Friday, December 12, 2014

What is Your Classic TV Constant?

Discuss favorite Lost episodes with fans and it won’t be long until someone mentions “The Constant.” 

For those who didn’t follow this fascinating and sometimes frustrating series, the episode was about a man whose reality had become fractured in divergent timelines, and who was able to survive the ordeal by focusing on a “constant,” defined here as something or someone of value that is always present in his life.

It’s a concept I hadn’t pondered before watching Lost, but one that I’ve often thought about since. Who wouldn’t want a constant to anchor us amidst turmoil, something we know with certainty will be in our lives for as long as we desire it?

It’s the type of security some of us get from faith, which may adapt with the times but still adheres to bedrock principles and eternal promises.

But on a much less profound level, I believe it’s one of the reasons why what I call Comfort TV is something so many of us treasure. 

Life is inevitably about change.

We live with our parents when we’re young, and then we’re out on our own, before creating new families, which stay together until another generation leaves the nest. We move from one home to another, and change jobs and companies throughout our careers. Pets come into our lives for a time, but unless you are partial to parrots or tortoises they will leave long before you do.

If you’re lucky you’ll hold on to a few childhood friends into your adult years. The rest you’ll see at school reunions, and acknowledge their birthdays on Facebook.

The neighborhood restaurant you grew up with is replaced by an Outback Steakhouse. The park where you played baseball is now condos. The daily newspaper is on your computer instead of your doorstep.

When you really stop to think about it, how many things come into your life and are always there – or are at least always accessible when you wish to see them again?  Favorite books, favorite songs, movies and TV shows are indeed a constant for so many of us, and that’s why they bring us such joy.

I was five years old the first time I saw The Dick Van Dyke Show. I was in the living room of a duplex in Skokie, Illinois, eating dinner on a TV tray and watching the series in syndication on Chicago’s WGN-TV, channel 9. It made me laugh, and it made my mom laugh. We watched every weeknight, until my father came home from work. 

At the time I had no idea the episodes I was enjoying so much had originally aired several years earlier. But gradually as the five seasons continued to play in succession, I became aware of the concept of the rerun, and began to look forward to watching my favorite shows again.

After a few years of constant exposure I lost touch with the Petries for a while, only to rediscover them in the 1980s when my home was wired for cable and I discovered the delights of Nick at Nite. Once again, The Dick Van Dyke Show was a nightly tradition, and it had lost none of its appeal.

When the DVDs came out I bought them all. Now I could watch the series on my schedule, skip over the (very) few sub-par episodes and enjoy classics like “The Curious Thing About Women” and “October Eve” as often as I wished. 

When the series was released on Blu-Ray, I had a welcome pretext to watch every show again in order, now with a stunning clarity that I could never have imagined more than 40 years earlier. For the first time I could clearly distinguish the pile of the carpet in the Petrie living room, beads of sweat forming on Dick Van Dyke’s forehead in several of the office scenes, and the fine detail in the threading on Mary Tyler Moore’s costumes.

There are other shows that have been with me nearly as long as The Dick Van Dyke Show – I retain a very hazy memory of watching a first-run Brady Bunch episode at the age of four – but if I had to name an origin point for my classic television passion, it would have to be 148 Bonnie Meadow Road in New Rochelle, New York. And it feels good to know that 10, 20, 30 years from now it will be there. And Buddy’s putdowns of Mel Cooley will still make me laugh, even though I’ve heard them a thousand times before. 

Do you have a classic TV constant?



  1. There are many shows that I discovered in childhood and have revisited throughout my life, probably too many. I couldn't pick just one. The ones I find the most comforting, and that I re-watch the most frequently (especially in times of stress) are:

    Davey & Goliath - Uplifting, simple, and faith-bolstering (and I love stop-motion animation)
    The Andy Griffith Show - Charming, idyllic, and stars my favorite comedian - Don Knotts.
    Hogan's Heroes - Goofy fun.
    Gilligan's Island - Same, and this one works the best for stress relief for me.
    The Flintstones - Honeymooners humor with a lot of colorful visual appeal.
    Star Trek (Original) - When I need an adventure-themed comfort show, this is usually it.
    Looney Tunes (technically these are movies, but I experienced them on TV pretty much exclusively in the form of the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Show). The funniest cartoons ever made, they always get a laugh out of me. And they're like popcorn - before I know it I've watched an hour or more of them and am in a much better mood.

    Those are my top 7, in no particular order. I thought about putting Batman ('66, to use the new marketing term) to this list, but it isn't really a constant. While I've been watching it for as long as I can remember, it was an adventure show when I was a kid, and then it morphed into a comedy as I grew up.

    1. Good list- I've enjoyed all of those shows often through my life, with the exception of Gilligan's Island. I recognize it's iconic, but just never did it for me. But any show that could bring stress relief to anyone in this crazy world must be doing something right.

  2. If I don't have a bona fide classic-TV constant, shows that have come closest to being one for me include "CHiPs," "The Streets of San Francisco," and "Unsolved Mysteries."

  3. I don't know if I have a true constant, but I LOVE LUCY certainly comes the closest. I watched it as a kid and still will stop to view one of the many classic episodes if channel surfing.

  4. I'm not sure if I have one either, but I'll second "Hogan's Heroes" as one that I always stop and watch if I'm surfing and land on MeTV, and this even though I've got the complete series on DVD, and I've already gone through that once. For me it's like the chariot race in "Ben-Hur"; always gotta watch it. Great topic for discussion.