Saturday, January 4, 2014

Comfort TV Shows Turning 50

Fifty years is a long time. Not by geologic standards, perhaps, but certainly in the time we are blessed to have in this world. It’s a halfway point if we’re lucky (I hope so, as I will turn 50 this year), and it’s the time when we are ousted from the highly coveted 18-49 demographic. From here on, nobody cares where we go, what we watch or which brand of toothpaste we buy.

Some shows seem like they originate from another era – I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, and any family sitcom in which boys wore jackets and ties to school. But when you look back at some of the TV shows that debuted in 1964, many of them do not appear to be a half-century old. Some are still as entertaining as they were the first time they aired.

Let’s reminisce about Comfort TV debuts from the year the Beatles invaded America. Perhaps their undiminished quality and freshness will make some of my fellow future (and current) 50-somethings feel a little younger.

Take away the nose twitching, and the nightly foraging of the liquor cabinet, and Bewitched still paints a pretty accurate portrait of American middle-class life. Of course, it’s a little jarring to realize that Tabitha would now qualify for AARP membership. And if McMann & Tate is still on Madison Avenue, Darren and Larry are helping clients develop mobile apps and social media strategies, using technology that would certainly have seemed like magic 50 years ago. 

Gilligan’s Island
As I acknowledged in an earlier Comfort TV piece, Gilligan’s Island has never been a personal favorite, but it remains a classic TV staple that has rarely left the air. It’s a series that always existed outside current events, which has helped it to age gracefully. Put your kids down in front of an episode and they’ll still be taken with the silly but good-natured escapades of the seven stranded castaways. And the “Ginger or Mary Ann?” debate rages on, though for me it’s always been Mary Ann.

“They call him Flipper, faster than lightning
No one you see, is smarter than he.”

I haven’t watched an episode of Flipper in 30 years but I can still sing the theme song. At least my memory is working. 

Peyton Place
This groundbreaking series has never been widely syndicated, but two DVD collections reveal a show that, give or take a few fashion statements, could find an audience today. Its stories of love, greed and power in one New England town are still being told in today’s daytime dramas. And just like any good soap, if you watch the first few episodes you’ll be hooked.

The Munsters/The Addams Family
How strange that TV’s most enduring horror-inspired sitcoms would debut in the same year. As with Gilligan’s Island these shows are not products of their era – both feature characters that predate the 1960s. But some episodes betray their age – like Herman reciting beatnik poetry in “Far Out Munsters,” or fitness guru Jack LaLanne helping The Addams Family’s Uncle Fester go on a diet.

With Underdog we are reminded of how times have changed since 1964. Our canine hero, so memorably voiced by Wally Cox, was a humble shoeshine boy who became a superhero by taking a powerful vitamin pill. Due to subsequent pressure from “educators” and “child safety advocates,” reruns often aired with any scenes of Underdog taking the pill deleted. And see? It worked! No more drug abuse in America! 

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
At last, a show that was very much a product of its time. The 1960s box-office success of James Bond inspired a wave of secret agent facsimiles, including this popular series starring the suave Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo. The twist was having Solo partner with a Russian (David McCallum) at the height of the Cold War, inspiring millions of teenage girls to ponder how Communism could be bad when Illya Kuryakin was so dreamy. And like many classic TV shows, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is about to be adapted into a new movie that will feature a hip-hop theme and copious jokes about flatulence, while ignoring everything that made the original a success.  

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
When Christmas rolls around this year, it will mark the 50th airing of this evergreen holiday tradition. Are Rudolph and Clarice still together? Is Hermey still a dentist in this age of Obamacare? Have the denizens of the Island of Misfit Toys filed a class-action suit demanding they no longer be labeled by the derogatory term “misfit,” and must now be classified as “recreationally-challenged?” So many questions, for which we’ll never know the answers. Thank heaven for that.


  1. In a two-part episode of "Flipper" called "Flipper Joins the Navy," blonde actress Ulla Stromstedt wears a black, shiny, two-piece wetsuit with a "beavertail" and twistlock fasteners. It looked good on her! :D Um, does the hood she wears in the second part make it a THREE-piece suit? In any case, Americans don't see wetsuits like that too often anymore. *sigh*

  2. "The Magilla Gorilla Show" also turns 50 this week in fact!