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Children’s Television

When I was seven years old, I inherited my parents’ old black and white television set. I could never fall asleep as early as everyone else in the house, so I watched whatever was on until Johnny Carson at 11:30 PM, when I could relax. I felt like he could see me through the TV, and therefore I wasn’t alone. I’d leave the TV on as a night light, waking up at Three AM to the buzz of the target on the screen.

I had a philosophy teacher in college who told us that people who leave the TV on for company are fooling themselves, but I didn’t like him anyway.

Delilah, my childhood Doberman pinscher, used to sleep on my bed during the day, so she watched TV with me sometimes. I don’t think she cared much for it though. Maybe she liked the steady hum of the TV in the background of her dreams. She just liked being with me, especially if I had snacks in my room, or was up in the middle of the night. In a way, I was the TV show she watched.

My Delilah

My Delilah

From an early age, I would read through my TV guide with a highlighter and count up how many shows I could look forward to in the coming week. My favorite issues of the magazine were the ones at the end of the summer that previewed the new shows for the fall. It was just like getting my new school books in August and being able to preview all of the potentially exciting homework for the year ahead, and similarly disappointing by October and November when school and TV turned out not to be as wonderful as I’d hoped.

“Rachel, someone peed on these hastas! This is much more interesting than your TV shows.”

I never felt satisfied by children’s television. There were times, watching The Smurfs, where I saw glimpses of my real life, in the tininess of the smurfs compared to the enormous Gargamel, but most of the time, shows for children portrayed us as super powered beings, as if the average eight-year old could overcome abuse and war and neglect without any help. I needed Wonder Woman to come to my house and help me, not to always be helping the government. I needed the Bionic Woman to hear me with her super hearing, and run to scoop me up, and jump out of the window with me in her arms. And I needed some explanation of how these children on TV were able to survive, because it didn’t make sense to me.

I didn’t like the way the adult characters in kid’s shows talked so slowly and with such simple language, as if I were an idiot. That’s not how real people talked. I liked Cookie Monster, though, because he would start out counting and then just start shoving cookies in his mouth and losing control. This I could relate to.

My Dina, the peanut butter monster!

My Dina, the peanut butter monster!

I watched mostly shows meant for adults, instead. I felt like these were my teachers. In school we never talked about real life. There was no discussion of how often to take showers, or which clothes to wear, or how to earn money, or how to make friends. There was an endless list of rules that everyone else seemed to live by automatically, and I couldn’t find the list anywhere.

“Hygiene is overrated, Mommy.”

I loved The Love Boat. I didn’t understand that it was unrealistic. I thought the floating, fizzy feeling of the show was completely possible in real life. Even when dark things happened, the tone of the show was never dark. And a little girl got to live on the ship, and be doted on all the time, and her Dad was the captain, and there was a cruise director planning activities, and everyone was so happy to be there.

For some reason I really liked The Fall Guy with Lee Majors as a bounty hunter. I liked that his job was to catch bad guys, and that he worked so hard to do it. In my real life, the adults I knew would have given up as soon as it started to look difficult or dangerous. I loved his persistence.

My favorite shows were the ones that made better lives seem possible. Like on Kate and Allie, where these two divorced Moms, with three kids, shared a house. I loved the idea that friends could be your family, and that you could depend on them and not have to survive on your own. On One Day at a Time, a divorced woman moved out with her two teenage daughters to live in an apartment in the city, and it was not sugar coated at all. The point of the show seemed to be that women can do this; they can start over, even when it’s hard, even when things go wrong along the way. And I wanted to believe in that.

I still believe in the transformative power of TV shows, but I think we need a better idea of how to present it. Two dimensional images on a screen are not enough. Maybe the images could be projected, like holograms, into the room. Cricket and Butterfly would love that! We’d need a less furnished room to watch TV in, so that the characters wouldn’t be projected onto the coffee table or impaled by a lamp. And maybe there could be a device we’d wear, like a sensor on our foreheads that would see how we’re feeling and pick a show to fit our needs. Cricket would get a laser light show, so she could chase the lights around the room until she was exhausted, and then there’d be soothing music to help her take a nap. Butterfly would get bird songs, in stereo, all around the room. And she’d need some smell-o-vision, and a treat dispenser, and maybe an automatic scratchy hand she could go over to when she’s itchy.

Butterfly and her buddies are ready to watch TV.

Butterfly and her buddies are ready to watch TV.

Cricket's not so sure about this arrangement.

Cricket’s not so sure about this arrangement.

And for me, as a kid, I would have loved to have recognition that I was there in the room, and that I mattered; that the TV show only came to life because someone was watching it. Even better, a character on the TV could wave to me, and say, Rachel looks tired, maybe we shouldn’t have a smash ‘em up car chase right now, let me go get my acoustic guitar.

“I like acoustic guitar too, Mommy.”

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

87 responses »

  1. You took me down a mostalgic road with the Love Boat and Kate and Allie. 😀

    Reply
  2. I always liked Grover on Sesame Street. He was kind of a non-entity, but still fit in somehow. I could relate at the time.

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    • What did Grover do? I remember Oscar the grouch in his garbage can, and snuffleufigus, and big bird, and bert and ernie, and the count!

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      • I loved Oscar and Grover–especially Oscar. I felt sorry for him. He seemed so misunderstood (like Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh).

        You took me down memory lane, too. I forgot about the TV Guide Fall Guide and planning my week around shows before we knew that too much tv was bad. 🙂

        Did you ever see Kimba the White Lion? A kids’ cartoon about ecological devastation brought on by evil white corporations? Very scary. My mother banned me from watching it. I was 4.

      • I don’t think any tv shows were banned at my house. My brother made me watch the V miniseries, where the alien climbs out of his human mother’s stomach. Oy.

      • My mother was tired of getting up to find me sobbing over the destruction of the world. I blamed myself. 🙂

  3. Kali could care less about TV. Kaci went bananas during the Triple Crown, hopping up and down like a piston in a turbocharged engine. We call her “Horse Racy Kaci”. Some dogs respond to what’s on TV and others just see blurs.

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    • Butterfly likes to sit in front of the TV and stare at the screen. I’m not sure if she’s really watching, or just imitating me, though.

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      • Butterfly isn’t connecting the dots. Some dogs do it and other do not. Kaci does and Kali doesn’t. It doesn’t mean that Kali is stupid, on the contrary Kali is very smart, it’s just that she has different survival skills to contribute to the pack.

      • It’s not “connecting the dots” in intelligent, it is perceiving the pixels on a screen and seeing an image. Those two complement each other’s skills and deficiencies so that together, they have a (almost) complete skill set.

  4. Your dobbie sure was a beautiful dog as well as all the rest and up to your present dogs. I agree that TV surely has been great for many children. I grew up poor and we had one black and while TV that went off at 10:30pm. It was in my parents bedroom but I had a music from an old radio and that was even better for me. I loved music and still do.

    This was a great read. Very enjoyable.

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  5. Oh, that TV Guide with the new fall shows–I loved that! I haven’t watched TV for years now. I got confused when the ‘new season’ started in February and then again in July? It got weird, and the shows got crummy. Hart to Hart? Oh, they don’t make shows like that anymore.

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  6. We didn’t have a TV until I was 15. I still don’t watch much now.

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  7. Terrific piece, Rachel. Am enjoying your more personal vein.

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  8. That’s a really interesting and thoughtful piece of remembering.

    My own experience was quite different, growing up no doubt a lot longer ago in a slightly less gizmo-forefront culture (Britain) and in a family that needed to be pretty tight on money. A TV didn’t appear till my early teens and then it was in the bedroom of my grandmother, which meant no late evening viewing!

    My experience with books, though, was not unlike yours with TV. OK I read children’s books, but also lots of adult books in the proper sense (books for adults, not sex books). I read voraciously including forewords and all. Thus I learnt from a collection of short stories that Robert Louis Stevenson died quite young. The book included the usual acknowledgments: “Our thanks are due to Mr X for permission to use…” and “…to the executors of Robert Louis Stevenson for permission to use…”.

    So I knew why Stevenson had died quite young. They’d cut his head off, these executors.

    My lasting memory of TV was when De Gaulle’s quite new government in France was disengaging from Algeria and faced an attempted military coup by the generals in Algeria. British TV news included De Gaulle’s TV message to the French people including the soldiers, a magnificent piece of theatre for which he wore his general’s uniform. The soundtrack was in French with English subtitles and my French wasn’t bad. I still remember some of his words and gestures. Real history. The coup attempt collapsed, of course.

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  9. Millie avidly watches any show with four-legged creatures in it – if they are dogs, she tries to talk to them. Pearl ignores the TV altogether.
    Your Delilah was a beautiful dog!

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  10. By the way, I still watch children’s TV occasionally. I love silly, slapstick humour!

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  11. Poignant piece…excellent. I love knowing what TV shows people watched and are watching. Best quote: I needed Wonder Woman to come to my house and help me, and not always be helping the government. Classic.

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  12. me too.i started watching johnny carson, when i was 7 & left the tv on all night . i still do.lol
    sometimes i watched tom snyder after johnny..we’re twins..i didn’t watch child shows either,except flintstones & jetsons, when i was older…

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    Reply
  14. I used to read a lot. Not much on TV, but oh the places I went when I entered a book.

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  15. I love your blog. Thanks for the stroll down Memory Lane. TV was better without all of the blatant sex talk … and outright sex.

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  16. Great post Rachel. I didn’t watch much TV when I was a child, I was mostly outdoors and then too tired…and would fall asleep. I’m still selective with what I watch, but Bumble isn’t. He loves to listen to it in bed when I read my Kindle, so it’s on 🙂

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  17. I can really relate – I would escape into the tv shows of happy families where everything always turned out, families were perfect and happy. Being the youngest I was often left to my own devises and tv really did make me less lonely. It did not take long as an adult that I realized my family was quite normal afterall.

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  18. TV so defined the children of the 60s and beyond. I think the guitar is the way to go. (Loved kate and Allie )

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  19. When you describe the concept of a holograph type TV experience, I am reminded of the book Fareniet 451, by Ray Bradbury (1954). Here is a synopsis of the technology from SparkNotes:
    Clarisse [Montag’s neighbor] seems older to Montag [main character] than she really is, even older than his wife, who is fourteen years her senior. Mildred [Montag’s wife] seems childish by comparison, perhaps because very little goes through her mind that has not been put there by the vapid television and radio media. Technology has replaced actual human contact for Mildred, just as it has for most of the city’s population. She refers to the people on her interactive TV parlor walls (which have been written with one part missing, so that the viewer can read those lines and feel a part of the action on screen) as her “family.”

    A book and movie worth reading and watching!

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  20. Gosh, I love how your dogs figure(d) in to your television watching. 🙂

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  21. I also had a Doberman growing up – her name was Brandy and she was my best buddy. I used to love watching the Brady Bunch, Eight is Enough, Partridge Family, and any happy family show – I wanted to climb into the TV and live with them. One of my favorite shows was The Bionic Woman. What a great post – I could go on and on!

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  22. Growing up we never had television as children – we made out own entertainment, organized concerts and played games – the games we played depended on the season and the time of the season. There were no rules just that we played with marbles for a time, then we didn’t and it was something else. As I grew older I never did develop a love affair with television and I sometimes feel I miss out on a lot of conversations because I don’t know characters from different television shows. Annabell is a TV person, I am not.

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  23. Delilah is a beautiful name for a beautiful girl. Just in case no one’s told you lately – you matter. A big honkin’ bunch, ok? 🙂

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  24. I thought I had leukemia because my mother cried at an episode about a boy with leukemia on Dr. Kildare. That led me to pray for years before bed…”and don’t let anyone die of cancer unless they want to, and let everyone live a long life…”!

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  25. Really enjoyed reading that 🙂 I fall asleep with the TV on every night because if I turn it off my mind starts going all over the place and then I’m wide awake.

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  26. My husband Ron loves television, and like you, highlights those programs that take his fancy. 🙂

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  27. I loved The Love Boat and The Fall Guy too! I never got a TV in my room:( VCR’s weren’t around when I was little, so I watched what my parents watched. Of course then it was pretty much PG rated… today I watch kid shows because most evening programming isn’t suitable for my kids, go figure!

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    Reply
  29. I loved TV when I was a kid, too–watched everything from Upstairs, Downstairs to Fantasy Island… I always thought the most depressing hour on TV was when they put Chico and the Man back to back with Sanford and Son!

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  30. Great post, Rachel. I remember how I loved reading the weekly TV Guide. When I was a kid, my favorite shows were The Twilight Zone and Bewitched. 😀 You might say I was into fantasy!

    Now I’m still into fantasy. I’m currently watching on Netflix the entire run of Lost. Very bizarre – and that is probably what keeps me watching!

    I enjoyed the photos of Delilah, Cricket and Butterfly. 🙂

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    • Does LOST make more sense when you watch the episodes one after the other instead of spread out over the seasons? Because…I never got it. I watched it, but I never understood what I was watching.

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  31. Thank you very much.We love life and love dogs.I think,all life need one morst Love.

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  32. I totally love The Love Boat, too!

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  33. I will admit it! I liked the Love Boat too. Gosh, I still remember the theme song lyrics haha

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  34. Pingback: STARLIGHT Blogger Award | Riddle from the Middle

  35. We don’t limit or restrict what ou children, 11 and almost 14, watch on TV. They’re homeschooled, and it’s not unusual for them to watch the news, the weather channel, documentaries on technology or nature on PBS, the daytime court shows, cartoons (South Park, Family Guy, American Dad, Phineas and Ferb, and anime have all been popular), The Big Bang Theory, Bones, Grey’s Anatomy…

    But, honestly, they’re more likely to watch YouTube videos by people they like, and there’s a lot more variety there, on-demand…

    I remember watching The Waltons, and wanting to both be and marry John Boy.

    My mother banned Star Trek. “How can someone as smart as you watch that stupid show?” she demanded. She didn’t like science fiction, and didn’t want me to…

    But I’m almost 46 now, and still love Trek. My current favorite: Star Trek: Enterprise, which I missed when it was new because I was making my own TV watchers…but now…

    It’s got Trip and T’Pol, (I love a good love story – and one with a human and a Vulcan trying to figure out how to navigate not only the male/female stuff, but the ‘not even of my species!” stuff – it’s a bit of magic), Trek history, a cool ship, and even Porthos, the only beagle in deep space in the 2100s. =)

    Love this post. Our aging pit bull mix, Corki, will sometimes bark at other dogs he hears on TV, but doesn’t watch. My father in law had a Rottweiler, Rex, who would try to get at any animal he saw on the screen – even cartoon animals!

    Last thing – when I was 6, I wanted to marry Grover.

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    • Star Trek was ahead of its time, and full of philosophy and ideas for social and moral change. Not stupid at all. I don’ think I wanted to marry anyone when I was six, but I definitely wanted to have superpowers.

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      • It was my mother who was limited – and not allowing or supporting my passion for Trek, and instead ridiculing it, drove a wedge. She did the same, later, with M*A*S*H, which my husband of almost 18 years and I have been watching together since we were dating…

        No amount of banning stopped me from seeing strange new worlds in Star Trek, from being expanded and deepened by it.

        It might have been better if she’d done what I do with my kids. I don’t always like what they do (we’re different people, after all), but when they invite me to watch something with them, I try to watch it through their eyes, and not my own – to see why THEY love it, rather than why I don’t care for it..

        I’ve gained so much insight from learning about the shows that they love…

        And, by the way, my Accomplice is neither Grover, nor John-Boy.

        If I were going to have a super-power, it would be the ability to help people see one another’s perspective…

  36. Nice,,,enjoyed reading it! thank u for droppingby Foxycleopatra the tzu , hope to make u smile, I have super powers too , lol! Hugs

    Reply

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