It was 15 years ago, late in June 1994, that I began working for the Beacon Journal as a TV critic. After the jump: My introductory column.
Some of you are probably wondering, who is this guy? Well, I was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee and lived there until one day when my father was shootin' at some food, and up from the ground came a bubblin' crude. I learned the facts of life at an exclusive boarding school, and started my journalism career as a gofer for Lou Grant at the now-defunct Los Angeles Tribune.
I then moved to Denver, and had a brief affair with Alexis Carrington. I think it was from 10:15 to 10:18 on a Wednesday. As a young police reporter in New York, I followed the exploits of veteran cop Andy Sipowicz; as a television writer, I am best known for the definitive profile of Miles Silverberg.
At least, after all these years of television-watching, it seems that way. As my high school teacher, Connie Brooks, used to say, TV and life sometimes get mixed up in young minds.
To be serious, at least briefly, the good folks at the Beacon Journal have concluded that I have some things to say about television that you may find of interest.
And after 15 years of writing about television around Schenectady, N.Y., I was ready for a change of venue. Besides, if your cable system is anything like mine, you have to adjust your viewing -- and remote button-pushing -- about every six months anyway as the channels are shuffled faster than a hot deck on Maverick.
Yes, I remember Maverick when James Garner was the young swell -- and the one true Maverick. I also remember Lawman and Sugarfoot and Cheyenne and Wyatt Earp. And the Disney western stars: Texas John Slaughter, Elfego Baca, the Swamp Fox, Zorro. At my Virginia elementary school, I strode across the playground, pretending I was the star of Tales of the Texas Rangers and waiting for my schoolmates to fall in line with me the way the rangers did on the show. Of course, they didn't. But I was unafraid. What had Davy Crockett taught me? Be sure you're right, then go ahead. And Jiminy Cricket: Let your conscience be your guide. Real-life grown-ups had video helpmates in moral instruction.
I also remember the great television debates of the '60s. Not Kennedy vs. Nixon. Ben Casey vs. Dr. Kildare, The Munsters vs. The Addams Family, Shindig vs. Hullabaloo.
A good friend's talents included knowing all the words to the F Troop theme. I remember Star Trek when both the episodes and William Shatner's hair were original. Emma Peel stirred something in my adolescent self which, like women generally, I still do not understand.
When I talk to my sons, I hear phrases not only from my own father, but from Ward Cleaver and Jim Anderson. When I watch disasters live from around the world, I remember seeing Lee Harvey Oswald shot, Robert Kennedy gunned down.
Given that my parents limited television viewing (much as I do for my sons), it's surprising to remember how much I've seen. Then again, because there was less television then, it all seemed more important, more memorable.
Television viewing was a series of rituals. In college, before stereo telecasts, it was a big deal to haul a receiver and speakers down to a TV room so we could hear a radio simulcast of ABC's rock-concert specials.
One classmate's published account of our sophomore year is in Jeopardy! format. Sports nuts, ever present in the TV room, followed pajama-ball and underwear-ball (baseball and basketball, respectively, renamed based on a close analysis of uniforms). The university also boasted a Royal Huntation Society whose sole purpose was to watch late-night reruns of Sea Hunt and count how many times Lloyd Bridges said "huh" in each episode.
Some of you undoubtedly are waiting for the binding theoretical construct, the reason for all these odd memories of growing up in front of the television. In short, have I got a lot above my ears?
But the fact is, the only binding idea is that most of us are children of television, and we all watch it and consider it. There is no unified TV theory, since we are constantly adjusting the data when new images hit our eyes.
For instance, lately I've been considering the Inverse Quality/Ratings Ascension Conundrum. That is, if a bad series spins off a worse one, the worse one will be even more successful. Witness Melrose Place out of Beverly Hills, 90210. We'll see if the theory holds to another power with the upcoming Models Inc. begat by Melrose.
But that's just one idea covering a few series. Television is at various times good and bad, helpful and harmful, enlightened and inane, delightful and dead air. This creates ample opportunity for spouting off.
And I'd like to know what makes you spout. We'll be considering some specific questions from time to time, but for now if you have an issue or topic you want addressed, drop me a note at the Beacon Journal. I will get the mail, not to mention phone calls once I have a phone for you to call. I look forward to the TV talk.