When I was little we had a large TV (although not by today’s standards). However, it wasn’t large because it was a TV – it was large because it was a piece of furniture. Ours was a tremendous wooden console with vertical speakers on either side of the screen, each covered in that weird furry stuff that covered speakers. That furry stuff that just seemed like whoever originally designed it had wondered what to do with all the lint he’d accumulated in his lifetime – and thus he affixed it to these speakers before asking everyone else he’d ever met to contribute their lint and presto! – RCA had enough lint to go around and that’s what covered all the speakers on all the TV’s in America. Or that’s how it looked in 1973. The screen itself was a gargantuan slab of convex glass (if you ever wondered how people were easily puzzled by how TV worked – and I still am – just look at one of those old screens that resembles a graphite goldfish bowl. You’ll see immediately that it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility to envision someone actually reporting the news from within the convex screen). The top of the TV was a place of enormous honor – it was also a place of enormous, platinum-liquefying heat – upon which sat prized photographs. It was dusted regularly and sprayed with something lemony and probably lethal. But it shone. When you turned the TV on you had to wait for it to warm up, and the image began as a tiny white dot of light which then radiated out. When turned off, the magic of television then disappeared back into this same white dot. On the right hand side of the TV, to the left of the linty furry speaker, was the very big channel knob.
Which you used to alternate between the four channels.
The actual channel switching was also a hotly -contested but easily-enforced ritual. Because it required both motion and effort, the law of the jungle prevailed. Among siblings, the youngest person in the room was not allowed to select the channel; when it needed changing however he or she was legally obligated to execute the act. If the knob came off – and it frequently did, one could just pop it back on. For a while. When it broke, which it would, you’d keep a pair of pliers atop the TV with which to change channels. This also worked for a while, until the remaining piece broke off. Which generally meant it was time to buy a new TV. This would have to be ordered; its arrival was anticipated in much the same way a new car might be. Especially if it boasted some kind of groundbreaking new feature. Like, say, a color picture.
You learned what was playing, and when, with the little Sunday paper insert. Unless you were like our next-door neighbors to the left and to the right – or the people who lived two houses down from us and those dwelling directly behind us – all of whom had a secret weapon: TV Guide. For some reason my mother never thought one should spend money on something devoted exclusively to the scheduling patterns of entertainment. It was one thing to acknowledge TV-going, it was quite another thing to indulge the indulgence. (We were a little behind the curve when it came to cable, too). Today I was curious about the new Fall shows, so I can program my DVR to record. I know too that if I miss something I can also reprogram from my cell phone. You know, if I’m way too busy to actually set foot in my own home. Several Google attempts brought me about a zillion different web pages offering to break it down by day and time. But I didn’t want this – I just wanted something that would approximate a single piece of paper with everything – all of it – during the whole month. Fortunately TV Guide (and apparently only TV Guide) had September laid out for me. So now I know about the 26 plus shows bowing. Which we’ll be talking about in great detail over the next few weeks. But first I needed to see them all in one place (not just on their network’s homepages). And I had a little pang of gratitude for some of life’s more consistent items. I still haven’t the faintest idea how TV actually works, but thanks to that little magazine once considered an extravagant luxury, I know what’s on it.
1) Raising Hope
2) The Defenders
3) My Generation