At first sight, this looks like a meme. And it is. Sort of. But it’s also about something that’s been concerning me of late: the youth of today. Ah, I must be getting old if I’m getting concerned about the youth of today – and using the phrase “the youth of today”. It’s a short step to the Daily Telegraph from here.
What’s your favourite TV decade? In other words, which decade produced the television you love the most? Maybe it was the 60s with its escapism and gritty social realism, all rolled into one. Maybe it was the bleak 70s, or the action-packed 80s? It might even be the 90s, when US television really got into quality products for the first time.
But the second part of the question is slightly different: how did you get to see that TV?
I’m gambling that, to a certain extent, most people’s favourite TV decade – if they have a favourite decade – will be the time in which they were growing up. If they were young in the 80s, they probably fondly remember 80s TV. And so on.
But there will be a few who will cite an earlier time, and probably a few who will say that the current programmes on TV are the best we’ve ever had. I’m very fond of 1960s and 1970s, even though I was either too young to have seen very much of it or I hadn’t even been born yet – and there’s a whole load of 1950s TV that’s very good, too.
I grew up in the 80s when there were just four TV channels available to most people. Back then, network programmers had no problem with sticking old programmes and movies on at primetime. Channel 4 stuck The Addams Family, Car 54 Where Are You?, The Munsters, and The Abbott and Costello Show on at 5pm on weekdays, and The Avengers on at night. BBC2 was quite happy to repeat The Invaders, the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, the Falcon and the Saint movies, and more at 6pm of an evening. ITV littered its daytime schedules with The Sandbaggers and Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) and stuck The Baron, The Champions and Thunderbirds on at the weekends. And BBC1 would trawl out Bonanza on a Sunday afternoon. That’s how I got introduced to the TV classics of the past – as well as a few old bits of rubbish.
Nowadays, you can get all of this on DVD, of course, and with multi-channel TV, there are networks more or less dedicated to old faves: ITV4 is a haven for all those ITC shows (R&H (Deceased), Space: 1999, The Champions and The Prisoner are all on right now); there’s the Bonanza Channel (or used to be at least) for anyone wanting to catch Lorne Greene before he boarded the original Battlestar Galactica; and BBC4 will occasionally dredge something up from the archives for a brief season (Steptoe and Son, recently, or Doctor Who, starting on the 5th April).
But not the terrestrial channels. More to the point, you have to go looking for this stuff: it’s not right there in front of you when you turn on the TV. Which is all well and good, but how – and this is my big point – are the youth of today going to ever see any of their TV heritage and become interested in it? How will they ever experience the thrills of The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone or The Night Gallery? How will they know the joy of Mrs Peel and Steed’s interplay, Carter and Regan’s bad driving, or the simple happiness of life in Camberwick Green and Trumpton?
Obviously, learning French, reading classics of literature, and getting a fair understanding of physics, chemistry and biology so they can laugh at homeopaths, particularly French homeopaths, are far more important than tele. But whole lot of effort, expertise, creativity and passion went into creating these old shows, some of which are infinitely superior to their modern successors. Who wouldn’t want the original Invaders over its remake, for example? Or, indeed, Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) – shame on you Vic and Bob. Some of the shows are historical documents in their own rights and are referenced in books and films of the time; some even changed society altogether. And I think it would be a shame to forget that heritage, just as it would be a shame to forget the literature of the 1960s, say.
Is it going to take parents forcing DVDs on their kids or locking every channel except the nostalgia channels to teach them TV history – not that that’s a particularly good way to enthuse kids about anything? Now that MOMI‘s gone we no longer have the equivalent of New York’s Paley Center so that’s not an option. Worse still, are the youth of today just never going to be able to relate to old TV, any more than most people can relate to classics of Victorian literature? Should we just let ephemeral old TV disappear into the ether and live in the now?
What do you think?