I am, for better or worse, a child of the TV generation. When our oldest son, Michael, started watching TV, it amused us greatly that he was watching the same PBS shows, “
Cable TV has been a bonanza (not to be confused with “Bonanza”) of old TV over the years, having taken on what broadcast stations used to do during off-network hours. (Old reruns on broadcast TV have largely been replaced by original-run syndicated programming.) One highlight of going to my in-laws was the ability to watch weekend reruns of “Emergency!” and "The Green Hornet," which at the time were on channels we didn’t get where we lived. On a different weekend in southwest
While my early watching was usually cartoon-related (the next time I write on old TV, I might focus on old locally based cartoon shows, such as "Circus 3" in Madison, and old locally based bad horror movie shows, such as WGBA-TV's "Chiller Theater," hosted by Ned the Dead), most of my TV watching has been in some variation of the action/adventure genre. Early on, I developed a two-pronged formula as to whether the series was worth my watching: (1) cool wheels, well before I could drive (including, in the case of “Star Trek,” space vehicles), and (2) cool theme music, before I’d developed appreciation for music. That might be the only explanation for why I watched “The A-Team,” although George Peppard did appear to be having the time of his life as the head of said A-Team.
For us old TV buffs, WBAY-TV’s RTN has been a godsend. RTN’s local daytime schedule includes one of the great dramas, “The Fugitive” (the finale of which was the highest rated TV show in history until someone shot J.R. Ewing), plus “The Streets of San Francisco,” “The Rockford Files” (a series I thought as a nine-year-old was edgy because the title character said “damn” and “hell” a lot), “Get Smart” (two words: Mel Brooks) and “Hogan’s Heroes” (ironically, many of the actors were survivors of or escapees from Nazi Germany), with “Ironside,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Magnum P.I,” and “Mission: Impossible” on weeknights, and “The Wild Wild West” (a science fiction Western, if that makes any sense) and “It Takes a Thief” on weekends. (It is the opposite of ironic, whatever that is, that a WBAY digital channel is rebroadcasting shows that originally were on WBAY when it was a CBS affiliate, including “Get Smart” in its last season, “Hogan’s Heroes,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Perry Mason,” “Magnum P.I.,” “Mission: Impossible” and “The Wild Wild West.”)
If I were programming “Steve TV,” using the aforementioned formula, the program schedule would include:
- “Hawaii Five-O” (9 p.m. weeknights), which has the best opening sequence, bar none, in the history of TV. It was “Miami Vice” 15 years before “Miami Vice,” crime in lush locales. The irony is that, if you ask any
Hawaiitourism official of the 1970s, “Hawaii Five-O” did more than almost anything to attract tourism to , even though the show depicted the state as riven with crime and even espionage. (One of the stars once pointed out that if the show had been realistic, Five-O would have solved every crime the state has ever had about halfway through the series.) Hawaii
- “Magnum P.I.” (10 p.m. weeknights), which replaced “Hawaii Five-O” on the CBS schedule using the same Hawaii studios “Five-O” used. Star Tom Selleck was a star worth emulating in the 1980s, although no one at my part-time newspaper job was impressed when, one day, I drove to work in my mother’s red Chevy Camaro (the closest thing I could find to a Ferrari 308GTSi) wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Like “Hawaii Five-O,” the depiction of
, where everything grows all year and frost is the name of an old poet, makes those in the less-than-great white north pine for tropical climates. Hawaii
- “Emergency!”, one of the many Jack Webb productions. This one was different from Webb’s “Dragnet” and “Adam-12” (which I religiously watched before “Hawaii Five-O”) in that it lasted an hour and wasn’t about
police. It was about Los Angeles Los Angeles Countyfirefighters and paramedics, complete with a cool rescue squad truck, and the paramedics got to do all kinds of dangerous things in the wonderful (though noticeably smoggy) southern climate, supported by doctors at an L.A.-area hospital. (Why this series has not been remade in the post-9/11 era, where there is much more interest in emergency services as TV show themes, is beyond me.) California
- “Starsky and Hutch,” a series about two hip plainclothes detectives who drove around in a vehicle guaranteed not to attract bad-guy attention, a red Ford Gran Torino with a huge white Nike-like swoosh on the side. (Similar to the “Magnum P.I.” Ferrari.) The first season, where the title characters were cops instead of social workers with badges as they became later in the series, featured theme music by Lalo Schifrin, who, though he didn’t compose many TV themes or movie scores, composed some great ones, including “Mission: Impossible,” “Mannix,” “Bullitt” and “Dirty Harry.”
How do we know these and other TV series were superior to much of what’s on TV today? Because
Most of those remakes are not popular among the series’ original fans. In the case of “Starsky and Hutch,” which was on FX earlier this week, the producers made fun of the original series, and if you do that, you’re making fun of the original series’ fans, whether or not the original premise strained credulity. The movie casting of Ben Stiller as Starsky and Owen Wilson as Hutch was just ridiculous. (Having Hutch sing “Don’t Give Up on Us,” the only successful single of original costar David Soul, was a nice touch, though.) If you watch any remake directed by Brian De Palma (who redid “The Untouchables” and the first “
Most of the remakes miss the spirit of the originals, which were created in the old Television Code days, when writers and directors couldn’t go nearly as far as TV goes today and thus had to be more inventive. The quality of most series usually drops the longer the series goes on (particularly “Star Trek,” most of the third season of which could qualify as the worst program in the history of entertainment) when, as a Star Trek chronicler once put it, format becomes formula. At some point, the powers that be in TV entertainment decided that what viewers wanted was more reality — flawed heroes, storylines unresolved after just one episode, social commentary, and more downer episode endings — when, not to be Pollyanniaish about it, most viewers want escapism out of their entertainment. (This is probably not an original theory, but the more grim the daily news is, I’d suggest, the more escapism people want.) Call me a philistine, but the longer the classic series “M*A*S*H” went, the less interested I was in it as the series became more socially profound and less funny. (The fact the series lasted approximately four times as long as the actual Korean War didn’t help either.) A series that was supposed to emulate “Emergency!”, “Third Watch,” was unwatchable because the creators (who formerly worked on “ER”) decided instead to foist enough angst on each character to make them, or the viewer, look for their stash of cyanide tablets.
A lot of fans of old series (many of whom expand on the original through writing fan fiction) want to bring back their favorite series, only to be disappointed by the failure of the comeback (proposals to bring back “Hawaii Five-O” have languished for more than a decade) or to be disappointed in the comeback, since obviously different people (namely actors, writers and producers) are involved. History, good or bad, does not go backwards, even on TV.