Television in the Era Before Cable and Streaming
Growing up in the 60s and 70s was a strange time for entertainment. The USA went from every script having to go through a committee for a film to be made to the rating system where movies were judged and rated by their content. Television changed as did movies. In the 60s we had shows like Gilligan’s Island and Patty Duke. In 1971 All in the Family debuted on CBS and the TV landscape began to change. Many would say erode.
I first became aware of television sometime between the ages of three and four. My mother would put me in front of our black and white set, and I would watch I Love Lucy and The Jack Benny program every day while she did housework. Our black and white set would eventually turn to color, and I would be allowed to stay up later as I got older. My first enforced bedtime was 9 o’clock. There were no streaming services then and no way to record a television show. If you missed it that was that. I remember the early hours of the evening had recent reruns of canceled shows, so I was happy to be able to watch The Patty Duke Show and Gidget during those hours as well as shows like F-Troop and Make Room for Daddy.
The Primetime hour gave me life lessons as my family watched together shows like Bonanza, That Girl, Here Comes the Brides, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and Please Don’t Eat The Daisies. There were fun shows too like Gilligan’s Island and Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies. I longed to say up to watch The Lucy Show but that came on at 9 and that was bedtime. In 1968 with the premiere of Here’s Lucy I got my wish, and my bedtime was extended to 10 at least on Mondays when I got to watch Lucy and The Governor and JJ.
With the entrance of All in the Family onto our television screens, a change came over television. TV got more sophisticated, a bit jaded, and a little snarky. Jokes which were at one time fun were hurtful and sometimes malicious. Jaded barbs and jokes replaced pratfalls with sexual overtones. I think it must have been a hard time to have been a parent during those years and navigate what the family would watch together and what they would not.
Looking back on those early shows, specifically ones in the early 60s, I was taught a lot by what I saw. The Patty Duke Show was about a pair of identical twin cousins, one brought up in the sophisticated world of London and Europe and the other brought up in NYC. The girls got into all kinds of scrapes, but they had parents who were both kind and wise and you learned that honesty was always the best way to go. That respect is to be earned and given and that love of family can be your greatest strength.
Lucille Ball spent over 20 years on television in three different shows, I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Here’s Lucy, teaching the same lesson; scheming doesn’t pay off. Every episode was so well written and performed that you never noticed the theme was always the same. Lucy wants something or does something she shouldn’t, and she comes up with a plan to get herself out of trouble or to get what she wants. Not every single show was like this but most of them were. The lesson be forthright when you are wrong and when you want or need something. Also, if the answer is no accept it with grace.
Batman premiered on January 12, 1966, and was a runaway hit. Though comic books and Superheroes took a hit during the 1950s due to the McCarthy mess, Batman Superman and Wonder Woman weathered the storm. Superman had his show for a good part of the 1950s and we truly learned what battling for truth justice and the American way meant. When Batman made his appearance, it was an audience of hip people they were aiming at and so to those older than me the show as not taken seriously but to us young elementary school students the show meant everything. As every other show ended in a cliffhanger there were after-school debates about how Batman would escape from the trap, he was in.
For the young Batman taught us about courage and honor. We learned that fighting for a good cause was not something to be laughed at. We walked away wanting to be Batman. We learned as has been said by others “evil thrives when good men do nothing.”
Gidget starred Sally Field in the title role with Don Porter as her widowed father. Gidget, due to bad timing, only lasted one season, but it was a show that would be remembered and replayed and eventually sold as a DVD set. Before and after the TV show, there were Gidget movies, and they continued into the 1980s. I think Gidget taught me that a father and his children can have a good relationship. Dads didn’t have to stand off on the sidelines but could be fully involved with their children’s lives and make those lives better.
Sally Field didn’t remain idle after the cancelation of Gidget. She returned very quickly to the television screen in a show called The Flying Nun. The Flying Nun was the story of Sister Bertrille who was a nun at the Convent San Tanco in Puerto Rico she was a schoolteacher but because of the shape of her wimple, that’s what many nuns used to wear on their head, and her lightweight when the wind was right Sister could become airborne. Whether this show was fantasy or science fiction, you can decide. The first episode gave a scientific explanation of why Sister Bertrille could fly. The first episode also gave us the reason for the show. In the first episode, Sister Bertrille quotes Saint Irenaeus who said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” And that’s the lesson of every episode of The Flying Nun.
That Girl starred Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie and premiered on September 8th, 1966. The story revolved around Ann as she moved to New York City to become an actress. She didn’t have a hard time as she had one of the best apartments I’ve ever seen. She did, however, struggle in her own way as she slowly climbed the acting ladder. I think that’s what gave That Girl its appeal. Everyone has a dream but few have the guts to follow those dreams and make them a reality. Ann followed her dreams and always kept the goal in front of her. I was five when this show first appeared and the message that Walt Disney taught, “If you can dream it, you can do it” came alive in this program.
I could go on and on about program after program but this sampling is an idea of what I was lucky enough to grow up with. These shows shaped me and made me the man I am, and they continue to instill in me ideas about the man I can become.
The Patty Duke Show can be seen on YouTube. I Love Lucy Streams on Paramount Plus, The Lucy Show Can be seen on Amazon Prime and Tubi, and Here’s Lucy can be seen on Peacock and Tubi. Batman is free to seam on Tubi, Gidget can stream on The Roku Channel, Apple TV or Prime Video, The Flying Nun is available on Amazon Prime, and That Girl can be streamed on YouTube, Tubi, and Peacock.