AMERICAN TV UPBRINGING

17 August 2011

[Picture of The Fonz from Happy Days]It may seem a strange thing to admit, but I had an American TV upbringing. No question about it.

Of course, I have always been told that British TV is the best in the world, and far superior to what the USA had to offer. However, I have never found any evidence in support of this assertion.

Sure, we’ve produced the odd show or series that has been influential — from Monty Python to The Office, but this is as nothing when compared to the sheer volume of shows from the ‘states — and a lot of them were ground-breaking and phenomenal telly.

Let’s start with the children’s shows – we Brits had weird stuff, a badly translated Calimero and the druggy Magic RoundaboutNoggin the Nog, Pipette, Mr Ben, and Rainbow — all just ODD.

Whereas, the Americans gave us quality entertainment — Top Cat, Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, Batman, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Addams Family, The Munsters, Hogan’s Heroes, Bonanza, The Virginian, Mission: Impossible, and more, much, much more.

Sesame Street led to The Muppets — and that was MASSIVE here.

I have warm happy memories of the detective shows that my parents loved — good family viewing it was too. Macmillan and Wife, Ironside, Columbo, Banacek, Petrocelli, Kojak, Murder She Wrote, Cannon, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Rockford Files, Hawaii-Five-O, Magnum PI, Cagney & Lacey, Hill Street Blues, The Streets of San Francisco, Barney Miller, and the original ER. Ah, the memories!

Then there were what-we-thought-of-as typical American shows — The Beverley Hill-billies, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, Highway to Heaven,The Odd Couple, Rhoda, Archie Bunker. I think I first heard canned laughter on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in.

The BIG hits — as far as I am concerned — started with Happy Days. This was a 1950’s nostalgia trip that was reflected in music and films in the 1970s — from Showaddywaddy to Grease. Every kid at my school knew who the Fonz was. Having said that, I guess my elders would say Peyton Place, 77 Sunset Strip, Marcus Welby MD, or maybe Emergency Ward 10.

Next up for me was probably Hill Street Blues — everyone was talking about that show. The unusual hand-held camera techniques and overlapping stories has been a big influence ever since, particularly ER.

I liked off-the-wall stuff like The Twilight Zone which were not discussed as much at school. There was a massive buzz for Ally McBeal, I remember that (although I didn’t watch it), I preferred LA Law and Cheers. This happened later with Friends — I watched it without being a fan.

Everyone watched the massively influential Miami Vice. (Read this fun article: When Men Suddenly Changed)

Letterman was shown here, and I could see how it changed the game. Saturday Night Live was superb when we got it. Massive shows over there, and sporadically slotted into UK channels at odd times happened a LOT; I liked 60 minutes, but it was irregularly shown.

I can recall the HUGE impact Jerry Springer had here — and soon it was all about Oprah. I can remember Roseanne caused a stir too. Garry Shandling was interesting, as was Larry Sanders, and those shows, along with Sienfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm have been incredibly innovative and influential television.

Fame! was HUGE — probably moreso than today’s Glee. Girls started wearing leg-warmers and leotards. Everyone, but everyone watched Kung-Fu with David Carradine (Calling someone “Grasshopper” is standard cultural reference fare thanks to that show). The A-Team, Baywatch and Nightrider were perfect Saturday early evening viewing, better than BJ & The Bear or C.H.I.P.S.

I salute you, American Television. You have been my cultural upbringing.  The good the bad and the ugly Betty, it was all television as it should be.

During this period, I remember seeing the alternatives we put up — Man About The House, The Liver Birds, Butterflies, and The Good Life. Awful stuff – believe me, but not as bad as Songs of Praise, Snooker, Darts, Sheep Dog Trials, Ready Steady Cook or Gardening programmes. Honestly!

I do not watch as much telly now, but I am aware that the innovation and quality continues — with CSI, ER, Dexter, The Sopranos, Desparate Housewives, The Simpsons, and Family Guy.

I need family viewing on Saturday and Sunday evenings, but instead of the quality American stuff I grew up with, all we have is X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, or Strictly Come Dancing.

What a shame!

My son heard a song and asked us recently if it was going to win. I was shocked to realise that he thinks that this is what songs are all about – every song and singer to him is in a competition.

In writing this post, I realise that a lot has changed, we have more channels and the internet, but we have become perversely more parochial. I also realised that it would be impossible to do justice to the impact all this US TV output over all these years has had — I cannot name all of these shows, nor describe how big they were (in general and to me) when we had two or three night time channels. In fact, I keep  remembering more and more great shows, so I hope this sparks memories in my readers.

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