Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Friday, July 1, 2011

Things I'm Digging: Battle of the Network Stars

Like many parents, I enjoy annoying my children with stories from "back in the day."  I particularly relish annoying them with deets of TV viewing habits of children growing up in the seventies.  Usually, the TV discussion (okay, it's more of a monologue) begins after one or both of the kids starts whining because we failed to read their minds and set the DVR to record the latest episode of "Ben 10" or "Young Justice."  I remind them that the same show will be broadcast two hours later on Cartoon Network West.  This gets me thinking about the fact that my children have the benefit of multiple channels devoted entirely to cartoons - and, in the case of Cartoon Network, they actually have two mirror image copies of the same channel, showing the same shows on staggered timetables.

This ticks me off.  So I launch into the monologue: 

"You have no idea how good you have it. 

"We had three networks, plus PBS, plus a couple of grainy UHF channels that showed movies of the week and reruns of 'Petticoat Junction' - which, by the way, was an awesome show.

"The three networks showed cartoons on Saturday morning.  That was pretty much the extent of your cartoon opportunities, except for holidays, where you got to watch 'Peanuts' and 'Rudolph' and 'Frosty' in prime time.  And because all of the cartoons were broadcast at the same time, and because you didn't have recording devices, you had to pick one cartoon to watch in each time slot.  So you missed most of the cartoons.  And if you had something to do away from the house on Saturday morning, you missed all of them.

"The rest of the time, you watched what your parents watched.  You watched the 'Rockford Files' or 'Quincy.'

[At this point in the conversation, I realize that I am in danger of failing to make my point.  My kids love crime dramas.  They would watch 'Bones' and 'Psych' on a continuous loop if you let them.  So I shift gears.]

"There was no reality TV.  [This gets the big one's attention:  he is currently obsessed with 'Hoarders.']  Correction:  there was a little reality TV, in the form of game shows, football games, Miss America pageants and the Jerry Lewis Telethon.  But you had a love/hate relationship with Jerry Lewis.  You hated his telethon because (1) it was sad, (2) it pre-empted ALL OTHER PROGRAMMING and (3) it signaled that you were about to go back to school.  The next day, in fact.  But you also loved it, because it was different.  And anything different was good."

I realize at this point in the monologue that I have omitted my favorite reality TV show of the Seventies and Eighties.  (Well, it ran neck and neck with "Donny and Marie" and "Real People." Remember Skip Stevenson?  HILARIOUS.  I think.  Okay, he was hilarious to an elementary school student.  As the mother of a couple of those, I now recognize that hilarity is situational.) 

Yes, I have failed to mention to my precious children the existence of a little show called "Battle of the Network Stars." 

And I decide to preserve the omission - because BOTNS would be a little tough to explain.

BOTNS' run began in 1976 and ended in 1988, which, for me, equates with first grade through twelfth.  So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it accounts for so many of my early TV-viewing memories.  I remember always cheering for the NBC team.  NBC was "Must See TV" in our house waaaaaaaaay before the network adopted the tag line.  In my parents' world, good people (or, in my mom's shorthand, "people"):
  • Voted Republican;
  • Read the Houston Chronicle (this was back when there was still a Houston Post to give the Chronicle some competition - not a lot of competition, evidently, since the Chronicle has survived and the Post is just a memory); and
  • Watched NBC.
You should ask my husband sometime about the "people" thing.  He was the one who noticed that my mother is fond of saying "people like [blank]" - as in, "people like finger sandwiches" and "people like string quartets."  One day he called her on it:  "Who are these 'people,' exactly?"

"Um, people like me."

"People like you?"

"Okay, meI am 'people.'  What's your point?"

Gotta give the woman credit for being self-aware.  And it's kind of a running joke now - identifying things that "people" like.

I did not realize how ingrained the NBC thing was until I moved to Austin for college - and found myself tuning in, night in and night out, to the Austin NBC affiliate's evening broadcast.  Didn't even consider the option of watching another channel.  Also didn't notice until several months into my relationship with my husband that he watched the NBC affiliate as well.  Asked him why, and he mumbled, "Um, I'm not entirely sure - we always watched NBC at home.  It was kind of a thing with us."

It was a oddly reassuring moment - proof that our families were as compatible as we had already determined we were.
These days, my mother watches a lot of ABC and CBS programming - and very little on NBC.  And this bothers me for reasons that I cannot fully articulate, but probably for the same reason that it does not compute that my mother now shops at Kroger and Albertson's.  Forgot to mention that up top:  another childhood life lesson was that good people, in addition to voting Republican, reading the Chronicle and watching NBC, shopped exclusively at Randall's (which would be Tom Thumb here in North Texas).  Subtext was that Kroger and Albertson's were, somehow, tacky.  We shopped there occasionally, when it was convenient, or when they were having a big sale, but it felt like slumming.

But back to BOTNS.

The NBC team, more often than not, was captained by the heroic Robert Conrad, backed by other brave "men of character" of the Seventies and Eighties - like Grizzly Adams and Buck Rogers.  NBC also had women of substance and good moral fiber, like Jane Seymour and Half Pint from "Little House."  And The Mandrell Sisters.  Well, the youngest Mandrell was always, to my sheltered sensibilities, kind of suspect.  Personally, I liked the unassuming brunette sister.  Now that I think about it, I always tended to gravitate to the unassuming brunette. Case in point:  my favorite Angel was Kate Jackson.

Maybe in another life I was an unassuming brunette.

ABC had the eye candy team - Wonder Woman, Charlie's Angels, the Hardy Boys, Heather Locklear and, once upon a time, Cheryl Tiegs.  Why, exactly?  I don't remember Cheryl Tiegs being on television.  Except on BOTNS.  ABC also had the comedian types. 

ABC was tremendously fun to watch - but, in my house, you were not allowed to cheer for them.

CBS's team had an air of grittiness, with JUST a touch of sleaze.  CBS had, among others, Mackenzie Phillips, Loretta Swit, Adrienne Barbeau and Howard Hesseman on their roster.  I'm guessing that a lot of cigarettes were smoked backstage by the CBS team - some of them possibly of an illegal variety. 

If you were to assign a voice to the CBS BOTNS stars team, it would be a whiskey voice.

CBS also was tremendously fun to watch - but you definitely were not allowed to cheer for them.

Now, this being the Seventies (and early Eighties), most of the events were designed to showcase chicks in swimsuits - specifically (ahem) certain "attributes" of said chicks that were on display while they were attired in WET swimsuits.  Hence the emphasis on aquatic events, like the swim relay - and the dunk tank.  Really?  "Dunk tank" is an "event"?  Um, I guess it involves pitching, so it's tangentially related to baseball or softball, but I'm thinking that we won't be seeing "dunk tank" as an exhibition sport in London in 2012. 

When the "attributes" weren't wet, they were still on full display, as the rest of the events seemed to be selected solely for their high bouncing-up-and-down quotients.  LOTS of tight shots of female entertainers in snug t-shirts jumping up to spike a volleyball, or navigating the tires on the obstacle course, or leaping in the air to celebrate victory in the tug-of-war.  I'm surprised that the producers didn't find a way to work in hippity hops.  Actually, I'd be surprised if they didn't work in hippity hops - they probably did, and I have simply blocked it from my memory.

My favorite BOTNS "event" (I am now using the term VERY loosely), hands down, was Simon Says.  I'm not making this up.  They brought out a guy from a Catskills resort (Grossinger's?), and he "called" a game of Simon Says.  Is that proper terminology?  Do you have a "caller" in Simon Says?  I think that you do.

So you can kind of see why I tend to omit BOTNS.  Not because it wasn't awesome, but because it was awesome in ways that were kind of suspect.

Which, of course, is precisely why I liked it.

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