Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Sights and Sounds Now Only Found in Comfort TV

Back in January I reflected on how every year that passes takes us further away from the television era celebrated in this blog.

It’s an unsettling thing for those of us who watched these shows in their original runs, because we lived in that world with those characters. The schools, the offices, and the grocery stories all looked just like the ones we once knew.

But we have reached a point where current and future generations will view these episodes the way my generation watched movies from the 1930s and ‘40s, with an inescapable awareness that this was a story set in another time.

Comfort TV contains sights and sounds that are rarely glimpsed now, or that have disappeared altogether. It’s not that we miss them necessarily, or would prefer to have them back instead of what has replaced them. But seeing them again can make us happy, because they belong to a time when perhaps we felt we were happier than we often are now.

If you remember these, I hope you recall them as fondly as I do.

Gas Stations That Were Service Stations
From the ‘ding’ of the hose as you pull up to the pumps, to the attendant who fills your tank, cleans your windshield and offers to check the tires, to the quarts of oil stacked in pyramid shape in the window, the classic TV gas station is a veritable fount of nostalgia. Let’s not even talk about the under $1 a gallon price for gas back then. They also provided employment for many Comfort TV characters, including Bud Anderson. 

Pay Phones and Telephone Booths
Both are still around, but before cell phones they played a more prominent role in our lives, and in the plots of countless classic TV shows. Other moments in these shows that belong to the past: characters looking up phone numbers in the telephone book, and executives telling their receptionists to “hold my calls.” 

A Matchbook As a Clue To a Crime
People smoked a lot more in the classic TV era, which is why you’d find a ready supply of matchbooks at every bar, restaurant, hotel and nightclub. And they’d get dropped an awful lot by suspicious characters, providing cops and detectives like Amos Burke and Peter Gunn with a convenient place to begin an investigation. 

Then-Current Pop Culture Expressions
“Only her hairdresser knows for sure” was the punch line to many a joke in vintage situation comedies – one that would be confusing to modern viewers. But back then everybody got the reference.

Soft Drinks in Bottles
I still see these occasionally, but plastic bottles have replaced their glass counterparts. Which is somewhat ironic in this green-conscious time, as glass is more recyclable than plastic. Some people still swear that Coke tasted better from a real bottle. 

The Milkman
Speaking of bottles – I’m sure there are rural areas of America where this service is still common, but in the 1960s most families still had their milk delivered by a man in a white uniform. The Baxters were one of them, as evidenced by the Hazel episode “The Retiring Milkman.”

Trading Stamps
Many grocery stores and other retailers once gave trading stamps to customers, which could be saved in books and then used to purchase other items free or at a huge discount. The S&H Green Stamp company was the best known. 

You’ll hear references to these stamps in many classic sitcoms, most notably in the first-season Brady Bunch episode “54-40 and Fight.” 

Doctors Making House Calls
When a child was sick in the Comfort TV era, the doctor came to them. Perhaps this was done to save money on building a doctor’s office set for one episode, but such house calls were not rare at that time. A recurring theme in The Donna Reed Show is the frequency of Alex Stone’s house calls, and how they interfered with spending time with his own children. 

If you remember these, you may also remember:

Stable Doors (not just on stables!)

Babies being fed Pablum

Doing Homework on a Typewriter

Slumber Parties

Students Singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” On a School Bus

What are some of your favorite bygone sights and sounds from the classic TV era?


  1. Full-service gas stations are still found in New Jersey and Oregon due to legal reasons. In the latter state, however, self-service gas stations are now allowed in counties that have less than 40,000 residents.

  2. Just thought of this the other a 70's kid I remember a shoe repair shop where you could have your shoes done while you waited. In these little half "modesty booths" so you wouldn't have to be embarrassed by people seeing you in your stocking feet. There's a good example of these on this webpage:

  3. Forgot to mention - I remember seeing some of these booths on an episode of That Girl.

  4. The expression "Only her hairdresser knows for sure" seems to imply that women had to go to hairdressers to color their hair, and I thought that women could color their own hair with the product. If they did that, their hairdressers wouldn't have to know either.

    The reference to soft drinks in glass bottles reminds me of a moment not from tv but from the movie "Back to the Future". Marty back in 1955 has just bought a glass bottled soft drink from a vending machine and is trying to twist off the metal cap when his dad, then a teen of about his age, takes the drink from him, uses the built-in bottle opener to pull the cap off the bottle, and hands the drink back to him.

  5. I miss the great sports announcers like Curt Gowdy and Howard Cosell. Also, when you got a haircut they put that nice smelling stuff in your hair.

  6. When they are in houses, stable doors are known as Dutch doors...