"Book 'em, Danno!"
Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Written content only
Every generation can identify something that defines them. It could be an event, or an historical benchmark, or the shift of a cultural paradigm that has shaped the environment in which they lived. The Civil War, The Gay ‘90s, The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, both World Wars, the Cold War, the list goes on and on.
The generation called the Baby Boomers occupies a unique niche in American cultural history. The Boomers bridged the gap from the post-war 1950’s, through the Space Age and civil rights movement of the 60’s, Viet Nam, and the explosion of the information age. But the one thing that has dominated our lives was the technological development of Television.
Our generation became the beneficiary of what I have come to call “The Instant Age.” For the first time, people had near-instantaneous access to events around the world. Images of coups in small, remote countries flowed to us as easily as did the local weather report. And as antennas gave way to cable and satellite, news became even more accessible. The knowledge about events around the world was just a remote click away.
But television was, at it’s genesis, an entertainment medium. The previous generation, confined to radio, had to use their imagination to invent the images suggested by the programs they heard. But with this new gadget, sound and images flashed in front of us, requiring very little brain work. Yet, the programs provided to us were interesting, even fun. Variety shows, evolved from Vaudeville, were the first successful shows. Then came situation comedies, such as the iconic “I Love Lucy” and hour-long dramas like “Ben Casey” and “Highway Patrol.” As audiences became more sophisticated, the shows evolved in content, color, and special effects. Over the decades, the shows we watched as children have stayed with us, providing the storylines and catchphrases that became the soundtracks and screenplays of our lives.
For me, the list of my all-time favorite shows covers the gamut, from music, comedy, and drama suited up in venues from sterile operating rooms to gritty crime-torn streets.
The first show I remember watching regularly was “Gunsmoke.” James Arness, as Marshall Matt Dillon became a towering figure in my childhood. That weekly visit to Dodge City always began with that tense showdown; the quickdraw shootout. The stories were richly told, the characters entertaining. Another favorite was “Combat,” the World War II drama starring Vic Morrow as the crusty, cynical Sgt. Saunders who weekly led his patrol through post-D-Day France and Germany. As a kid, I enjoyed the action, particularly the regular duels with German machine gun nests, usually terminated with a shower of American grenades. It wasn’t until I saw the show in syndication as an adult that I realized how well-written those episodes were.
“Hawaii 5-0” became an instant hit with me after the first time I saw it. The crime and skullduggery splashed across the vivid colors of America’s 50th state along with the singular portrayal of Steve McGarret by Jack Lord became a magnet for me. Other police shows like “Dragnet,” and “Adam 12” made heroes out of the folks behind those badges. “Star Trek” opened the possibilities of the universe, although my Dad openly wondered why all the aliens spoke English. The glamorous world of the Detective came through shows such as “Mannix,” “Kojack,” and “Baretta.” Red Skelton, Carol Burnett, and Dean Martin brought us comedy, music and dance.
These shows became the wallpaper in my life; the characters were the heroes in my dreams. And even though the stories were fictional, they became part of my reality.
Times change. Standards shift. Yesterday’s Ward Cleaver became today’s Homer Simpson. The principled Joe Friday of Dragnet became the renegade Vic Mackey of “The Shield.” The suave Napoleon Solo and Ilia Kuryakin, the Men from U.N.C.L.E., became the violent and manic Jack Bauer of “24.” But these are the shows that shape the lives of the current generation. These characters and their legends will carry forward into the future.
And in another 30 years, they too, will be part and parcel of “the good old days.”