peabody decades

If you remember the ’60s, you probably weren’t there.

It’s an oft-quoted line, usually good for a laugh, that has been attributed to comedian-actor Robin Williams. But in reality (What a concept!), whoever coined that aphorism suffered from judgment that is, shall we say, clouded.

The joke is supposed to be that real, honest-to-God veterans of the 1960s were so zonked out on one thing or another – reefer, acid, peyote, model airplane glue – that the era was a purple haze. But those ’60s didn’t really kick in until the decade was waning and, even then, never characterized the whole population or even most of it.

Don’t believe the hype – or the stereotypes. Where I grew up in small-town deep south, high school kids were parsing the lyrics of the Beatles’ “mind-blowing”1967 Sgt. Pepper album while wearing khakis and penny loafers and getting high on nothing more exotic than Busch Bavarian. Timothy Leary was less influential than Sheriff Andy Taylor.

Cowboy shows – “oaters,” Variety called them — dominated the TV landscape as the 1960s began. By the decade’s close, while the three networks had enjoyed some success courting the “rebellious” youth audience with shows like The Mod Squad and Shindig, the trippy-est show in prime time was Green Acres and oaters were still thick as steers in a Rawhide stampede.

Peabody-DecadesFor a fuller, more diverse remembrance of the 1960s, drop in on the latest edition of the Peabody Decades screenings Tuesday, Nov. 5, in the auditorium of UGA’s Russell Special Collections Library, 300 Hull Street, Athens.

The 7 p.m. clip-fest, free and open to the general public, is titled America in the 1960s: Based on a True Story. Using selected video from the Peabody archive, it surveys the highs and the lows, the tumult and the comfort, of a decade that TV allowed Americans to experience more vividly than previously possible.

The program will open with a clip from the ’60s-set AMC series Mad Men in which each of the major characters is glimpsed watching part of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s televised White House tour. It rings true. The telecast attracted 56 million viewers to CBS in February 1962. The famous show-and-tell evokes the optimism soon to be shattered by the shooting of President John F. Kennedy. The assassination in November 1963 in Dallas is covered in news excerpts from the era, as are the subsequent assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Civil Rights Movement is also recalled in clips from the archive’s extensive store of local-TV news footage of sit-ins and demonstrations.

There are clips of the free-speech protests at the University of California, Berkeley, that predated the anti-war movement, and of day-to-day life in Vietnam.

The rise of the drug culture is noted in excerpts from local TV news, including a WABC-New York public service spot titled LSD: The Trip to Where?

But lest we forget that the decade television reflected wasn’t all death, dope and disruption, there are clips of entertainment icons of the ’60s, including Dick Van Dyke and Bullwinkle J. Moose.

And then there’s that rare clip from the Peabody archive of the Beatles performing “All You Need Is Love” on Our World, a 1967 satellite telecast that was seen in by 400 million people in 26 countries. Trust me, those of us who saw it remember it very well.

Noel Holston

Noel Holston

Noel Holston, originally from Laurel, Miss., is a freelance journalist, songwriter, storyteller and actor who lives in Athens, Ga., with his wife, singer-songwriter Marty Winkler. In a previous life, he was the TV critic at Newsday in New York and, before that, a critic and feature writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Orlando Sentinel.