Remember the first TV you saw? I do. A small, boxy TV that had a pink, metal cabinet. It just caught two stations ’cause that’s all there were back then. For a long time, we caught the two stations through a rickety antenna strapped to the chimney: Augusta’s WRDW 12 and WJBF 6. TV was pretty simple back then. No color to adjust and just three knob functions: on, off, and channel changer—a clunky, clicking knob as big as your hand.

We’ve come a long ways since then what with color, UHF, cable, satellite, digital TV, high definition, and now Blu-Ray. No more test patterns on all night but no more “Star Spangled Banner” either as stations signed off. Maybe that’s when patriotism began to wane.

Yes we’ve come a long ways but it’s a downright shame the quality of programs hasn’t progressed as much. It seems to me the programming geniuses went for volume instead of quality. The Time Warner programming guide for my area lists an astounding 1,234 channels. Not programs but channels! Thousands and thousands of shows are out there but few worth my time. I feel like the parched Ancient Mariner on Coleridge’s ship.

“Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”

I see shows and shows everywhere and most make my brain shrink. Thousands and thousands of shows but few make me think. For solid programming, I watch “National Geographic,” the “Discovery Channel,” and “The History Channel.” That’s about it.

I am no fan of reality shows. My life is reality show enough for me. And those marathon infomercials hyping diets, real estate, and get-rich-schemes disgust me. It makes me long for the good old days.

I can’t speak for you but it’s hard to beat the TV shows I grew up with. They seemed genuine in ways today’s shows do not. They resurrect memories today’s shows will not.

Here are but a few I loved to watch growing up, shows whose characters seemed real. Remember “Lost in Space?” That stowaway, Dr. Zachary Smith, was quite the cad wasn’t he. And even now I can see Chuck Connors, “The Rifleman,” spinning his Winchester Model 1892 rifle.

“Leave It To Beaver” brought the naive Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver and his idealized suburban family into our homes. Eddie Haskel and his fawning ways were always good entertainment. “You certainly look nice today, Mrs. Cleaver.”

“Captain Kangaroo” brought the mischievous Bunny Rabbit into our lives. That rabbit always managed to trick the Captain into giving him carrots. Mr. Moose would pose riddles to the Captain and a wrong answer brought hundreds of ping-pong balls cascading down on his head. I never could figure out that Green Jeans guy, though. He probably deserved a lot of space. I mean what kind of guy would call himself Mr. Green Jeans?

Bob Keeshan who played the Captain was the first Clarabelle the Clown on “Howdy Doody,” yet another memorable show. Our childhood stars were human. Keeshan left Howdy Doody over a salary dispute and later became Captain Kangaroo.

Any of you remember how Buffalo Bob would ask, “Say, kids, what time is it?” And the kids in the Peanut Gallery would resound, “It’s Howdy Doody time!” Howdy, a marionette, had 48 freckles, one for each state. If he ever comes out of retirement, he’ll need two more freckles.

“The Patty Duke Show” aired from 1963 to 1966, the heart of my high school years. The show featured two identical cousins. One was from Scotland and worldly; the other was a New York City innocent, if that’s possible. The two cousins clashed, setting a tone and forging many a plot. Patty Duke became a star but suffered a troubled adulthood. I met her in December 2006 and was immediately struck by her short stature, five feet even. I told her I watched her show as a kid. She thanked me and told me she found Southerners “warm, accommodating people.”

My family and I vacationed in Florida once and one of our destinations was Silver Springs, a shooting locale for “Sea Hunt.” This program followed the adventures of scuba diver, Mike Nelson, played by Lloyd Bridges. An ex-Navy frogman, Nelson rescued people from drowning and salvaged things such as a missile from beneath the sea.

What great shows we had in the days of grainy black and white TVs, rickety antennae, and no remote controls. (If you wanted to change the channel, you could make junior do it or get up off the sofa.) We had “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “I Love Lucy,” “The Twilight Zone,” and later on “The Flintstones,” a cartoon version of Jackie Gleason’s “The Honeymooners.” “The Flintstones” made history as the first prime-time show with two people of the opposite sex in bed together. Fred and Wilma, hang your heads in shame!

The Western thrived back then. We had “The Cisco Kid,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Zorro,” starring Guy Williams who later starred in “Lost In Space.” And “Rawhide” gave us the consummate cowboy, Clint Eastwood, who parlayed his role as Rowdy Yates, a hotheaded ramrod, into the “Dollars Trilogy/Spaghetti Westerns” and superstardom. Frankie Laine, you’ll recall, sung the theme song, later made infamous by the Blues Brothers (John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd).

“Cheyenne,” starred Clint Walker, a twin by the way. His good looks caught the eye of Cecil B. DeMille who cast a part for him in The Ten Commandments. Soon, he had a show of his own.

The list goes on … “Andy Griffith,” “Flipper,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Dr. Kildare,” “The Outer Limits,” and others. I suppose the young people of today could argue their shows are just as good but I don’t think so. The difference is simple but huge. We, the babyboomers, not only grew up with TV but more to the point, TV grew up with us. We were part of TV’s Golden Era. The fact that it was black and white is part of the glory to me.

Progress marches on and sometime it’s ruthless. All across this country landfills hold the remnants of bent and broken TV antennae that once sprouted from every rooftop. Someone said the TV antennae of yesteryear looked like the product of a wild night between a towel rack and a steam radiator. They ruined the looks of neighborhoods but no one cared, for those skeletal-like contraptions snatched the signals from WRDW 12 and WJBF 6 right out of the air. They brought us laughter, entertainment, and legends. They brought us a lifetime of memories and there’s not a landfill on Earth that will ever hold those.

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Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of fourteen books, 550 columns, and more than 1,200 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, and South Carolina Country Roads. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground.

He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks to groups across South Carolina and Georgia. He’s the editor of Shrimp, Collards & Grits, a Lowcountry lifestyle magazine.
Governor McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon him October 26, 2018 for his impact upon South Carolina through his books and writing because “his work is exceptional to the state.”

Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He grew up in Lincolnton, Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina.

Visit Tom's website at www.tompoland.net. Email him at [email protected].