Happy 2012, folks!
So the other day, I did something I rarely do. I went to Hulu and watched a show that my good friend Troy Romeo recommended called The Booth at the End, a web series about a guy who sits in a diner and helps people get what they want. I watched the first episode and I was hooked. That night, I watched the remaining four episodes, and for the first time in a long time, I can’t wait for season two of something. This same sort of thing happened once before when I finally made time to watch another web series, The Mercury Men, a short sci-fi series that was eventually picked up by SyFy, about men from the planet Mercury trying to destroy the Earth in the 1950s and shot in a campy, Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon style (only with much better special effects, I must say.)
Now those who know me well know that I do not watch TV. This is partially because I don’t subscribe to Cable or DirecTV, but also because I haven’t found anything on TV or the web that can keep me engaged past than the first episode. I tried a few recent shows like HBO’s True Blood during my research for my feature-length vampire script A Beautiful Unlife and the first episode of Californication at the request of an acquaintance; both of these programs had absolutely nothing to keep me wanting to watch.
Then I thought back to when I was a happy, healthy little boy going to grammar and eventually high school, coming home and doing my homework with much interest in every subject, then spending the remainder of my day with my head tucked into A Tale of Two Cities and Madame Bovary. Then right before bed I would read an act of Coriolanus or whatever work of Shakespeare I could take out from the local library (for fun, of course).
Wait––! That’s not how it was. Not. At. All.
I was a happy, healthy kid, that much is true. But everyday I would rush home from school and finish my homework with Flash-swiftness I could so I could adjust the rabbit ears and tune my eyes to Channel 11 for two action-quacked hours of DuckTales, Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, and Darkwing Duck. The tops of my mornings through the late 1980s up until 1992 started off with some Looney Tunes, The Jetsons, and the first ten minutes of Conan the Adventurer before I’d journey up the hill toward Weehawken High.
It’s strange even for me to think that I don’t watch any TV today when, looking back, I watched a lot of TV throughout my entire life. With a television set in every room of our apartment (except the bathroom, of course), I suppose it was easy. I started out much the same as kids today, only instead of Barney and Friends I was taught my A-B-Cs by Cookie Monster and my 1-2-3s by The Count. And even now I can easily recall some of the many cartoons that lit up my living room most –– The Flintstones, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Transformers and G.I. Joe; I watched this last show not for the “Real American Heroes,” sadly (Duke and the gang were kind of boring), but for the villains: Cobra Commander and Destro hidden behind their masks, Zartan and his sun-blued flesh, and those strange twins Tomax and Xamot (and let’s not forget about Serpentor!)
Saturday morning cartoons have always held an extra special place inside. On certain Saturdays, when my Dad would drop me off at my Yiya’s apartment (yiya is “grandmother” in Greek) whenever he’d have to work the early shift at the diner, I would spend those mornings happily sipping a Nestle Quik chocolate milk from a bendy straw and watching Superfriends, Dungeons and Dragons, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies and Captain N: The Game Master, plus the occasional episode of The Smurfs, Fraggle Rock, and yes, Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
Eventually, I moved onto live-action TV programming. Early on, my shows of choice were game shows (well, not my choice, as my Dad was master of the remote, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them.) Mornings in summertime meant watching classics like The Price is Right (Bob Barker is the only host of this show, by the way), Family Feud with Ray Combs and The Newlywed Game with Bob Eubanks, back in the days when we kids didn’t know what “making whoopee” meant. At dinnertime, my Dad and I found ourselves so immersed in the fist-to-jaw escapades of action shows like Knight Rider, The A-Team and Baywatch, that once the smoke cleared from the explosion right before a commercial break, the smoke rising from our dinner plates had cleared as well.
Around the same time I discovered sitcoms, as well. The ones I enjoyed most were Family Ties, Growing Pains, and Small Wonder, but later on I would start staying up extra late in my Dad’s bedroom (he had a better TV in his room than I had in mine) and watch reruns of 1970s classics like All in the Family and Taxi. On many occasions, my Dad and I would sit in the kitchen chuckling away at The Cosby Show, Cheers, Perfect Strangers, Who’s the Boss? and especially Three’s Company. Later on, I would take a peculiar liking to The Wonder Years, Doogie Howser, M.D. and other situational dramedies. But perhaps the only two shows I remember ever making me laugh out loud with every episode were Married with Children and Seinfeld.
When my sister lived in Union City, only a few blocks away from my apartment, I’d visit more frequently and she’d cook us up some chicken cutlets and we’d watch Law & Order (or CSI –– I can’t tell the difference to this day between any of those crime dramas; even then, I didn’t care for them, but it was about quality time; that, and the chicken cutlet). On weekends, I went through a brief stint in which I sat up with my sister-in-law Patti watching classic programming that originally aired in the late 1950s through the early 1980s on Nick At Nite. Shows like Leave it to Beaver, Bewitched, I Love Lucy, The Munsters and Gilligan’s Island, and even a few episodes of Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley, bounced splashes of grey and eventually Technicolor all along the living room walls until I couldn’t laugh anymore and fell asleep.
And after ten or twelve years watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles battle Shredder and Krang while Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty tried to fit themselves into Beverly Hills, 90210, plus late nights on the edge of my seat as Dr. Sam Beckett tried desperately to find his way home in Quantum Leap, I got hooked on what would become the very last TV serial ever to leave an indelible mark (or two) on me –– Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
As you can probably see from the thirty-something titles listed, I’ve spent an enormous amount of my own wonder years situated in front of the tube transmitting images, stories, humor, adventure and even personality into my very being.
Today, there are no shows I feel an all-encompassing kinship with, none that might inspire me with the sudden urge to speed home, sit in front of a flat screen and get my fix. No stories being told in today’s digital TV universe have moved me to that sort of zealous devotion to any one title or writer or story arc. The only show I do “follow” with some interest is The Walking Dead, but even that’s not enough to make me pull together a “boy’s night in” with Doritos and red wine to watch each episode as it happens; I’ll catch up with season two when it’s on Netflix. And while I have a subtle curiosity about HBO’s Bored to Death, mainly because of Jason Schwartzman, it’s remained in the same position on my queue for months. I have no care to play catch-up on Lost, Breaking Bad, Rescue Me, Mad Men, It’s Always Sunny in Philidelphia or any of the other shows that win Emmy Awards for writing or “Best Original Series.” The truth is, TV writing is not what it was when I grew up with television, and no story is original (quirky, yes, but not original.) As a matter of fact, the only shows I will watch whenever I can catch them are food reality TV shows (of all things!) like Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and especially Man v. Food.
I’ve watched enough television to help me shape, mold and constantly recreate the person I am today: My fascination with vampires comes not only from Hammer Films and Joss Whedon’s Buffy franchise, but from late nights spent with Dracula: The Series and Forever Knight; my penchant for sci-fi stems from following Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and catching a few Twilight Zone marathons on New Year’s Eves past; my predilection for duality and parallelism comes from watching Beauty and the Beast and random episodes of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
So instead of spending any more of my time sitting on a couch or kitchen chair with a remote control in hand surfing for something to sustain my attention, I’d rather spend that same amount of time and energy creating something that will make others give me the benefit of their attention for a change. This is not a trashing of contemporary TV programming, nor is it a song of praise for the shows of all my seasons past; it’s a prelude of things to come, a glimpse into what all those years spent watching TV can create in us, if we choose to let it, that is.
In the epic battle between Man and Tube, this one goes to Tube…and to Man.
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What are some classic (or contemporary) TV shows that have made a long-lasting impression on who YOU are?