This is not a review of the new fall television series. I am writing this a few days ahead, and I haven’t seen anything yet. Maybe I’ll write about them later. Or maybe I won’t. An accurate assessment would require watching them, and I am not sure I’m up to it.
“The following program was designed for viewers decades younger than you are. Enjoy!”
Today, we’re talking nostalgia. It’s “Memory Lane” time, the Golden Days of Yesteryear when there were three networks, and you could retain the entire prime-time schedule in your head. (For some reason, Canadian networks buying American series were permitted to air them several days prior to their American broadcasts – when we could watch those same shows again, emanating from Buffalo. This could explain why Canadians on the whole are sharper in the brain – we had a more complicated TV schedule to remember.)
Imagine today if there was a person who could recite the primetime schedules for five hundred channels:
“Eight P.M. Wednesday, Channel 52, ‘Una Maid en Manhattan’; Channel one sixty-six, ‘Zola Levitt Presents.’”
That person would be worthy of recognition. And, perhaps, therapy.
More than perhaps.
One of the great excitements of my pre-working life, beginning in early teenagehood, was the highly anticipated arrival in mid-September of the TV Guide Preview Edition. The Preview Edition featured blurbs and accompanying publicity photos of all the new series, along with a complete schedule of the week’s head-to-head lineup.
There was even a page assigned to off-network series playing in syndication, police dramas like Lock-Up and westerns like 26 Men (“This is the story of twenty-six men, who rode the Arizona Territory; Long live the glory of twenty-six men, who rode the Arizona Territory.”)
Today, a bottom shelf in the bookcase of the office I am writing this in holds stacks of TV Guide Preview Editions starting with the 1958-59 edition and proceeding to whatever year it was that TV Guide expanded to the big-sized format, when I stopped buying them, because the magazine was starting to feel like Soap Opera Digest.
My collection includes every Preview Edition issue from 1958-59 to when the “Big Format” began. Except for four.
I once ordered an issue I was missing on E-Bay. I was thrilled when it arrived; this would bring me one issue closer to completing my collection. Unfortunately, when I tore open the wrapping, I discovered not a TV Guide Preview Edition, but instead an oversized antique soupspoon and a fork.
I immediately shipped them back, with a note saying, “Please send me what I paid for”, and received in return…nothing. I imagine E-Bay generally works more efficiently than this. They could not remain in business very long if people paid for coveted items, and instead received a spoon and a fork. Unless they coveted the spoon and the fork. Which I have no idea why they would covet these ones. They were really rusty.
Poring over the latest TV Guide Preview Edition the moment it arrived (trying not to leave finger marks) was like studying the Neiman-Marcus Christmas Catalogue, trolling for treasures. More westerns – yay! Ooh, James Franciscus has a new show. Hell-o! – Lucy’s back! And Ethel’s with her! Harry Bellaver – wasn’t he in The Naked City?
Immediately, I would reboot the week’s schedule in my head, shedding the canceled series like a rattlesnake sheds its skin, and inserting the spanking new replacements in their relinquished timeslots. I could not wait to sample them. Like revamped ball clubs at the start of the season, they all looked like winners.
During the course of my career, I created three shows – no, I didn’t; I created two shows and Executive Produced a third one – that were featured in TV Guide Preview Editions – Best of the West, Major Dad and (the one I Executive Produced) The Cosby Show. Imagine my inexpressible joy and delightedness, cracking open my new Preview Edition and finding my shows magnificently on display.
I mean, here’s a guy who’s been collecting TV Guide Preview Editions since he was twelve. And now, I’m in them! The only thrill close to rivaling this unimaginable miracle was seeing my show’s name as a clue in the TV Guide Crossword Puzzle – “Thirteen Down – ‘Best of the ----.’”
To succeed in as highly a competitive field as television, a necessary – though hardly sufficient – contributing element is you’re a fan. I was demonstrably a fan. (Though I never wrote a fan letter. I never cared about the actors. I was enchanted by the characters. And, being reasonably well balanced, I understood that fictional characters would not write me back.)
Now, of course, it’s different. I am older, out of the game. And a little too knowledgeable. Like the sausage maker or the commercial airline pilot, my insider’s awareness impels me to avoid sausages. And take the train.
However, somewhere out there – as Fievel Mousekewitz used to sing – there’s a kid watching TV in mouth-dropping amazement, thinking, “I want to do that.”
I sincerely envy them.