Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Three Tips For a Groovy Classic TV Summer

It seems like July got here awfully quick, doesn’t it?

Here we are already in the most summery of the summer months – the season change from spring is now a distant memory, and fall still seems a long way away.

For classic TV fans, summer was the time when our favorite shows went away. And that was our cue to turn off the TV and stumble outside into the sunlight. The broadcast networks still adhere to this schedule, but with cable and streaming services launching new series year-round, those old viewing patterns are as much a relic of the past as this 1974 Zenith Console.

Summer never got much recognition in the shows from the Comfort TV era. Since the broadcast season of September through June paralleled that of the school year, we rarely saw families on sitcoms enjoy their summer vacation.

Of course, back then seasonal acknowledgments of any kind were inconsistent at best. There would be occasional references to Midwestern winters on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Laverne & Shirley, but most of the time mild temperatures prevailed in TV Land. The only time you saw snow was for the Christmas episodes.

Need a break from the summer sunshine? Here are three ways to commemorate the season with Comfort TV.

1. A Gidget Marathon
No classic TV series celebrated carefree, endless summer fun more than Gidget (1965). Loosely based on the 1959 film starting Sandra Dee, this was a series about the teenagers who surfed California’s beaches, at the very moment The Beach Boys immortalized them in song. 

The only thing that could make this mythical era even more delightful is having 18 year-old Sally Field as your tour guide. She was the ideal Gidget – adorable, especially when she spoke directly to the audience during each episode – sassy, spunky and ever loyal to her understanding dad (Don Porter). Together, they created some of the best father-daughter sitcom moments ever captured. 

The series was a flop the first time around, but audiences found it when it was rerun during the summer – not surprising in retrospect. In fact, the ratings were so big that ABC regretted the cancellation, and scrambled to find another vehicle for its suddenly hot star. Result? The Flying Nun, which ran three years. No, I don’t get it either.

There were just 32 episodes, so it won’t take you all summer to finish, and the DVD set features a new interview with Sally Field, who happily reflects on her beach bunny days. 

2. Create Your Own Nick at Nite Block Party Summer
Back in the 1990s, when Nick at Nite was still dedicated to preserving our classic television heritage, the cable network launched the annual Block Party Summer celebration, replacing its regular programming lineup with prime-time five-episode marathons of its most popular shows.

Presented in “VertiVision” (a reference to absolutely nothing, but it was fun to say) a typical week would consist of “Munster Mondays,” “Lucy Tuesdays,” “Bewitched Be-Wednesdays,” “Jeannie Thursdays” and “Sgt. Joe Fridays.” Choose your own Block Party Summer lineup and get reacquainted with some old favorites. If a season-long commitment is too much, just try it for a week. 

3. Hang Out at the Peach Pit
Beverly Hills 90210 debuted in 1991 – just outside our Comfort TV window, and a time in history when it wasn’t as fashionable to hate rich people as it is now. But it’s been 25 years since Brandon and Brenda Walsh moved to America’s best-known Zip code, so one cannot avoid a rush of nostalgia in returning to West Beverly High.

It’s listed here because the series owes its success to summertime. First season ratings were iffy, so the FOX Network broke with broadcast tradition and aired a summer season of new episodes. Bereft of competition, more people checked it out and a phenomenon was born – 90210 ran for ten years and 293 episodes. 

I was not among those original viewers, and was already out of its targeted age group by the time I first saw it on DVD. It was easy to understand the show’s appeal; even with higher rates of shagging and alcohol consumption, the series shares common DNA with the more innocent high school shows of previous eras, from Dobie Gillis to Degrassi.

Plus, at a time when merchandising of prime-time series had all but ceased (would you buy a Jake and the Fatman lunch box?) 90210 brought back the glory days of 1970s tie-ins. There were posters, dolls, school supplies and everything marketers could think of to capitalize on the show’s photogenic cast.

You probably won’t want to revisit all ten seasons. I watched the first four and then bailed when Shannen Doherty left. Among the highlights: The Breakfast Club-like breaking down of cliques in “Slumber Party,” the first appearance of crazy Emily Valentine in “Wildfire,” and Cathy Dennis headlines the West Beverly senior prom in “A Night to Remember.” 

 Do you have any favorite summer shows or viewing habits you’d like to share? We still have two months before the fall season begins!


No comments:

Post a Comment