When you ask most anyone if they watch tv, you’ll either hear, “a little” (followed by a list of programs they like) or a little more rarely, “no” (also, oddly enough, followed by a short list of programs that they like). While not many are admitting to being viewers, if you talk about a show, you’re likely to get an opinion (good or bad).
While you might not be able to tell today, since I don’t get to watch much (any?) tv outside of Sprout, I’ve always been a super-fan. Okay.. An addict, even. And you’d never know it by my recollections of commercials, programming, jingles, and theme songs from my youth, but it was actually a challenge to watch tv in our house when I was growing up.
Being better parents than I am, mine tried their best to restrict my and my sister’s viewing habits. They went to great lengths to try to keep me in check, but I’ve always had a knack at getting around obstacles. As any normal kid, that included finding ways of getting around my parents’ disapproval of my first vice.
Before the days of parental controls built into televisions (and equipment), my mother watched closely as we selected programs and monitored how much time we spent with the box. When she went back to work in my youth, my parents actually put timers on the two TV’s in the house to keep them off before they returned from work. A good idea in theory, except that they were external timers, so my sister and I just unplugged them. (Note to parents: even the short, young kids with sweet, innocent faces aren’t dumb.. or innocent.)
Before I started school, the only shows I remember watching are Sesame Street, Romper Room, Mr. Rogers or Pinwheel (ok, I only remember the theme song) in the morning. Of course, we also watched M.A.S.H. after dinner. In elementary school, my parents became relatively early adaptors of cable. We got the equipment once lines were secured underground in our neighborhood (maybe, to my skeptical and conservative-spending father, finally making it not a fad and worth a look-see). But at basic entry in the early 80’s, it really added nothing memorable for a kid to watch for a few years (lots of cartoons and infomercials, but nothing unique or original..). Nickelodeon changed that when it brought “You Can’t Do That on Television” south from Canada, but I was in the 4th grade when that happened (which maybe says a lot about my “nothing unique or original” memory).
I remember when that program started in particular, only partially because of my life-long addiction. Having unplugged the timer so many times and seen a thousand promotional commercials, I was excited to see the first episode but knew that the timing of the first-air (during homework-time) was something that my mother would never allow. So, I told her it was homework: to watch this ground-breaking new series! (Maybe I was foreseeing my future?) But even though she had to have known I was lying, for some unfathomably uncharacteristic reason, she let me watch it.* (Maybe she was foreseeing my future, too?)
I wasn’t as lucky when a few other favorite programs launched. While my parents watched “Family Ties” with my sister and I, I was also sneaking off to watch a few extra shows on the TV in their room. There I was, crouching by the tv, the volume turned down nearly to mute, watching “Cheers” or “Bosom Buddies.” They were both forbidden in our house, of course. Why? Because my parents didn’t want us to think anyone spends that much time in a bar (we had a wet-bar in our living room), nor wanted me to think that men dress up as women (we lived just outside of San Francisco.. and, again, I was allowed to watch M.A.S.H., so Jamie Farr/Clinger had already gotten me over any oddity of that).
So, yes, kids.. It can happen! A little vice turned into a passion that actually became a career. (Media and television, not cross-dressing and drinking.)