I was five years old when my parents bought me a television for my room. I recognize now that this might seem a bit young, and it certainly was for anyone born in the 80’s, but I’m glad they did. I think certain types of television can “rot your brain,” but it's not the rule of thumb. A lot of television, especially particular old sitcoms with writers who held unique sensibilities, informed me of a larger world with smart, enlightening humor.
Early on there were strict rules in place of when and how long I could watch T.V. If it were a school night 8:30/9pm was the cutoff. Lights out, go to sleep; but I’ve always had difficulty sleeping. Even before the television was ever a thought, I have vague memories of staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. I would sneak out of my room and into the kitchen, or play with toys on the floor of my room. Sometimes I would even knock on my parent’s bedroom door, hoping they would let me in, to sleep next to their bed; an impromptu bed made out of a blanket and pillow.
Eventually, I would just turn on the television, keeping the volume down, watching it until someone noticed it was on, or keeping it on all night if I got away with it. I just always functioned with little sleep, and still do to a large extent.
For people of my generation, I would say that Nickelodeon was most likely a huge influence on their childhood. I’ve never been into Disney, some movies of course, but overall that feel-good kiddie animation was never for me. It just never sunk in. Adult comedy as a child was more my vibe. I thought sarcasm, uncomfortable situations and slapstick humor to just be the absolute greatest thing on earth. That’s why when I discovered Nick at Nite my life changed.
Don’t roll your eyes. I’m serious when I say this. Now my nights weren’t as scary, or boring. I had “friends” I could keep on all night. When the shows on Nick at Nite bored me, I’d channel surf until landing on another network playing reruns of Cheers or The Honeymooners, even Night Court. But Nick at Nite played a lot of shows that my little six-year-old brain clung to, feeling like they understood the things I found to be hilarious.
Shows like Bewitched and The Dick Van Dyke Show stood out. Later on The Bob Newhart Show, I Love Lucy, and The Mary Tyler Moore show struck chords with me. I watch a lot of these shows still, almost religiously. If they’re available online to stream, I’ll watch them at night if restless; if not you’d be surprised to see what I have on DVD.
None of this will be a surprise if any of you reading this have read my past blogs on television. It’s interesting to follow all this back to a starting point, and for me it’s clear.
Yesterday, January 25th, 2017 Mary Tyler Moore passed away at the age of 80. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is something I’ve been going through again, for the umpteenth time, recently so I’ve been thinking about my childhood late-nights a lot. She’s one of the first faces I ever saw on television that stayed with me in a truly memorable fashion; and placing her face from The Dick Van Dyke Show a year or so later, realizing that people could star in multiple things struck me as fascinating. Black and white in one, and then in color gave me the understanding that the television landscape was something vast and hugely different from movies. It’s odd to me, how much those jokes hold up; and in part, it has to do with the delivery, as much as it has to do with the writing. Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Cloris Leachman and Ted Knight’s careers were introduced to me in that show, but I have followed each one of them throughout most of my life.
I’m a huge classic sitcom junkie. I get that a lot of people my age have moved on to faster-paced forms of media; they like in your face, edgy and borderline offensive comedy at times. Well, as do I, but that play-form of media is near and dear to my heart. Mary Tyler Moore is one reason for that, so her death feels strange, even though I of course never met her. She was a great talent; singer, dancer, actress, television star, movie star and theatre veteran. She was a multifaceted talent, and a rare item and the world will be a little less without her.
I hope some of you take the time to watch something she was in, one of those early sitcoms would be my recommendation. Mary Tyler Moore ran from 1970-1977, and it was the cast/crew’s decision to end it at the top of their game. How can you argue with something that great?
For seven years, 168 episodes and 30 minutes at a clip Mary Tyler Moore took the world on with a smile and was a pioneer for women in television. Here’s to her, and thanks for helping with my sense of humor.