Having a kid in the house really makes you realize where you’ve been, and how far you’ve come. It struck me a while ago, for example, that my daughter, who is very proud of the fact that she is “Four and three quarters”, has never seen a phone that actually has a handset that is connected by a cord to a base unit that is connected by another cord into a wall. Her grandparents have landlines, so that’s not a foreign concept to her, but those landlines are connected to cordless phones. I realized that something similar was going on when she recently asked to watch one of her Nick Jr. programs in the evening. When I tried to explain to her that her show wasn’t on at the time, that the show in question was part of t I saw that I had some explaining to do. Just as she had been born into the wireless generation, she had also been born in the age of TV on DVD. Up to that point, she had always been able to count on Mom and Dad for instant access to her programming, by way of DVD, On-demand, Netflix or (ahem) Bit Torrent. My memories of Thursday nights being virtually owned by NBC’s “Must See TV” are still very strong, but it’s been a while since Cheers, The Cosby Show, Friends, ER and whatever else NBC was trying out actually caused me (or anyone else for that matter) to actually make a plan around a scheduled show time of a TV show. There was that brief period where some of the second-tier networks would show several episodes of something in a row: I have a fond memory of getting pizza and sedttling in for the SciFi Channel’s Battlestar Galactithon. A few years later, TNT provided hours of Law and Order background noise every night. The night before my daughter was born, in fact, the Missus and I watched 4 episodes of The West Wing on Bravo. The real change, of course, happened when the DVR made it’s big appearance. VCR’s certainly looked like they were going to introduce the concept of the time shift, but nobody ever learned to actually program them, so it was up to Tivo to really make it happen. The notion that programming happened on the network’s schedule was in serious danger.
The big difference, though, in my humble opinion, happened when one could walk into their local electronics store and buy an entire season of a show in one gulp. Suddenly story arcs could be played out in an evening or two, rather than over the course of months. Minor continuity gaffes suddenly became a big deal, since people would actually notice them. Guest actors were now limited to a single character, rather than showing up over and over again as different people. If you don’t believe me, go rent M*A*S*H, Star Trek, or just about anything else from the 60’s through the 80’s. You’ll see it.
The overall viewing experience of a television program then necessarily changed. Storylines would unfold at the rate the viewer wished them to, as much as an entire season in a single sitting. Wow. A lesser-cited side effect of this was that the classic problem of missing a critical episode and then being lost for the rest of the season was largely mitigated. Once could either just wait for the season to come out on DVD, or catch up by some combination of on-demand or downloadable versions.
One of the great side effects is that almost all of television’s history is part of a very accessible archive. For my part, it seemed I got really busy about 1995 or so, and stayed that way for a long time. I was aware that there was a lot of programming going on, and some of it was really good. At the time, however, there was no way I would have been able to stay current on any of what i saw as being the “Good Stuff”. Over the last couple of years I did not get any less busy, but since television was now on my schedule instead of vice versa, I was finally able to get a little bit caught up.
Some of what had stuck with me over the years turned out to be absolutely wunnerful stuff, and some less so. So here, in no particular order, are some of my new favorite old TV shows: