From the time I got a job in broadcasting, until a year ago, I had a daily routine. I would spend around ten hours a day at work, and then come home. In spring and summer, I would do yard work for an hour or two, or watch the Atlanta Braves. In the fall and winter, I would watch a little TV, collapse into bed, and repeat those steps the next day. Sound familiar?
My schedule has changed in the COVID-19 era. My employers prefer that most of us stay home as much as possible, in the interest of everyone’s health. So, I work for a while at home, and then head to the studio to read the news for a couple of hours.
At home, I can track down news stories, help out my colleagues via phone or Zoom, and write and edit scripts. But there are also distractions. The various screens at home offer too many choices of entertainment, and if you’re not careful, you can go down a rabbit hole of reruns.
I was a child of television, which was my escape from the family store. At a too-early age, I would often retreat to our living quarters, and immerse myself into a world of game shows, westerns, and sitcoms. I was imitating Bob Barker long before he became an icon to the youth of America. The under-40 crowd knows him from “Happy Gilmore” and the sick-day delights of “The Price is Right.” I knew him as the “Truth or Consequences” guy.
Many of us think we were born too early, or too late. Not me. I was right on time. Sure, we had only three channels, but I never complained. Well, except maybe when “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Monkees” were on at the same time. Scheduling conflicts like that are why video cassette recorders (and their descendants) were invented.
Compare that with today. In many homes, your cable package includes 400 channels. If you have a Smart TV, it comes equipped with free streaming services, and if you want to keep up with the office chatter, you must subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Showtime, Peacock, Hulu, Vudu, Tutu and Mumu. Okay, I made those last two up, but I’m sure they’re on the way.
On top of all that, you can add YouTube. What began as a modest video clip collection now includes pretty much every moving image ever filmed. I have found TV shows from my youth that I never thought I could see again. Ancient Red Skelton clips, Jackie Gleason before he was famous, and Bob Hope entertaining the troops from fourteen wars ago. I’m afraid to check, but there may be home movies of me dancing at my high school prom on YouTube. For the sake of humanity, I hope not.
I am a wee bit concerned with the endless streams of video available to kids of all ages. Let’s be honest. Most parents of the TV era have used TV as a babysitter. “Maybe if we plant Brandon in front of the set, Barney (whether it be the deputy or the dinosaur) will get his attention and we can actually digest our food for 15 minutes.”
Most of the shows I gorged upon proved to be harmless. Yes, I saw Moe poke Larry and Curly in the eyes. I witnessed Batman climbing up the side of a twenty-story building to do battle with the Riddler, and I saw professional wrestlers draw “blood” by slamming their opponents into chairs, tables, and ladies in the ringside seats.
Thankfully, I never imitated any of those behaviors. I didn’t have brothers, my parents would not allow chairs to be used as weapons, and there were no twenty-story buildings to climb in Bryant, Alabama. However, I now wish I had spent less time in front of the “boob tube” and more time watching my father repair sinks, toilets, and automobiles.
When I became a parent, I pledged to be more attentive to the viewing habits of my kids. During most of their childhood, they learned from Mr. Rogers and other good PBS influences. Then one night, they attended someone’s sleep-over, and saw the movies and shows they had been missing. I haven’t heard from them since. I hope today’s moms and dads are keeping a close eye on their kids’ pandemic TV diet.
As for me, I’m spending too much time exploring the unanswered questions of my TV-obsessed life. If the professor on Gilligan’s Island was so smart, why couldn’t he patch a hole in the S.S. Minnow? Why didn’t Jerry Seinfeld ever lock the door to his apartment? And why did it take 12 years to fix the elevator in “The Big Bang Theory?”
Come on folks, let’s all get vaccinated. Obviously, I need to return to work.