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Black Lamb


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The dumbing down of Ferrandino

March 1st, 2006

tvcigarette.jpgBY ROD FERRANDINO

TV, telly, Boob Tube, television. It doesn’t matter what you call it; you smoke it, you get high. Oops, there I go again, mixing up Tee Vee with the other massive opiates. Some of that’s for another column. For present purposes I’ll confine myself to plumbing the intellectual depths of television programming vis-à-vis in re as per de facto development of a cerebral leprechaun, i.e. yours truly.

As well we know, he stated pompously, television is no more than junk food for the brain, a vapid, calorie-empty, sugar-laden waste of time, a cranial void, and unsuitable for anybody with even a double-digit I.Q.

Why, back in the day, my parents limited my brother and me to three minutes of TV per month, and we liked it that way. We read literature, did jig-saw puzzles, played chess, listened to Mozart, and helped Mom around the house… hang on a sec, I gotta check on something real quick.

Oh good, daughter Anna just went out the door to go to a friend’s house. Can’t be too careful; you never know when a kid might accidentally be listening. Now, you can now throw out most of what I just said, and while you’re doing that, I’ll go grab my five-pound bag of pretzels, some leftover pizza, a ten-liter bottle of root beer, and then I can flip on some Three Stooges. That is, if I can figure out the remote control.

Until the proliferation of cable, and then satellite, Tivo, VCR, DVR, DVD, DUI, and more letters and acronyms than I can keep up with, the world of television was a simple flat-earth to navigate. Just go to the end of the dial and fall off.

Even the calendar year was easier to remember. Back in my salad days there were only three seasons in a year: fall, which was thirteen episodes long, winter, which lasted another thirteen episodes, and Re-run, which took up the rest of the year.

During fall and winter, between bouts of sports, homework, and putting off chores, all of us young’uns managed to keep up with everything from the Mouseketeers (I was partial to Darlene), the Stooges, Mr. Ed, Car 54, Gilligan (Mary Ann), and I Love Lucy to Combat, Twelve O’clock High, and Hogan’s Heroes. Somehow, we also managed to squeeze in time for Pluto, Daffy Duck, Yogi Bear, Quickdraw McGraw, Bonanza (episodes featuring Hoss were best), the Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s rilly big show, and a personal favorite, the Hans Conreid narrated Fractured Flickers. Next to me I have a list of more than fifty other shows I knew, but don’t have space for, and all this viewing was accomplished with only about five stations to choose from.

Re-run season was different. Basically all parents threw all kids out of the house until dinnertime, and then again until it was time for bed. We might catch a little tube on rainy days, or on days when the temperature and humidity met at ninety-five. On Saturdays, after our own Little League or Babe Ruth games, we’d occasionally seek out to somebody’s air-conditioned rec room and watch part of The Game of the Week, especially if Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson, or Marichal was throwing. Our own Washington Senators, except for Camilo Pascual or Hondo (Frank Howard), weren’t worth staying inside for. The all-too-true local slogan was: Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.

College changed everything. Instead of televisions, room-sized stereos dominated interior landscapes. The only TV was in the basement “tube room” of the Delta Tau Delta house, and, for most of us, television was only a sometime thing. Oh, we had a few TV freaks; pale, gaunt, hollow-eyed denizens of the dark, guys who majored in whatever was on. They wouldn’t know about life anywhere on campus, or about anything they were supposed to be studying, but they could give you a detailed dissertation on what was happening with the evil Dr. Dixon, or the Sullivan Sisters, on As the World Turns. And they knew all about the mischief Audrey March and Dr. Steve Hardy were getting into over at good ol’ General Hospital.

For the rest of us, there were just two things on TV worth watching: sports and The NBC Mystery Movie.

Sports were divided into Monday Night Football and Everything Else. Howard Cosell’s halftime highlights were the main attraction. In a Baltimore-dominated house, Howard was routinely pelted with empty (mostly) beer cans whenever he had the temerity to pontificate in any manner considered even vaguely demeaning to the beloved Colts. Lesser showerings were conferred by contingents from the D.C. area (Redskin country), Nawlins (Saints), and Dallas (Cowboys).

Everything Else included: NCAA March Madness (where quite a bit of money changed hands), ABC’s Wide World of Sports, best served with Ali and Cosell, and weekend football and basketball, accompanied by hangover installation and servicing.
The NBC Mystery Movie was an umbrella for three rotating shows: Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan and Wife. Columbo, with the bumbling Peter Falk, was the house favorite, McCloud was decent, and McMillan (Rock Hudson) was saved by Wife (Susan St. James), because she looked so hot wearing a football jersey to bed.

After college (class of ’75), the only thing that saved television was the advent of Saturday Night Live, with Belushi, Akroyd, and the gang, but even that wasn’t enough to keep me from moving off the grid, to the redwood wilderness of Big Sur.

I thrived without television for more than twenty years and found I didn’t miss it at all. Once in a blue moon I’d visit friends, up in Monterey, and I was completely lost watching stuff they were addicted to.

Unfortunately, even good things come to an end, and, in 1998, I was sucked back into “civilization.” We moved to the Sierra foothills metropolis of Fiddletown (pop. approx. 150) and, lo and behold, if’n they didn’t have real, live ’lectric power lines and sattylight dishes and such.

It took all of ten minutes for me to get hooked on the dish, though my mind had been much better off when I lived in the backwoods. When the power came on in my life, I went from reading 200 books a year to maybe two. All things literary were morphed into an X-Files jones. Instead of drum circles and campfires, I scheduled my life around Seinfeld and Friends. Days, while making jewelry, I’d also give myself liberal doses of Rockford and Matlock.

My mind, though enfeebled, hasn’t completely turned to mush. I can’t, pardon the expression, “stomach” “reality” television. Ingestion of maggot stew isn’t my viewing cup of tea. The Donald and Martha hold no place in my viewing heart and I agree with rock band SR-71 in wondering “when did Ozzy become an actor?”

My viewing habits are much more refined. I watch only shows of high quality, those written intelligently and containing a high moral tone. No, I don’t mean The 700 Club. I’m talking about real uplifting stuff, like CSI Vegas, Miami, and New York. And I eagerly await the upcoming spinoffs: Altoona, Schenectady, and Rancho Cucamonga. And, naturally, I enjoy NCIS, and all seventeen versions of Law & Order.

I carefully limit myself to no more than four shopping channels, and I cull all but the most compelling of sporting events, like last night’s stunning quadruple overtime field hockey thriller between Southeastern Northwestern Louisiana Tech A.I. & M. and the William & Mary & Ted & Alice State Teachers & Mechanics College. For those of you who Tivo’d it, I won’t tell you how W&M&T&AST&MC pulled it out in the last second.

I’d love to spend more time with you, but Moe, Larry, and Curly beckon. I’ll see you, with film, at eleven. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Television Issue, Ferrandino | Link to this Entry


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