind of makes you realize why the term “boob tube” has endured.
Uncle Walter is gone. So is Mike Wallace and Ed Bradley and the crew we grew to respect. Howdy Doody is in a museum in Detroit, and Buffalo Bob is dead. Now reality television has taken its place, and people are drawn to watching unfortunate things happen to people of equally unfortunate brain power.
When I was a child and home sick from school, I dearly loved watching “Queen for a Day,” hosted by Jack Bailey, a seedy-looking guy who looked like he hated his job. That might have been the precursor to reality shows because it featured three women telling gut-wrenching stories about their lives. Bailey would begin each show by shouting, “Would YOU like to be queen for a day?” Then the contestants would go on and on about how their roof leaked, their husband left, their children all had post-nasal drip and walked with a limp, there was no money, little food, but the only thing they wanted was a new washing machine for their church. The more the women wailed, the more I was drawn in ... but I was only 8. The most pathetic story always won, based on an audience-applause meter, and Bailey would put a crown on her head, drape her with a luxurious red robe, and then she’d be escorted to the throne, with roses and prizes along the way. An Almay makeup kit, silver-plated flatware, a coffee pot ... whatever sponsors they had that they could squeeze.
Then there was “Lassie,” which always made me cry at the happy endings. And “Rin Tin Tin,” “Flicka,” “Fury,” “The Lone Ranger,” “The Cisco Kid,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Superman,” “The Millionaire,” and an endless variety of sitcoms from “I Love Lucy” to the lesser-known “I Married Joan.” There was a whole host of variety shows: Milton Berle and Dinah Shore, “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Your Hit Parade”; and game shows like “I’ve Got a Secret,” “What’s My Line,” “The Big Payoff,” and “Beat the Clock.”
Chances are as you read this, you may be wondering why I didn’t mention your favorite, but it’s difficult to list them all in such a small space; however Roy Rogers and Jack Benny and Bishop Fulton Sheen and “Wagon Train” and “The Loretta Young Show” still play within the cobwebs of my mind. It was indeed a simpler time, but it was honest, real, and had quality.
Maybe that’s why life was better in black and white.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at email@example.com or 401-539-7762.