I spend too much time watching TV news channels CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Lately I’ve grown so sick of the political rancor and finger-pointing that permeates these networks that I vowed to stay away and watch nothing but MeTV for one entire day. Last Thursday I viewed the classic TV network almost nonstop from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Below is a diary of my experience.
6 a.m. “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
“The Beverly Hillbillies” is about a dirt poor family living in rural Appalachia who come into a fortune when Uncle Jed accidentally strikes oil when he is “shootin’ at some food.” The family packs up a rickety old truck and moves to Beverly Hills, CA. where they are fish out of water.
In today’s episode a beauty-contest winner from back home shows up wanting to marry the son, Jethro. It’s clearly dated since a to-do is made over all the weight she’s gained and there’s body shaming aplenty. Jethro is a good catch because with his sixth grade education he plans to become a brain surgeon which sounds eerily similar to my health plan when I was at The World-Herald.
There are some minor audio glitches today, not surprising since the black and white episode was produced in 1964.
6:30 a.m. “My Three Sons.”
This classic situation comedy is about a dad raising three boys on his own because Mom has either died or run off with the mailman. (When the show was produced in the early 60s divorce was verboten on TV.)
Today the family debates whether to move to Hawaii. Since the outside temperature in Omaha is 6 degrees I spend the next 30 minutes screaming “Do it!” at my TV.
7 a.m. “Leave It To Beaver.”
The iconic late 50s/early 60s sitcom succeeded where others failed because in addition to laughs there’s a genuine warmth inside the Cleaver family household. But “Beaver” is showing its age today with rampant sexism on display. When the dad, Ward, arrives home after work the mom, June, is immediately at his beck and call, fetching his sweater, pipe and newspaper and preparing his dinner. In today’s sitcom world June would refuse to make dinner, burn Ward’s sweater and stick his pipe up his ass because, you know, men are all so STUPID. All this emotional and physical violence would play out over an uproarious laugh track.
7:30 a.m. Another episode of “Leave It To Beaver.”
Beaver accidentally lets the family car roll into the street. Television at 7:30 in the morning doesn’t get much better.
There’s usually a life lesson at the end of “Beaver” and today is no exception, that lesson being that kids need to toe the line because dads often get blamed for what their children do.
One clue that MeTV on weekdays is targeted at an older audience: the plethora of commercials for Medicare Advantage.
8 a.m. “Perry Mason.”
I never really dug “Perry Mason” because every episode is pretty much the same. Attorney Mason takes on a client who’s accused of murder and cannot possibly be innocent. For example, she’s caught standing over a body holding a bloody knife used to stab the victim in one hand, the gun used to shoot the victim in the other hand, she has the rope used to choke the victim in her purse, and, she confesses to cops that she did it. There are also 59 witnesses who heard her tell the victim, “I’m gonna kill you!” on at least 30 occasions not including the time she shouted she was going to kill him into a bullhorn in front of 40,000 people at Dodger Stadium. She has motive because the dead guy cheated her out of $1 million, evicted her from her own home and ran over her dog.
However, Mason still has a hunch she’s wrongly accused. All seems lost until there are two minutes left in the episode when somebody - usually the last person you’d suspect - stands up in the back of the courtroom and admits he or she committed the crime.
9 a.m., “Matlock.”
“Matlock” skews to an older crowd and by that I mean the target audience is people in their nineties. That may explain why all the commercials during today’s show are for funeral insurance and that little trolley thing that pulls elderly people up their own stairs.
10 a.m., “Diagnosis Murder.”
This hour-long drama skews even older than “Matlock.” The target audience is “deceased.” It stars the amazing Dick Van Dyke who segued from sitcoms to drama with ease.
In today’s 1996 episode Van Dyke’s doctor-cop has to not only save lives but also deals with a kidnapping which strikes me as the ultimate in multi-tasking. The convoluted proceedings involve a smarmy self-help guru, lots of jazzercise, allegations of a voodoo curse and Van Dyke repeatedly uttering, “He didn’t kill his wife.” It’s all very confusing and I’m beginning to get a headache.
11 a.m. “In The Heat of the Night.”
This is the only series in today’s MeTV lineup that I’d never watched. It stars Carroll O’Connor as a police chief in fictional Sparta, Miss. Today the chief is dealing with simmering racial tensions.
MeTV viewing is starting to feel monotonous but at least it’s better than watching another politics-driven cable news show.
There’s a commercial for Consumer Cellular a firm that vets phone companies for seniors followed by a catheter ad. I marvel at all the jobs for 85-year-old actors created by MeTV.
12 p.m. “Gunsmoke.”
“Gunsmoke” is a classic TV Western that ran for 20 years. It stars James Arness as Sheriff Matt Dillon and is set in Dodge City, KS. It almost always features lots of gunplay and if there aren’t three bodies lying on Main Street before the first commercial break it’s a slow day.
In today’s episode from 1962 Dillon brings back a wanted man to face justice. At one point Dillon takes a bullet but keeps coming forward. Surely he must be part cyborg. The bad guy uses his own lady friend as a human shield during the shootout which certainly seems like grounds for breaking up.
I hear the following during a commercial break: “You’ll never have to worry about running out of oxygen again!”
1 p.m. “Bonanza.”
“Bonanza” is “Gunsmoke” with a family vibe. In this installment from ‘62 middle son Hoss is wracked with guilt after accidentally killing a neighbor.
The guest star is Keith Richards, yes, that Keith Richards, and on the list of people I’d imagined had appeared on “Bonanza” Keith Richards is the second least likely on earth behind only Richard Simmons.
There’s some excellent, fancy riding during a horse chase midway through. Toward the end of the episode Pa holds vigil beside his son’s bedside as Hoss is in a coma. It wouldn’t be “Bonanza” if someone wasn’t in a coma.
I’ve been watching MeTV since 6 a.m. and I feel like I’m about to lapse into a coma.
After watching “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke” back-to-back I decide to take a quick lunch break for “vittles.”
2 p.m. “The Rifleman.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. “The Rifleman” is one of my favorite TV shows ever. It stars Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain a widowed farmer who just wants to tend to his patch of land but instead is forced to slaughter roughly 14 bad guys every episode while his son Mark watches. After blowing away a bunch of dudes McCain usually has a message for his son about living in peace and harmony.
The series is exceedingly dark in tone. Let’s call it “the anti-Leave It To Beaver.”
“The Rifleman” differs from most Westerns due to the warm father-son dynamic and because McCain’s weapon of choice is a rifle instead of a handgun.
Today’s episode revolves around McCain sticking up for a man from China and his son who move to North Fork and meet tons of resistance. In 2019 the townsfolk would be chanting “Build the wall!”
2:30 p.m. Another episode of “The Rifleman.”
Lucas must take on a gang of outlaws all by his lonesome and you can probably guess who came out on top. It’s amazing that McCain never runs out of people to shoot.
3 p.m. “Wagon Train.”
A 1950s series about a cattle moving operation. This is the oldest episode of any show today, filmed in 1958. The wagon train bosses must make peace with Indians and get the Indians to agree to let them pass through their land. I guess because I watch too many cable news programs one of the Indian squaws looks like Elizabeth Warren.
I’m actually more drawn to the shows that are in black and white like this than the programs that are in color I guess due to the uniqueness and novelty.
4 p.m. “Charlie’s Angels.”
Regular readers know I’m a big fan of the TV series while I HATED the “Charlie’s Angels” movie franchise.
Producers always looked for any excuse to get the comely private investigators, especially Kris played by the magnificent and entirely underrated Cheryl Ladd, into the skimpiest attire possible. One week the Angels would go undercover as football cheerleaders. The next as lady wrestlers. Then burlesque dancers. Then figure skaters. Then lifeguards. Then hookers. Then wrestling hookers. I always hoped they’d go undercover at a nudist camp.
The show can be a bit of a bad accent-fest with Kate Jackson in particular breaking out a super-affected Bronx speaking voice every third episode or so.
Today the Angels go undercover by entering a marathon which allows for, well, almost nonstop...jiggling. The plot makes sense only when compared to this morning’s “Diagnosis Murder” episode.
5 p.m. Mama’s Family.”
This is the weak link of the MeTV schedule. The show stars Vicki Lawrence in some sort of get up to make her look older. I’ve been watching MeTV for over 11 hours now, with only a couple short breaks for the restroom and food. So, after noting that the plot of “Mama’s Family” revolves around somebody hiding $200 inside a tissue box (my, what could go wrong?) I cheat and switch the channel to CNN and then Fox News for a few minutes. On these two channels I learn that everything bad that happens in the world is either the fault of Donald Trump, or, Hillary Clinton, although Fox has recently begun blaming a lot of bad stuff on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez too and CNN keeps showing footage of Roger Stone who clearly enjoys being arrested and accused of serious crimes more than any human before him. “Mama’s Family” isn’t sounding so bad and I switch back in time to see the family go bonkers when the stash inside the tissue box turns up missing.
5:30 “The Jeffersons.”
They’re movin’ on up, to the Eastside, to a deeee-lux apartment in the sky. I nod off about three minutes into the episode but the 180 seconds I saw sure looked interesting.
6 p.m. "M*A*S*H"
This may be blasphemous but I never really got into M*A*S*H. I realize it’s revered by many and there’s a lot of heart inside this medical unit near the front lines during the Korean War where the doctors use humor as a coping mechanism. I found the show repetitious possibly because it lasted longer than the war on which it was based.
Today MeTV is airing a Christmas episode which makes sense since it’s mid-February.
6:30 pm. Another episode of "M*A*S*H"
Only the most iconic series get the back-to-back episode treatment on MeTV. It’s what separates the truly legendary programs like "M*A*S*H*" and “Leave It To Beaver” from the merely great ones like “WKRP In Cincinnati” and “My Three Sons.”
7 p.m. “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Small town life at its finest here in idyllic Mayberry, North Carolina. It was unbelievable to me that Griffith’s Sheriff Andy Taylor would put up with a deputy, Barney Fife (masterfully played by Don Knotts), who repeatedly accidentally fires his gun and regularly mistakenly locks himself in his own jail cell. How many law enforcement agencies would tolerate a deputy who’s firing an errant shot through a wall one minute and locking himself in a cell the next and THIS HAPPENS EVERY OTHER WEEK?
There’s a recurring character named “Otis The Drunk” who as you probably know now serves in the U.S. Congress.
In tonight’s episode Andy and Barney enter a haunted house to look for a missing baseball and even this seems way too challenging for Barney so he brings along gas station attendant Gomer for moral support.
7:30 p.m. Another episode of “Andy Griffith.”
My eyes are glazed over with MeTV-itis. I’ve now watched from the early morning family sit-com part of the schedule through the late morning “Perry Mason”-“Matlock”-“In The Heat of the Night” geezer-fest through the afternoon Westerns through the brief T&A portion of the schedule and then back into more family sitcoms at night.
Through foggy vision I'm still able to see the warmth between the characters on the Griffith show. They seem to genuinely love each other despite being aware of one another's flaws - for example, repeatedly locking oneself in a jail cell. There's also a real sense of camaraderie and a genuine...sweetness.
8 p.m. “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”
This “Andy Griffith Show” spinoff stars Jim Nabors. Tonight Gomer and his tough sergeant Vince Carter end up dating the same woman. At one point Carter says “holy smokes” which strikes me as strange language for a drill sergeant.
8:30 p.m. “WKRP In Cincinnati.”
I’ve pretty much been watching MeTV for fourteen and a half hours straight. Next time I’ll do something easier for a column like get waterboarded.
“WKRP” was a late seventies/early eighties sitcom set at a struggling top 40 radio station. In this episode station news director Les Nessman rents a vintage WW I plane to do traffic reports. There’s a surprisingly thoughtful message about Veterans Day near the end. TV shows today don’t have nice messages like this.
9 p.m. The KETV local newscast
9:30 p.m. “Hogan’s Heroes.”
It turns out that POW camps during WW II were full of laughs!
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
The marathon is over. I watched 15 1/2 hours of MeTV with only a handful of very brief breaks. I learned a few things. For one, television used to be better. Better written and better acted. Also these shows frequently serve as a microcosm of their eras. If you want to get a quick feel for the sixties, seventies, eighties or nineties check out an episode from that period.
Today took me back to simpler times when people were kinder - at least on TV - and didn’t act like A-holes constantly. They treated one another better than people today, on and off of TV, at least when they weren’t shooting at them.
Not all of the shows I watched were great - or even good - and they certainly don’t all hold up. I’m thinking a good deterrent to crime would be to force convicted felons to watch “Mama’s Family” reruns. Still, I’m pretty sure I’ll be watching more MeTV and fewer cable news channels going forward.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Brad Dickson is a former writer for "The Tonight Show," a humor columnist for the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, a best-selling author of two books and a professional speaker. You can find Brad on Twitter at @brad_dickson.
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