Manna for telespuds: 'The Beverly
Gillis'(left), Mary Hartman,
Mary Hartman'(above, right)
~r4 security. Just as Garrison Keillor
has been able to evoke a common
hometown for people who have left
home, these shows give us a family
to complement the real and imper-
fect one that fate has dealt us.
Old TV also preserves time cap-
sules. Certain shows say more
about America than a shelf of text-
books. We relive the '70s angst
with Mary Hartman and have a
groovy, wacky time with the Mon-
kees. "Star Trek" gave us the '60s
view of the future, which somehow
included flared slacks. Capt.
James T. Kirk extended the Mon-
roe Doctrine into the interplane-
tary void, setting the cosmos right
PICTORIAL PARADE with speeches about democracy
TV is, well, all in the family. We grew up (and kissing all female life forms). Ah,
knowing the tube as babysitter, pacifier "Dragnet"-especially the revival of the
and friend. We are all Cleavers. Other TV show in the late '60s, when the cops began
clans like Ozzie and Harriet Nelson had hit to clash with the drug culture. (My favor-
the tube first, and many would follow- ites: Jack Webb debates a thinly veiled cari-
from the Partridge family to the Huxta- cature of Timothy Leary; a pothead iother
bles. Susan Dey might win an Emmy on gets so stoned she leaves her baby in the
"L.A. Law" someday, but she'll always be bathtub to drown.) "Mission: Impossible"
our sister Laurie Partridge. There's an provided a cadre of covert agents whose
eternal glass of milk and homemade cook- instructions always ended with the warn-
ies waiting on the video dinette when we ing: "As usual, should you or any member
get home from school, and Mom will ever be of your I.M. Force be captured or killed, the
in the breakfast nook. These multitudi- secretary will disavow any knowledge of
nous relatives buttress our sense of family your existence" before the tape dissolved.
Did Peter Graves get disability payments
for having inhaled all those tape fumes?
And did Oliver North love this show?
Ultimately, the answer-to the continuing
allure of old TV might be as simple as
Gillespie says: quality. Dobie Gillis and his
beatnik buddy Maynard G. Krebs (played
by Bob Denver, the future Gilligan) are
funnier than ever. So are "The Honey-
mooners" and the ensemble casts of more
recent shows like "M*A*S*H" and "Mary
Tyler Moore." It's worth buying a VCR to
capture late-night broadcasts of "Taxi"
and "Barney Miller." Good writing and
good acting stand the test of time. Dr. Bats-
cha of the Museum of Broadcasting admits
that only a fraction of the thousands of
hours of programming each year achieves
excellence-but also points out that the
same can be said of books and films.
Of course, quality goes just so far. The
popularity of some shows can only be ex-
plained by masochism or drug abuse. Ev-
eryone has his personal hall of shame, but
any list would have to include "Hogan's
Heroes," that yuk-a-minute series that
showed how much fun Nazi prisons were.
Or how about "The Beverly Hillbillies"?
Aside from kitsch value, these truly awful
shows aren't even popular with television
stations anymore, which are beginning to
dump the bad to make way for that oxymo-
ron: new reruns. Viacom has already
"stripped" the first seasons of Cosby to run
five days a week, beginning next year.
Look out. Someday your kid sister will
seek out reruns of "Family Ties" and
"Cheers" and reminisce about the good old
days. You will talk about your good old
days. You will sound like a curmudgeon.
And you will be one.
J OH N S CH WA RT Z
NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS 15