The Glass Teat - Shadowlands Journal
A Look Inside The Vast Wasteland
by Ray Levasseur (c) August 23, 1998
The Glass Teat, Cyclops, The Boob Tube, The Box....
You could say that television and I were born and grew up together, from it's more innocent roots to the present era of excess; lewdness, violence, sensationalism, lack of content or originality, rampant consumerism and cynicism. To quote from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, "there's nothing new under the sun." What is done, was done before and will be done again. Golden age TV shows had their day in the sun, and should be left to lie. The networks regurgitate old materials which were funny in their time, to updated shows that lack what the originals had. It seems (to me) the only thing that matters is "market share," and to hell with content or quality, just make a quick big profit. The same seems to hold true in the movie industry where Hollywood blanket bombs the population with "mostly" visual junk food for the mind. In many ways racy scripts, excess action and violence and blockbuster special effects attempt to divert the moviegoer's attention away from the realization that they have paid to see an otherwise half baked, mediocre story. If they throw enough films at us, some have to wind up winners. Very seldom does a great, immortal film get released. We live in a throwaway society, and our entertainment industry reflects this mindset. Even back during the 50's the director of the F.C.C. referred to television as a "Vast Wasteland." I wonder if he were around today, what his feelings would be?
I view a lot less TV than when I was younger. Of course life in the 90's is much more stressful, demanding and time consuming than during a kinder/gentler era. I have much less time today to just be a couch potato for a day. If I turn that rotten box on, the last thing I want to do is get even more stressed out, which (for me) has become the case with television.
Television could be much more, if the producers and executives really tried. For the most part, it requires no thought and is a totally passive time waster. In my opinion, Public Broadcasting is one of the few exceptions to this rule, but still Television IS a non participatory medium, where it's only you and the tube. One sorry statement of these alienated times is that, for many, TV is their only companion. Numerous social experts claim that television is the cause of so much violence in society. I agree to some extent in that it does mirror what's going on, and does influence behavior, especially among the young, easilly impressionable and marginally sane. There is little/no excuse for a lot of the air time garbage that pollutes the air waves, but violence, sensationalism, profanity and sex do sell, I'm just not one of the major consumers of this stuff.
The Good, The Bad and The Boring.
I know that opinions are like tushies, everyone has one. There are all sorts of programs for varying tastes. For the most part, I find TV a big waste of time; mindless, demoralizing, dumbed down. I have not had cable for years as all I find cable to be is 600 channels of the same old thing. When I do view network programs, the mute button gets pressed whenever commercials come on. As time marches on, society seems to become more materialistic and greed motivated; that's all that seems to matter to many people. I personally do not want or need the never-ending stream of "stuff" that the sponsors insist is essential to my self worth and eternal "salvation." I could write volumes more about what a sewer the TV, film and music industries have become, but will nip those comments short; another fish to fry, in another pan, for viewer consumption at some future Area51 potluck editorial.
Shows That Influenced Yours Truly
From Childhood to Present, Also Some of
My All Time Favorites.
The Also Rans, Specials and Assorted
- Mister Wizard - Any kid that was a science geek watched Mister Wizard. He was always showing the neighborhood kids the wonders of science.
- Ernie Kovacs - A pioneer in early televised humor and site gags. Ernie definitely pushed the envelope and was a precursor to future shows like Saturday Night Live.
- The Honeymooners - Jackie Gleason at his early best, shows are now considered classic, some being released on tape.
- I Love Lucy - Lucille Ball/Desi Arnez. Has also become a classic, but was one of the shows that the folks let me watch.
- Red Skelton - A man of many characters, who hosted a long running variety show. Full of ribald/burlesque humor.
- Steve Allen, Tonight Show - I always liked Steve's dry sense of humor. In my opinion he had a lot going for him that Johnny Carson and other hosts lacked.
- Science Fiction Theater - Early Twilight Zone sort of program, which I never missed.
- One Step Beyond - Another Twilight Zone genre show that had a very high creep out factor. Left me with many nightmares, but still came back week after week.
- The Twilight Zone - With Rod Serling. Often imitated, seldom duplicated. Mr. Serling was a master of the macabre, and whipped up many a spine tingling, thought provoking tale. One of my all time favorite shows.
- Rocky And Bullwinkle - Never missed this show, my parents also watched the moose and squirrel. Looking back, this show was filled with adult and political humor.
- The Jetsons - A space age version of the Simpsons, always loved this show.
- The Flintstones - A stone age version of the Simpsons; ditto here, always watched Fred and Wilma.
- The Addams Family - A classic, in my opinion. The movies never seemed to live up to the original TV series.
- The Munsters - Same as The Addams Family, but I did enjoy the Addams' more.
- The Invaders - A Quinn Martin production. An early X-Files sort of program that didn't survive. Architect David Vincent stumbled on an alien invasion of Earth. Each week trying to convince an unbelieving world that they were here.
- The Night Stalker - Too bad this show got the axe almost out of the starting gate, as it WAS what the X-Files has become. Maximum creep factor.
- The Outer Limits - A more spacey version of the Twilight Zone; good stories, with a moral at the end. Creeped me out as a kid.
- Star Trek - Never missed an episode. After ST:TNG came out, the original seemed hokey in comparison. Shatner is such a ham.
Lost in the cosmos for 4 years while in the Navy.
Moving on through the 70's to present.
- All In The Family - The whole family watched this show every week. My Dad could have passed for a stunt double of Archie Bunker. Only in my opinion, but one of the last golden era of sitcoms shows.
- Soap - The whole family never missed this one either. Tres bizarre family, where the only sane characters were a gay son and the black butler.
- M.A.S.H. - This was one of those "one of a kind" shows, funny, sensitive and entertaining. It's too bad TV has lost this magic touch. Of course I always liked Alan Alda. I still consider MASH one of TV's best.
- Saturday Night Live - It's too bad there were no consumer VCR's during this period. I loved SNL's early years, up through the period until Dana Carvey left. My personal feeling is they should just have a wake, funeral, then put this show to rest; it's not funny any more.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus - Say no more, nudge nudge, wink wink. I love British humor.
- Saint Elsewhere - Although I never watch hospital/doctor shows I really enjoyed St. Elsewhere.
- Hill Street Blues - I really do not like cop shows, but made an exception for this one; really good stories and characters.
- NOVA - Always tuned into PBS's flagship science program and still do.
- This Old House - Although I am not a homeowner, I have always managed to watch each project they tackle. Each one unaffordable to mere mortals, only the MBA/BMW set can afford :-)
- The Night Gallery - Rod Serling's attempt at resurrecting the Twilight Zone. I enjoyed the Night Gallery just as much as the Zone, but it didn't last as long; sigh!
- The New Twilight Zone - Was hosted by Burgess Meredith in memory of the master, Rod Serling. This show had some mighty interesting, creepy and thought provoking programs. Ditto here, too bad it didn't last.
- Brothers - This was a Showtime presentation, back when I had cable, and in my opinion one of the more touching and well made sitcoms, about two brothers, one gay the other straight.
- Friday The 13th, The Series - I hate slasher movies and when I turned on the TV one evening the program was just beginning. I was ready to change channels; then to my surprise found this to be a well made, interesting Twilight Zone sort of program about the owner of a curio shop. In each episode some artifact had to be tracked down and safely locked away. There was a story and threat to mankind associated with each artifact. Friday The 13th was a pleasant surprise while it lasted.
- Star Trek:TNG - I confess, I hated this at first, then became a weekly fan when re-runs began of earlier season's programs. TNG is my favorite of all the Star Trek shows.
- Scientific American Frontiers - Another PBS science program that I have always found interesting and enjoyable. Alan Alda was a good choice as host on this show.
- The Simpsons - Oh all right, I absolutely hated this show, then tuned in one evening on our local FOX station. I have been a regular viewer of Springfield's First Family ever since. This show is very clever, imaginative and (IMO) funny. Matt Groening at his very best.
- Home Improvement - Again! I hated this show until tuning into re-runs on our FOX station. I have grown to really like this show, and consider it one of the best sitcoms of this era. I like the earlier shows where the kids were younger the best. Al and Wilson, the next door neighbor are my favorite characters.
- The X-Files - What can I say? In my opinion, one of the best TV dramas in many a year. Chris Carter picks up where the Night Stalker left of in the 60's, and has really run with the ball. I enjoy the plots, the characters, but my favorite episodes are where Carter keeps to the basic X-Files mythology of the secret government, aliens and cover-ups.
- The Outer Limits - The new MGM series. I caught this show on recommendation of a friend. The new Outer Limits is (IMO) much improved over it's predecessor; good special effects, creepy, original and thought provoking stories. Light bedtime viewing :-)
- Dark Skies - Too bad NBC gave this one the axe at the end of the first season. A few friends and I felt that Dark Skies was as good, if not better in some ways, than the X-Files. The producers did a good job in weaving much of the popular UFO, alien, Area51 and conspiracy folklore into a historical chronology. Sigh! Dark Skies, RIP.
Bigboote Honorable Fave Mentions.
I don't get TV Guide, not even the free inserts that newspapers include in the Sunday paper. I'll watch a program based on suggestions from coworkers and friends, or when a trailer is aired for "tune in next week," during a program I'm viewing at the time. Other than that, I only regularly watch 4-5 shows in a given week.
So there you have it, my fairly in depth viewing habits and history of personal favorites. As you might guess, I especially like Science Fiction, Twilight Zone/X-Files genre, Science and How-To programs, Documentaries and off the wall Comedy. Throw in some uplifting Spiritual material, and that just about sums up why I even bother to turn the box on.
- Billy Graham Crusades - I usually catch these by pure chance if I surf around the Boston Big 3 Stations. The good Reverend Graham always manages to speak to my heart and soul.
- PBS, WGBH Boston - I have been a WGBH member for about 25 years and if I'm looking for programming that will not stress me out, make me feel crazy or in dire immediate danger, then I tune to Channel 2 or 44. PBS has long been associated with the production of high quality, educational, unique and entertaining programs. I especially enjoy NOVA, Scientific American Frontiers and Travel programs. This Old House is a weekly view as are many of the imported British comedy programs. I have also viewed many of the multi-part documentary series that spanned many subjects; the internet, computer nerds, medicine, science, major events/people in history and the list could go on.
- TV Magazines - Many major cities have news magazine shows that deal with local issues. In Boston, Channel 5 has Chronicle, a well made, informative and entertaining nighty news Zine. There are usually common themes for each show; acts of heroism, best bets for cheap eats around Massachusetts, interesting places to visit, places to stay, local people, etc, etc. PBS does exemplify what television can be.
- How To's, The Making Of's - I usually stumble across these by chance when they are aired as "specials" on the major networks; how movies were made, special-fx magic, how things work, etc.
Some Teevee Links For You
- The Ultimate TV List
- PBS Online Public Broadcasting.
- WGBH Public Broadcasting in Boston.
- The Discovery Channel
- The Sci-Fi Channel
- Welcome To FOXWorld FOX Network.
Til then, I bid you Peace, Ray