Things Were Better When There Were Fewer TV Shows

Categories: TV

topo-gigio-7.jpg

Let me go into my Grandma Moses mode and bitch about something relatively newfangled and shit.

Back when I was growing up in the Civil War, there were only a handful of TV stations on the dial.

And that meant that every single human with a TV set watched the very same things.

Every conscious American would sit down every week for The Ed Sullivan Show (above), and, as the years passed, we'd all focus our communal gaze on Bonanza, Bewitched, That Girl, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Everyone watched these shows!!!! You had no other choices -- and besides, they were really good!!!!

They became shared experiences -- a form of culture that a vast majority of the American populace lived for, looked forward to, and could relate to.

So if you said to just about anyone, "Can you believe what Topo Gigio did last night?" they knew just what you were talking about.

And then along came cable (which gave my face a home, so I'm not really complaining that hard).

As a niche-marketing tool, it's grown to the point where there are literally hundreds of channels with thousands of shows on them.

Some of them do way better than others, while most of them exist in a place where they aren't instantly identifiable to everyone you meet.

So saying, "Could you believe what happened on Whale Hoarders last night?" might get you blank stares.

And I defy you to know who was booted off that talent show last week -- not the big one some people watch, but the knockoff of it. (Or is that even on anymore?)

We've lost our communal culture!

Of course, the more media, the better -- and now Facebook and the Internet have become everyone's shared experiences -- but still:

Things were better when there were only a handful of channels!


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22 comments
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CMG
CMG

I think things were better when there were fewer channels of original programming.  At first it was an outlet against puritanical censorship but now it has gotten out of hand.  No way the History Channel should have original shows of entertainment.  Then you have networks that never existed 10 years ago.  Even if the product is good the shelf-life and viewership availability, like in the case of Party Down, is not going to be there until Netflix has it on instant streaming.  

Anyway, Network TV has really coasted on lazy programming decisions with their overlords already controlling these smaller networks that either have highly rated reality shows or some decent original programming that is pretty good.  Look at a lot of the awards shows, it is no longer just HBO winning awards.  Network TV, especially the dramas, is losing footing.  

Fredly
Fredly

Yup, have thought much about the loss of that communal sharing thing, in music as well as TV.  What will today's young people have to be nostalgic about in 20-30 years?  With no common experiences, remembering the past is apt to be a solitary affair.  Will make for some dull New Years Eve and class reunion parties.  Old folks such as myself can go anywhere in the country, with total strangers, but if Louie Louie, Proud Mary, Little Red Corvette or dozens of other top 40 hits from the 1960s-80s is played, there's an instant bond.  Saying "so Donna Reed" or is short hand that everyone understands to mean a thousand words about a time and a lifestyle.  I love the TV selection available today but think it will have long term consequences that will give anthropologists something to write about a century from now.

Manny Espinola
Manny Espinola

"A hundred and fifty channels and there's nothing on.." Bruce Springsteen song

flexfuzz
flexfuzz

OH Topo Gigio. He was such a cutie!!!!

Victorherbert
Victorherbert

Tivo (or DVR) is the answer - wade your way through the horde and record what you might want to watch - then, unless you're a complete couch potato, you'll always have more than enough stuff to choose from.

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

And for one glorious season, we had "The Judy Garland Show"onCBS every week.

Teen-age Southern Dave sat right before the TV screen for that one!

And if you don't believe the show was glorious, check out the DVDs. The comedy bits were mostly lame, but Judy was magnificent.

The sets were beautifully designed for B&W and Garland's gowns were by Ray Aghayan and his young partner, Bob Mackie.

Guest stars, just off the top of my head: Barbra Streisand, Ethel Merman, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Count Basie, Chita Rivera, Bobby Darin, Jack Jones, Mel Torme (who worked on the show), Diahann Carroll, Vic Damone, Martha Raye, Judy's scarecrow Ray Bolger, Donald O'Connor, Mickey Rooney, Jane Powell and most memorable of all, Liza Minnelli.

Gag Hag
Gag Hag

Yeah, Judy was never more magnificent.  And Willie Mays' greatest days were as a Met.

Melinda9
Melinda9

Speaking of Topo Gigio, don't forget Señor Wences.

mjm
mjm

the '60s and '70s were era of the variety show, talk show, and the sitcom (pre SNL which changed everything) I'll definitely say that and it was a star-powered era too: Rowan and Martin, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Carol Burnett Show (still hilarious) , Lucy (all of her shows), Judy Garland (although CBS sabotaged her show), MASH, Mary Tyler Moore Show (w/ the best ensemble cast in TV history: Betty White, Cloris Leachman, Valerie Harper,Ted Knight, Ed Asner), Dean Martin, Cher (forgot Sonny it was Cher in her Bob Mackie dresses), Mitzi Gaynor, Merv Griffin, All in the Family (a milestone), Good Times, Aaron Spelling's shlock, The Jeffersons, The Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson, Bob Newhart Show, Diahann Carroll as Julia, Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore, Dick Cavett, and of course Johnny Carson.

the early-mid '60s had the "escapist" shows: I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Gilligan's Island, The Beverly HIllbillies, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction.

too bad that TV Land has cut out most of the classic programming save Dick Van Dyke Show, MASH, Bonanza and Gunsmoke. I'm from Chicago and they have a classic TV channel called Me-TV and they show all of these and more.

RonH
RonH

Yes, I remember when I could memorize the whole TV Schedule. Three networks that was it. Does anyone who reads this remember waiting to read the Fall Preview Issue of TV Guide?

Anne Thrax
Anne Thrax

 I couldn't wait to get that...now I just don't care.

Edwina Monsoon
Edwina Monsoon

"I don't want more choices, I want nicer things!"

Rabbit
Rabbit

We grew up in roughly the same era - and you did look quite fetching when running around in your Mother's hoop skirt.

For all the channels available today, I still zero in on a handful. 

Melinda9
Melinda9

It's really not that different - 3 channels of crap vs. hundreds of channels of crap - on any given night, there's hardly anything that you want to watch. And people have different tastes in entertainment. I'd love to have someone to discuss Project Runway with but no one I know watches. My best friend loves shows like CSI which I hate. I agree with MSpeer about the ad encroachment. Lifetime made Project Runway an hour and a half. I swear to god there's a half hour of commercials now. I always DVR it and watch later so I can fast forward.

Bwaybill
Bwaybill

It was interesting the way ed would so openly flirty with Topo, obviously forgetting that it was a male mouse. It was the gayest thing on tv for years.

MessWithTexas
MessWithTexas

I remember Topo Gigio, but only  because at first squeak, my dad would rumble from his full-length couch position, "Not that goddam mouse again!"

MSpeer
MSpeer

I don't mind the varied programming (although there are nights when you can't seem to find anything worth watching). What gets me is that when cable was just getting started in the very early 80s it was marketed as commercial free viewing (since you would pay a monthly fee) and the reception would be uniformly terrific.

Now I pay close to $200 a month and the programming is saturated with ads. And when transmission gets screwed up there's no recourse. The cable provider won't refund you for the day/hour you lost until it reaches a threshold (that they set).

And what's with all the damn "seasons" now? A season used to be September through May. Now it's just whatever the show want's to call a season regardless of the number of episodes or time of year.

So while I do miss the tremendous anticipation that led up to the fall premieres I do like much of what's available now on cable.

Savannah Montgomery
Savannah Montgomery

...and remember when "Bonanza" would do its season-premiere with all the commercials for the new model Chevy's at the end...we WAITED for that!

Timmmyk
Timmmyk

Yeah, I remember laughing my ass off when Topo Gogio bit Ed Sullivan and gave him the black plague. It was a long long time ago for sure.

Gigot
Gigot

I agree. Nowadays it's like getting a menu with too many pages. it's overwhelming. I'd rather just have the basic choices and make sure they're all good.

rolph
rolph

If that cute mouse was on every week, I would definitely watch!!

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