Monday, July 26, 2021

How Has Classic TV Inspired You?


Recently I watched an episode of Lou Grant called “Marathon.” It was an outstanding show as most of them are, depicting how a big-city newspaper springs into action when a major story breaks – in this case, a cave-in in Chatsworth, California with workers and students trapped inside.


Reporters that had been sniping at each other that morning were assigned to different tasks and immediately began collaborating as professionals, to make sure the facts were right and the story was covered both compassionately and correctly. Editors who worked the day shift stayed until 2am to get up-to-date content in the earliest edition possible.


As a viewer you can sense how imperative it is for these journalists to get this information out to the public. And even though the details were potentially tragic, there was an inherent feeling of – if not joy, than perhaps satisfaction – in using one’s talent and ability to communicate this story to a large audience.


When the episode was over, I felt compelled to go to my computer and start writing. There were a couple of pending assignments at my regular job that had to be completed, and I was filled with the desire to immerse myself in them and create the most powerful and persuasive prose imaginable. It’s hard to explain the sensation I experienced in that moment, or why that episode of Lou Grant had that effect – I guess, to paraphrase Carl Reiner’s wife in When Harry Met Sally, I just wanted to have what they were having.


I’m certain that variations on moments like have occurred millions of times to millions of people over the decades. It’s just not the sort of thing anyone could ever track.


How many viewers of The Lucy Show watched Lucy Carmichael try to bake a pie in “Lucy Enters a Baking Contest” and were motivated to also try to make one – perhaps for the first time?



How many students read a book about space – or perhaps took an astronomy course – after getting hooked on Star Trek



How people actually tried milk and Pepsi after watching Laverne & Shirley



Did anyone find the courage to audition for a school play or talent show after watching the characters on a TV show perform?


Did anyone try to jump their car over a creek like Bo and Luke Duke? (Probably not, but I’ll bet the temptation was there). 



I think moments like this should be acknowledged, perhaps because my life is full of them. As I grew up watching these shows, I was one of those kids that would hear a reference to a historic figure or entertainment personality that was unfamiliar, and would try to research who they were and why they were important. That wasn’t as easy to do before the Internet. But I had a good set of Encyclopedia Britannica, and we had lots of books about movies and movie stars, so usually I was able to find what I was seeking.


I don’t think any series sent me into reference mode more than…wait for it….Rocky and Bullwinkle. When Fearless Leader was described as Pottsylvania’s answer to Bernard Baruch, I wanted to know who that was. I read a biography of Francis Bacon after Sherman and Mr. Peabody met him in one of their time travel adventures. In that story Bacon hit William Shakespeare over the head with a flower pot, and the outraged Bard of Avon shouted, “Bacon! You’ll fry for this!”


That still may be the funniest line I’ve ever heard on television.


One of their stories was titled “The Ruby Yacht Of Omar Khayyam.” Sounded vaguely familiar, and I found out it was a clever pun on the name of a well-known Persian poem called “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” which I then read:


Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!


Prophetic, and sadly more relevant today than when it was written. Rarely were these research efforts not rewarded with something of value. 



Such are the ways that TV shows impact our lives, even the ones dismissed by elitists as silly and unsophisticated. Watching them today we learn how our culture has changed since then. These lessons have not been as gratifying.


  1. I went through an unfortunate phase of saying "groovy" because Greg and Marcia Brady said it all the time.

  2. I'd add that there were a lot of young people who were inspired to join the FBI because of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Lewis Erskine.