TV of today is so totally different than it was when I grew up. Even though I adore all the On Demand and DVR capabilities of today, there was something really special about TV programming back in my youth.
What made me think about this was the recent death of Shirley Temple. I loved Shirley Temple movies when I was a kid, and why? Because channel 11 (WPIX) in New York City used to play a Shirley Temple movie every Saturday morning and my sisters and I usually watched them.
My personal favorite is Heidi, with the evil Fraulein Rottenmeier, the nasty, opportunistic Aunt DeeDee, and the dry, snobby (in a loveable sort of way) butler Andrews, played by Arthur Treacher. I always felt so sorry for little Heidi who only wanted to go home to her grandfather, and was constantly sold a bill of goods and made to stay where she wasn’t happy.
You know, even though Klara was nice in this movie, I never quite trusted her. The girl that played her also played a real bitch in The Little Princess, and I was always certain that Klara was feeding Frau Rottenmeier info to screw over poor Heidi on the sly.
I also loved Captain January, which I haven’t seen in too long a time, and which reminds me again of why Netflix sucks. They never have anything. Bright Eyes was a really good one too, mostly because I love seeing shitty people get their come-uppance, and boy does this movie satisfy on that level. Not only does the wealthy, wheel chair bound Uncle Ned cut his relatives out of his money after they were mean to poor Shirley, but you see their beyond bratty snot nosed little daughter get a well deserved slap across the face at the end. They don’t show that shit on television anymore!
Thinking about Shirley Temple movies made me think of all of my other childhood favorites that aren’t really played on television anymore. Every Christmas you’d get to see Laurel and Hardy in March of the Wooden Soldiers at least once; sometimes in black and white, sometimes in color. That movie is as campy as campy can be with it’s lame operettic songs and characters straight from Mother Goose. What’s great about it, besides Laurel and Hardy, is Barnaby, the mean, underhanded, snivelling, villainous land baron who tries to blackmail Little Bo Peep into marrying him. This guy was even a douche in a Little Rascals episode. Laughs and guffaws aside, when those wooden soldiers come to rescue the town from the evil, plastic faced Boogeymen, I still get a chill.
Another great movie that is rarely seen is Hans Christian Andersen starring Danny Kaye. This movie is packed with song after song that I still remember to this day. Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina, Inchworm, not to mention The King’s New Clothes and Wonderful Copenhagen. This gem would be played every year around Easter (I think it was Easter, anyway) and you couldn’t pull me away from the television when it was on. There is one dream sequence where he imagines watching the ballet of The Little Mermaid, and for a small child that was sort of a snore.
That being said, after all these years I can still whistle his theme song, and it makes me feel happy almost immediately. It’s just that kind of song.
When it came to afternoon programming during the week, our local ABC station had my vote Monday – Friday. After Match Game, The $25,000 Pyramid and Tattletales, I’d almost always tune to the 4:30 movie. They played all the great Hollywood classics, and some real stinkers too.
But what I loved the best is when they’d have theme weeks – one week it would be all Godzilla movies, another week devoted to the Planet of the Apes series. I used to love Bette Davis week, when they’d play Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Some weeks would suck though…John Wayne week? I’ll pass. Elvis week could be kind of a drag too, but my sister loved him, so I’d be forced to sit through melodic clam bakes and serenades whilst drag racing.
Nowadays programming like this just isn’t done. It doesn’t have to be done….most folks will just buy a movie if they love it, or rent a bunch and create their own theme night. I do love what television has to offer these days. I really do. It’s almost as if you can watch anything you want at any time with just a few pushes of a button.
But I gotta admit, I wouldn’t mind going back for a week of television viewing, circa 1979. Just seven little channels to choose from, but I usually managed to find something on.