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The HeldenFiles Online

Mixed Notes 7/11

By Rich Heldenfels Published: July 11, 2013

Today's mailbag is here.

Here's my latest chat with Corbin Bernsen, who will be in Akron on Saturday for a promotional event at an Aeros game, deals with being Roger Dorn, collecting snow globes, the death of his mom (soap legend Jeanne Cooper) and the end of "Psych."

New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley has a piece about her life of loving television that is stunning in its cluelessness, its elitism and its miisunderstanding of TV. (When was watching "Star Trek" ever an act of rebellion?) I can't fault her writing this retrospective -- I did something similar as I was turning 50, which I have posted below*. But Stanley's gave me the icks.

Netflix has premiered a new series, "Orange is the New Black," which in the two episodes I've watched is showing increasing promise. It involves a young woman (Taylor Schilling) who has gone to prison, and comes from "Weeds" mastermind Jenji Cohan. You can binge-view it if you wish; the first episode is very slow but things get better in the second, which includes a good turn by Ohio's own Kate Mulgrew.

I hope everyone is dry now. Yesterday's drive home was longer than usual as I and other drivers dodged waterlogged roads, and the evening including some swabbing of the basement. But we all manage, don't we?

Subjects for later discussion: "The Heat," "White House Down," and other moviegoing.

*And here it is:

Anyone facing 50 is bound to reflect on his or her life, especially the question of how we got to where we are.

With my 50th birthday around the corner, I've been thinking about having spent half a century with television.

I am little bit older than I Love Lucy . I know what it's like to wait for a test pattern to give way to the first TV show of the day. I've seen the rise of color, cable, home video, DVD and other technological changes.

I can tell you that the best miniseries ever is The Singing Detective, followed by Lonesome Dove. All-time scariest telecast: The "Sins of the Fathers" episode of Night Gallery, then "The Dummy" on The Twilight Zone. (All right, so I was 10 when that Zone aired. I remember how scared I was even more than the episode itself.)

Best way to watch TV: Lying down on a couch, or while eating dinner on a foldable tray. Greatest sports moment: Jets beat Colts, Super Bowl III. Greatest cowboy: The Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore version). Musical milestone: The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

Proof that my career was inevitable: I was influencing TV viewing before I was born.

My parents used to go to the movies every week. When I was in the works, they realized having a baby would probably put a stop to that. So my dad put together a TV set from mail-order parts, to give them something to watch at home. (At my first Christmas, my father took a photograph that has at its center me, my mother - and the TV set.)

A lot other families were taking the same path in the early '50s, and the movie business suffered accordingly. We children of television would soon realize TV didn't just fit better in our lives. It was better than our lives.

People don't really die on TV. There are always reruns. When I walked across a playground, people didn't line up behind me the way they did for the guy on Tales of the Texas Rangers. (No, not Walker. We're going back a ways.) When I made a joke in the real world, a laugh track did not fill the room with mechanized glee.

In real fights, punches did not sound like thunderclaps - but still hurt like crazy. In the search for real romance, there was no guarantee of Love American Style, a Love Connection or a trip on The Love Boat.

And in my childhood, there was still something novel about television. TV sets were not so common, or cheap, 50 years ago. When color sets came along, they were a big status symbol - even if color at first meant something with a lot of green tint.

The viewing choices were much more limited when I first met TV, and the idea of a computer-TV combination sounded like something out of a science-fiction novel. In 1951, every TV station in Northeast Ohio was less than 5 years old.

Still, it didn't take long for TV to become a habit, for me and for everyone else.

Anyone my age who has watched an average amount of TV has spent as much time in front of the set as they have eating or sleeping. A relatively conservative estimate of tube time - say, five hours a day - means I've spent 10 years just in front of the set.

Or sets. I've seen TV in black and white and in color. On a high-definition rig in an electronics store, and in a fuzzy picture brought in by an antenna-and-coat-hanger combination to my dorm room.

Before TV sets came in stereo, I helped college friends drag huge speakers and a stereo receiver to a club's TV room, so they could be blasted by the radio simulcast of weekend concerts ABC televised.

TV has been almost inescapable. I saw Muhammad Ali beat Leon Spinks while sitting in a bar, heard the Grateful Dead on a closed-circuit feed to an old movie theater, watched a sitcom on an airplane and caught part of the Academy Awards in a hotel lobby. They brought a TV into my fourth-grade classroom when John F. Kennedy was inaugurated. (Not that we saw the swearing-in. The lunch bell rang. We were marched to the cafeteria.)

Even at home, TV appeared in different places. I was watching in bed when that ball passed between Bill Buckner's legs, in the kitchen when the Gulf War began, in the family room when Robert Kennedy was shot.

Sometimes I was alone, sometimes in a family affair. I watched Hogan's Heroes with my father, Perry Mason with my mother, soap operas with my sister, Lawrence Welk with my grandparents, Richard Nixon's resignation with my future wife and Sesame Street with our sons.

A lot of that happened before I discovered this thing called cable. You do what - plug a wire in your wall, and the other end in your TV? To see the same channels you're already getting - only more clearly? And you're supposed to pay for this?

Oh, I did pay, and not because of the clear pictures. Robin Williams. HBO. The world had changed.

It changed again in the early '80s when I plunked down a fistful of money for my first VCR. Betamax. Top loader. A row of buttons you had to set individually for the TV stations being received. But there was a new show called Hill Street Blues that I had to see - and I was working nights.

Then, armed with the VCR, I discovered you could rent movies - usually from little mom-and-pop shops with a curtained-off area in the back where they kept the porn. Now chain stores like Blockbuster dominate, but you can get new movies in your home by cable or satellite dish. Porn, too.

But is that really an advance? Not to the people, myself included, who worry about the loosening of content limits all across TV. And I once wrote a book declaring 1954 the greatest year in TV history. (Yes, I was 3 then. But I was already doing research.)

But when I look back across my first 50 years, I see a lot of lovely things framed by a TV screen.

Johnny Carson's sweet farewell. The Honeymooners. The first episode of Hill Street Blues. Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series. The Smothers Brothers' variety show. Michael Jackson on Motown 25. The Watergate hearings. Dustin Hoffman's Death of a Salesman. The original Mickey Mouse Club. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. The Andy Griffith Show. And on it goes.

It's been a tough half-century to top. But I'm not done watching.


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