I write about the shows I experienced as a child, because those are my deepest memories. This is a healthy exercise, and I recommend you try your own home version of it. These memories are connected to family, since most of us watched TV together back in the 1970’s. Most homes had only one, maybe two TV sets– so you had to agree on what to watch and share the space.
That is a much different viewing experience, compared to how millennials watch on their devices nowadays. Back then there were only three networks: ABC, CBS & NBC, with PBS available when you switched your TV between VHF/UHF. No cable/satellite television, and obviously– no Internet. Remote controls were relatively new, if that helps with perspective.
But despite these differences in the medium through which we interact with pop culture & society, it’s the same in that we are still being manipulated by the puppet-masters. When you reach an age of maturity, it is important to go back to what you watched as a kid, and re-examine how it impacted you. When you are young, it’s impossible to understand the complexities of media manipulation in the name of ratings and advertising dollars, but it’s always there and it drives everything.
If you never come to terms with the fact that what you watched as a kid was used to shape how you think, then you become a zombie. There are more than a few zombies among us. These semi-corpses always believe what their preferred TV channels tells them, put appearances first, and avoid any topics of substance or importance– which make them “uncomfortable.” Critical thinking doesn’t exist for them. The kicker here is that none of this prevents one from becoming President of the United States, or obtaining any other position of power & importance. The most important thing for that is being a TV star.
I no longer have a TV, and am not interested in it– generally speaking. Every once in a while I’ll get a twinge during the World Series, or (most recently) the World Cup, but it quickly passes. Once I tune in, I’m instantly reminded why I don’t give this medium my attention anymore. It’s too many commercials & loudmouths during the program– especially in sports. The programming has gotten so watered-down with advertising and so little action, that staying interested becomes too much work. Their brazen ignorance and rigged outcomes are frustrating to the point of exhaustion. Television is supposed to be relaxing, but that’s impossible now– especially in an election year.
Back in the good ‘ol days of the early 1970’s there were less commercials, and all the networks were radically shifting their programming. In what was known in the industry as the “rural purge,” shows with countrified themes such as The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Green Acres, Mister Ed, Lassie, Petticoat Junction, and Hee Haw were canceled and permanently moved into syndication. This cornball fare was replaced with the likes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, The Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch, The Jefferson’s, Sanford & Son, etc; which provided an urban demographic & higher ratings– which every network covets.
M*A*S*H (1970) directed by Robert Altman was a powerful & groundbreaking film that was spun off into the most successful television series of its era, running for over a decade. M*A*S*H still runs in syndication today, because the series transcended the half-hour sitcom format, by skillfully & poignantly touching on difficult issues such as war & death.
Point of context: All these changes in television (& film) were stimulated by the revolutions in jazz & rock music during the 1960’s. After Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix (& all the rest), adults could no longer be naive. Too many people had their minds opened up, and became much more intelligent and immersed in popular culture.
Hollywood realized they needed to met this demand, as Barney Fife’s act wasn’t going to cut it anymore for an audience that was growing more sophisticated in its viewing tastes. As television expanded from its 1950’s infancy, syndication became more important, as it identified which canceled shows actually had value. All shows get canceled, eventually, but which ones will become classics that people want to watch again & again?
When the Beatles hit Ed Sullivan in 1964, everything changed forever. It’s music that leads the culture, because a song is compact, hits you quicker, and can strike you anywhere at anytime with just as much depth– if not more.
Getting back to TV, game shows made a huge comeback during this period, and became a staple of daytime & evening fringe programming during the 1970’s. Family Feud, The Price is Right, The Newlywed Game, The Gong Show, and dozens of other new (or re-invented) game shows filled the airwaves during the day and in syndication. Networks love games shows because they are relatively cheap to produce, as they don’t need actors or much writing. Advertisers love hit games shows, because they create genuine excitement among the winners and encourage consumerism.
Soap operas were the daytime fare for girls & older women in the 1970’s. Most of the longest-running series in TV history are soaps such as As the World Turns, General Hospital and Guiding Light, and they peaked in this era. Cable and court TV began killing soaps in the 1980’s, and most were canceled by the end of the 1990’s. The cable-televised OJ Simpson trial (C-Span & CNN), ran daily for a year in 1994-95, and defined the new form of soap opera as reality TV.
Children’s shows of the 1970’s included Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street, The Electric Company, The Bill Cosby Show and the Krofft Supershow. I always thought Sesame Street and the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons were the best of the bunch for children’s fare. Mister Roger’s Neighborhood was the earliest TV memory for me. I enjoyed his kind messages and helpful advice for a time, but seldom laughed and that was his turn-off. Good intentions only get you so far with kids. You also need something to keep them interested. Since sex and violence weren’t allowed for kids back then, so humor had to be the hook.
In the 1970’s, TV action fare was crime-drama in an urban setting. The template was Dirty Harry (1971), as Clint Eastwood traded in his famed Colt 45, for a 44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world. His tough talk & raw action excited everyone, and made the networks feel lucky; so The Rockford Files, Starsky & Hutch, Hawaii Five-0, etc became genre favorites, as westerns fell out of favor on TV & the silver screen.
The Six Million Dollar Man, including its three pilots, ran for 5 seasons– 1973-78. This was an iconic show in that the title character had superhuman strength and other capabilities. The Six Million Dollar Man was the first TV show of its kind that translated that concept to kids in a way that seemed believable at the time. The Bionic Woman soon followed.
In retrospect the ‘science’ is ridiculous, and the stories are stiff & boring, with plot-lines that unendingly glorify the military & CIA. The Six Million Dollar Man was a major propaganda sweep from the ruling class in the 1970’s. Personally, I liked Lee Majors better in the Fall Guy, which was his follow-up series. Lee Majors was more relaxed as a stuntman/bounty hunter, and he needed a sidekick. A few babes (Heather Thomas & Markie Post) every week didn’t hurt either.
As anyone who comes from the South will tell you, you can’t keep Dixie down forever. The “CB Radio/trucking craze” of the late 1970’s brought country back. BJ & the Bear was possibly the worst TV show to ever run three full seasons (1979-81), and I watched it for awhile, so you know I’m facing demons here.
Created by Glen A. Larson (of course), the theme song was sung by BJ (Greg Evigan) who also often sang during the episodes, with his 3-note vocal range. A chimpanzee co-star is beyond a stupid idea. This show was all over the map, with McKay’s rig stamped Milwaukee, Wisconsin, yet his series was presumably set somewhere in the South, while being filmed entirely in California.
NBC’s BJ & the Bear soon spawned Claude Akins’ character into The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo (NBC: 1979-81), and possibly encouraged Enos (CBS: 1980-81), an ill-conceived Dukes of Hazzard (1979-85) spin-off set in LA. That’s a lot to answer for.
These shows were purportedly one-hour “action” series, meant to compete with the likes of CHiPs (1977-83), Hart to Hart (1979-84), and Tenspeed and Brownshoe (1980). When MTV and cable finally came along, most of this shit was flushed forever, first by the kids, then the networks.
In this heavily-promoted episode above (poorly transferred, but it’s all we got), guest star deputy Slim Pickens steals the show with his hilarious banter. The highlights are when: 1) he slaps the cuffs on “the famous BJ McKay,” and 2) when McKay and the self-dubbed ‘Piston Packin’ Mamas’ are foiled by Slim Pickens’ three-car roadblock, and instantly give up. McKay & the PPM’s weren’t even smart enough to take an alternate route through a different county, but then again, if they did there would be no plot.
Final spoiler: Slim Pickens detours the convoy onto an unpaved back road, ultimately wrecking their loads. But luckily in the next scene, McKay hustles a woman buyer into giving them 67-cents-on-the-dollar for their smashed eggs, rotting away in unrefrigerated trucks. Painful, I know…
For those who don’t want to watch (and I don’t blame you), the chimpanzee was named Bear, after Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. The final episode of this trailer wreck of a series, should have been BJ driving his rig to the jungles of Africa, then removing the insipid human clothing on Bear, and releasing him back where he belongs. Imagine a reverse-Jungle Book (1967) motif. Woulda been a helluva two-parter to close things out.
Cable TV came into everyone’s home by the early 1980’s, and changed everything for television, the same way the Internet and social media has changed information exchange today. As kids, we are defined by what we watch, as advertisers have been targeting kids since television’s advent. With cable, there were suddenly a lot more options for viewers, so networks had to improve their programming, otherwise there were dozens of other channels to surf.
In the end, the only thing that motivates change is necessity and survival. This revolution in global society that is happening before our eyes has been a product of decades of technological breakthroughs, which has allowed mass culture to absorb it’s best & worst aspects, and make critical value judgments on its content.
For example, TV news used to be the trusted family friend at supper time. That changed with CNN, and was killed by the Internet, just like print news. Now we recognize it as fake news. When decades of experience. knowledge & wisdom can be instantly shared to a global audience, then we have the means to educate & motivate the masses towards something better.