Monday, January 19, 2015

Creating a Comfort TV Viewing Night

Winter before Christmas is delightful. Picturesque snowfalls and brisk temperatures enhance the holidays and traditions of the season. But come January most of us have had enough. Unfortunately, winter never gets that memo, and lingers like an unwanted houseguest for months.

Television becomes a more desirable (or at least, more attainable) entertainment option on cold winter nights. Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt that classic TV viewing, which is hardly a seasonal pastime, somehow feels more satisfying when it’s cold outside.

Of course, no advance preparation is necessary for spending a few hours with the great programs of the past – just pop in a DVD or find a few vintage shows on your streaming service of choice, or on nostalgia networks like MeTV and Cozi, and you’re good to go. But with a little extra effort you can turn this activity into a memorable evening perfect for sharing with family and friends, or even when you’re by yourself. 

As someone who spends more time in TV land than the average citizen, I’ve developed a few viewing habits that always accentuate the occasion, which I now humbly share for your consideration.

Let’s start with room preparation. Some prefer to watch TV in the dark, as a way to create a more theatrical experience and to help center everyone’s focus on the program. There is something to be said for this, but watching television is not the same as watching movies, and most of us are more accustomed to normal room lighting. My preference is to split the difference – low light, perhaps from one lamp not too close to the screen, so the room is somewhat darkened but still bright enough that you won’t bang your shin on a coffee table en route to the bathroom.

I like to keep the temperature on the cool side, as this creates an appropriate environment for the incorporation of pillows, quilts and blankets, the ultimate comfort providers for comfort TV viewing. Two options here: drape them over the couch, or toss them into a haphazard pile on the floor in front of the screen. If you grew up with the shows you are watching, that’s the vantage point from where you probably saw them for the first time. 

Pajamas are the obvious choice of attire, even if your evening is a communal occasion. Tell those you invite to come prepared. There’s nothing wrong with a slumber party even at your age.

Food and drink are also necessary, and there are no restrictions on your menu options save one ­– nothing that is served should in any way be considered healthy. Pizza delivery is never a bad idea, served with anything from wine to soft drinks. If snacks are more appropriate there’s chips, popcorn (try a caramel/cheddar mix) or sugar-coated cereal served in bowls on (what else?) TV trays. If you dwell in one of those regions where January isn’t fooling around when it comes to frozen conditions, another option is hot cocoa paired with a bakery item like spice cake. 

And now, with everything else in place, all that is left to determine is what to watch.

Even when a small gathering of classic TV fans get together, it may not be easy to reach a consensus. One solution would be to have everyone bring a DVD with a favorite episode of a favorite show. Or choose a theme –perhaps detective shows or family sitcoms, or television from the 1950s (or 60s, 70s. etc.).

Another suggestion is to recreate a network program lineup from decades past, something I’ve often enjoyed doing (as covered in a previous blog). Or build an evening around guest-starring roles from one actor – for instance, check out John Wayne’s appearances on I Love Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dean Martin Show and Maude

Do you have any rituals or comfort TV viewing preferences? Please share them – we could all use some fresh ideas for getting through what’s left of these long, dark winter nights.


  1. No offense, Mr. Hofstede, but is it true that neither MeTV nor Cozi generally airs vintage TV shows uncut? If that's true, does it particularly bother you?

    1. It does, but that's why I invested in the DVDs. Some people may enjoy the shows but not enough to own the sets - for them, an evening with MeTV and Cozi is certainly better than nothing.

  2. I generally watch TV like I always have - on a couch with the window shades open during the day, or at night with the lights out in the viewing room but on in adjacent rooms. I might have to re-think my nighttime lighting scheme though because of the latest thinking on the long-term harm blue light from TVs, monitors, tablets, and cell phones may cause to one's vision - I think I'll switch over to low light levels in the viewing room as you described.
    As for viewing content, I generally just watch whatever I happen to be in the mood for from my DVD/Blu Ray collection (I don't have cable/satellite and I can't stand the low quality of streaming). But when my wife and kids go to stay over at her parents' house for a night or two I will create playlists of shows from the 1970's to watch in succession. I also sprinkle 1970's commercials in between the shows to get the full effect of watching an evening of TV circa 1970-something. The Vault series Tonight Show DVDs with the vintage commercials embedded within the shows makes for a nice finale to the evening. I'll sometimes leave the playlists running in the background as I do work around the house. I usually don't adhere to any specific year or theme (other than "the 1970s"), but one of these days I plan to pick a lineup directly from one of my '70s TV guides. I also plan to do a Vito Scotti night, since he seems to pop up in so many of my favorite vintage shows - CHiPs, The Bionic Woman (twice, playing the same comic-relief character), Gilligan's Island (4 times, as 2 different characters! - I think he holds the record for guest appearances on that show), Hogan's Heroes, and a few others I can't recall off the top of my head. That guy was everywhere in the 60s and 70s! When I found your site, I was glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks about theme nights for guest stars.
    I have also created playlists of 1970s Saturday morning shows for my 4 year-old daughter to watch, complete with sugary cereal and toy ads from the era, as well as Schoolhouse Rock, Timer for Timer, and In the News interstitials. She loves it and looks forward to it every week (I only let her to watch it on Saturday mornings to keep it special). She's probably the only 4 year-old around that can sing along to the themes from The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Show, Land of the Lost, Scooby-Doo Where Are You, Josie and the Pussycats, etc. I only hope she doesn't hate me for it when she gets a little older and realizes she's only familiar with "old" shows.

  3. Actually, you're helping her to cultivate excellent taste in television - though if she's getting her information from "In the News," she might be surprised later on to discover that Nixon wasn't the president in 2014.

    I love the 70s as well - that was when I was growing up watching these series for the first time. I hope Shazam and Isis are part of your Saturday morning routines!

    1. I started watching 70s shows purely for the nostalgia value, and they really made me feel like a kid again. But as I got into them I realized I liked the stories, pace, and general film-making style of that era much better than anything since (although I like the 60s style even better).

  4. Yes, they are. I was lucky enough to buy a copy of the Isis DVD set before BCI Eclipse went under and that set's price skyrocketed. She loves Shazam and asks to watch it often, but unless she's sick I reserve it for Saturday viewing only. She seems to like Isis while she's watching it, but has never requested it.