Thursday, November 1, 2018

How Classic Television Can Readjust Your Perspective

"Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" – Matthew 6:27

“Forget your troubles and just get happy.” – Judy Garland, Summer Stock

I’ve often written of my belief that the classic TV shows of the past have more to offer us than a few minutes of entertainment. I am reminded of this once again after a week of tragic and frightening news headlines. 

There’s no question that Comfort TV can provide a respite from a world that a lot of people believe is descending into chaos. Should it be used that way? I know from personal experience that some people don’t think so.

“What, would you rather live in that fantasy world?” they ask.

Actually, yes, I would. I think most people would, especially in the wake of the kind of tragedies that happen in the real world. But that option is not available, and that’s not the point.

Granted, if you see a Breaking News bulletin about a mass shooting and immediately pop in a Love Boat episode to avoid the painful details, that’s not healthy. It’s a variation of the ‘safe spaces’ that have taken root on college campuses that deserve all the derision they have received. 

I watch a lot of news each day, and when there’s a major story I’ll often stay with it for hours. As a journalist I am interested not just in what is being reported but how the facts are (or are not) being communicated.

But when you dwell too long in that headspace, it alters your perspective. It becomes tempting to believe that such atrocities as school shootings or terrorist attacks or massacres in a house of worship are commonplace, and not extremely rare in a nation of 320 million people.

Be aware of current events, pray for the victims (sadly, even doing that has become a source of contention) and do what you can to try and make things better.

After that, there’s nothing wrong with a reminder that this is still a good and noble nation – and classic TV is one way to do that. 

Why the shows of the past and not current television? We’ve touched on this topic before: the shows from decades past were a source of happy shared memories among tens of millions of people; they are a common thread weaved throughout our culture; they portrayed a time when people were more sincere and less sarcastic; more civil and less cynical; they come from a time when it felt like we were more one nation (yes, under God) then different warring tribes. They show us families and communities that support each other. They show us cities where schools and offices and synagogues are safe.

In short, these shows offer a glimpse of the everyday that we recognize. They show us a picture of life in America – sure, one that focuses more on the positive, but the nightly news by its nature focuses more on the negative. As the old saying goes, there are no news stories about the thousands of planes that land safely every day.

Much of today’s television, sadly, does not provide a perspective for those seeking respite from our divisive times. Sitcoms are far more political now than they used to be. Try to recall any reference to whom was president or what legislation was working through congress on Leave It To Beaver, Dennis the Menace, The Patty Duke Show (in which patriarch Martin Lane worked at a New York newspaper!), I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, The Odd Couple, That Girl or any other show from the 1950s through the 1970s that was not created by Norman Lear. 

If you’d prefer to watch All In the Family to remind yourself that we’ve always had robust debate (and stereotypical cheap shots), that is your privilege.

Even the current shows where you’d most expect to find an escape from grim headlines can’t resist the urge to proselytize. Supergirl is in the midst of a season-long allegory about immigration and intolerance; Doctor Who took a shot at Donald Trump in last week’s episode.

Whatever your politics, there was a time when scripted television offered a wealth of opportunities to withdraw from that world and get happily lost for a while somewhere more pleasant. During this same era, which was certainly not immune from terrible headlines – a seemingly endless war in Vietnam, a president and a civil rights leader assassinated, runaway inflation and gas shortages – television gave us stories to laugh about, characters to admire, and positive portrayals of life in America.

So go ahead – spend a little time watching Mr. Ed get the best of poor Wilbur, or Lucy try to get into Ricky’s show; have breakfast with the Andersons or dinner with the Waltons; laugh at the klutzy antics of Gilligan and Maxwell Smart. From McHale’s Navy to My Three Sons, Ozzie and Harriet to Laverne and Shirley, The Flintstones to The Flying Nun, whatever your preferred sanctuary might be, allow it to reset your outlook, and remind you of the good things in life. 

As one of the commercials from the Comfort TV era reminded us, you deserve a break today. 


  1. Mr. Hofstede, are you aware of a controversial 1971 episode of the original "Hawaii Five-O" series that's entitled "...And I Want Some Candy and a Gun That Shoots"? In it, Michael Burns guest-starred as a Charles Whitman-like sniper who terrorized Oahu. "...And I Want Some Candy and a Gun That Shoots" was implicated in a real-life mass shooting that happened not long after the episode originally aired. CBS refused to rerun the episode during the 1970s. Instead, much of the footage was recycled for a 1973 episode entitled "Little Girl Blue." For the latter episode, the shooting stuff was done to distract McGarrett and company from a kidnapping the bad guys had committed.

    By the way, Mr. Hofstede, why don't you think "Too Close for Comfort" has aged well? Did Jim J. Bullock's Monroe character get on your nerves THAT much? I have a feeling that much of the show's success can be attributed to Ted Knight's appearance in the 1980 feature film "Caddyshack." As Henry Rush, Mr. Knight was seen wearing college sweatshirts that young fans of the show sent him.

    For the record, I can't say that I trust the mainstream media too much these days.

  2. I thought this was well said Mr. Hofstede. Classic TV takes us back to a simpler time, and for me, not only is it a cleaner TV (ie., less sex, foul language and gore), but personally it reminds me of parts of my childhood that were iconic in my memories; times spent with a beloved grandmother who has been gone many years now, so while much of it is very unrealistic and sometimes even poor acting, it most always brings a smile and nostalgic feeling. Thats why I prefer Classic TV.