Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action

On February 17, 2009, all over-the-air analog television transmission signals on channels in the United States will come to an end – or at least that is the current plan approved by the Government, via the Congress and the FCC. Since we have had to deal with this message “crawling” across the bottom of our televisions for months, I thought this would be a good time to talk about the progression of television in my life.

The first program I have any memory of watching was “The Monkees” - the misadventures of a struggling rock band. This show first aired in September of 1966, so I was only four years old. I can still remember begging my mom to let me stay up past my bedtime so I could watch. At the time “The Monkees” premiered, they were a fictional rock band, but Davy, Micky, Peter and Michael soon became overnight sensations.

I don’t remember if mom actually let me stay up late on the night in question – 8:00 pm was past my bedtime – but I do remember religiously watching “The Monkees” on Saturday afternoon television. According to Wikipedia, “The Monkees” began airing on Saturdays in September 1969 – by this time I was seven years old.
I have no recollection whether I first watched “The Monkees” on a black and white television, or if we had switched to color. Colorized television was wide-spread by the time I was born in 1962, but not many families could afford them. It wasn’t until 1972 that color television sets outsold black and white sets in the United States.

“Dark Shadows” is the first show I remember watching in color, although it started out as a black and white show. I know I wasn’t old enough to have watched “Dark Shadows” from the beginning – it started airing in 1966 – but I do remember at some point coming home from school in just enough time to see most of the daily episodes. This series ended in 1971 – I would have been nine years old.

“Dark Shadows” was one of the lucky television shows to make it into syndication in 1975. I think it was these repeated viewings that endeared me to “Dark Shadows” – I liked it during its original run, but I grew to love it through syndication. Now, thanks to digital technology, I can enjoy “Dark Shadows” on DVD any time I want.

By the time I became obsessed with my next television show – “Land of the Lost” – I know we had a color television. “Land of the Lost” premiered in 1974 and it was a weekly Saturday morning children’s show by Sid and Marty Krofft. To say I loved this campy show is an understatement. This show had everything a 12 year old could want – dinosaurs, danger and adventure.

It was because of “Land of the Lost” I had my first introduction into audio recording. I would audio tape this show every Saturday morning on my little yellow cassette recorder and then listen to it with my headphones every night. Today there are audio books to listen to, but for me it was always “Land of the Lost.” I still have to be listening to an audio book or have the television on very low to go to sleep – my youngest daughter is the same way.

By the time I was 13, I thought I was in love – with “Starsky and Hutch.” Actually, it was Starsky I loved the most. I never missed an episode of this show, but I had to keep it turned down very low because it came on past my bedtime. My bedroom was in the basement, so as long as I keep the volume down, I could get away with watching. Of course, this is another show I would audiotape and listen to at night.

In addition to “Starsky and Hutch”, 1975 also brought “Crockett’s Victory Garden” on PBS. James Underwood Crockett was my gardening idol and it is because of him I became so fascinated with plants and gardening. Every week I would tune in to see what was growing, dreaming of the days I would have my own garden. The show’s name changed to “The Victory Garden” after Crockett died in 1979.

With the mainstream use of VCRs, television viewing would never be the same. I can still remember the first video stores opening in Harrodsburg. Movies lining every shelf – all you had to do was take them home and pop them in the VCR, if you were lucky enough to own one. The video stores also had VCRs to rent and I can remember lugging home one of those huge machines and becoming frustrated when I couldn’t get it hooked up right. I didn’t own my first VCR until I started nursing school – way back in 1987.

No longer content to wait once a year to see “The Wizard of Oz,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or “Star Wars,” you can now watch these beloved classics whenever you want. My children don’t remember much about Saturday morning cartoons, because they have always been able to watch cartoons at the flick of a switch. Videocassette recorders/players are slowly being replaced by DVD recorders/players. By 2003, DVDs were out-numbering VHS tapes in total rentals and sales.
Three years ago, I was introduced to the DVR and my television viewing will never be the same. Not only can I record programs for future viewing, but I don’t have to waste tapes or discs for recording, unless it is something I want to keep. The DVR allows me to record all my favorite shows and then watch them whenever I feel like it. Not only does it record, but it allows me to pause live television and rewind to catch something I missed.

Black and white versus color, analog versus digital, VHS versus DVD – as long as technology continues advancing, there will always be changes in viewing entertainment from your home. What will the future hold for my grandchildren? We’re already seeing movies on computers and cell phones. I don’t know how my grandchildren will view television, but I know one thing. There will be lots of stories from grandma about the good old days.