Monday, January 20, 2014

My Favorite TV Shows

Recently, a friend posed some questions on Facebook about our favorite TV shows when we were growing up. Many friends responded with popular classics like “Gilligan’s Island” (especially since the Professor died at about the same time), “I Love Lucy,” “Andy Griffith,” “Gomer Pyle,” “Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction,” “Batman,” “My Three Sons,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” etc.

I can agree with all of those mentioned above, but I must admit that I have a special place in my heart for “The Brady Bunch.” I remember seeing the very first episode the night it debuted, and immediately falling in love with Marcia Brady (as did many other boys of my age, whether they admit it or not). It was great to watch a show about kids who were in my approximate age group. [However, I don’t recommend falling for unattainable leading ladies!]

Another series that was very important to me was “Leave it to Beaver.” I primarily remember it in syndicated reruns since it was a bit before my time, but I learned a lot about ethics, integrity, and responsibility from the Cleaver family. Shows back then tried to make a point—something you don’t see much on TV today.

There was another show that tried to make a philosophical point with each episode—the stop-motion style children’s show “Davy and Goliath.” Probably because I shared the same first name as the protagonist, this was one of my favorites. Like Beaver, it helped to teach me some of the moral guideposts for life.

Speaking of children’s shows, I’d probably rate “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” as my favorite animated cartoon (with “Roadrunner” coming in a close second, and the “Jetsons” probably in third place). I especially enjoyed Professor Peabody and his Wayback Machine. As a child, I didn’t know enough to fully appreciate all the humor woven into this Cold War era cartoon, but it was still my favorite.

Saturday mornings were dedicated to network cartoons and children’s shows, but local television stations often had their own shows for kids in the late afternoons on weekdays. I remember watching Uncle Willie as the host of WCHS Channel 8’s cartoon show, as well as Mr. Cartoon on WSAZ Channel 3. It is a shame that there are very few locally produced shows today.

There were not many dramas that caught my interest. However, my favorite in this genre was far too short-lived. “Then Came Bronson” was the story of a guy and traveling around the country on his motorcycle, often doing good deeds for the folks he met along the way. I think this show had a profound impact on my interest in motorcycles and my desire to travel (plus I can still sing the theme song!). The better known spy show “Mission Impossible” was probably second, and a lesser known Western “Alias Smith and Jones” would be third (the only Western that appealed to me, and it only a couple of seasons because one of the stars died unexpectedly).

Crime shows were dramas, but because they were so prevalent, I am counting them as their own category. “The FBI” was always a favorite, especially with the closing segment profiling a real life criminal they were looking to find. Other favorites were “Dragnet,” “Mannix,” and “The Rockford Files.”

With regard to TV sports, I’ve previously written an essay about the importance of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” when I was growing up (

Variety shows were still in vogue during my youth. I was a big fan of the “Carol Burnett Show,” but my favorite was the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” My family probably didn’t fully comprehend the political statements that the Smothers Brothers were putting into their shows—we just liked both Tom and Dick Smothers and their hilarious interactions. Plus, Dick Smothers was a car guy, and the show was sponsoring race cars, so that made it even cooler!

Like the Smothers Brothers, there were other TV shows that were helping to enlighten our world view. “I Spy” (starring Bill Cosby as a serious actor, not a comic), “Flip Wilson,” and “Julia” had helped to blur the color lines, while “All in the Family,” “MASH,” the “Mod Squad,” and sometimes even “Laugh-In” shed new light on complicated issues. People would talk around the water cooler about the shows they watched the night before. The shared experiences from watching these shows were often a catalyst for reflection and introspection. Today’s audiences are far too fragmented for meaningful discussions.

I feel like I was fortunate to grow up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We may have only had three channels to choose from, but the overall programming seems to me to have been better than what I see listed for hundreds of channels today. That’s not to say that you could always find something you wanted to watch. If the three channels were not offering something you liked, you could turn it off and read a book or go outside (something kids today would be better off doing more often).

Finally, if I am writing an essay about television shows, I must use this opportunity to talk about some of my all-time favorites. Before I list my top three, I must say that I am a huge PBS fan, as nearly all of my favorite shows have appeared there. For example, even though it didn’t quite make my top three list, I loved Ken Burns’ mini-series on “The Civil War” because I was interested in the topic. Then he did similar mini-series on the topics of jazz music, baseball, prohibition, and more, and none of them are among my interests—but I loved learning about those topics through his engaging documentaries. I feel the same way about the “American Experience” series—especially when author David McCulloch is the narrator. And finally, I must acknowledge the wonderful science programming I have enjoyed on PBS, such as shown on the long running series entitled “NOVA.”

Now it is time to list my ALL-TIME TOP THREE TV SHOWS:

• My bronze medal goes to James Burke’s “Connections.” This fascinating series combined history with technology to trace how we got to where we are today, often through a series of unexpected coincidences.
• My silver medal goes to the documentary series “Vietnam.” I watched every episode of this show when it debuted in the fall of 1983, while concurrently taking a law school class on International Law. I learned an incredible amount about the war that had haunted my childhood from that show. For probably the only time during my law school career, I was elated when I sat down for my final exam in that International Law class and found that the essay topic was to discuss International Law and its relationship to the Vietnam War. Thanks to watching the entire documentary series, I had plenty to write about!
• My gold medal for outstanding television goes to “Cosmos.” Debuting in 1980, astrophysicist Carl Sagan took viewers on a thought-provoking journey. His explanations made some of the complexities of science more easily understood. [I’m glad I got to see him while I worked at NASA.]

I think everyone who watched them learned something new from these three shows. If you aren’t familiar with them, you should check them out. They raised our intelligence—rather than diminishing our intelligence as Honey Boo Boo and other shows today seem determined to do.

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