For The Tribune-Democrat
About 30 years ago, MTV (Music Television) was unleashed upon the world. One of its rallying cries was: “I want my MTV!”
Catchy, but a bit narcissistic.
Decades later, after an explosion of new cable networks, those in the Johnstown area (and across the country) have been introduced to yet another network: Me-TV (Me for Memorable Entertainment).
Me-TV has its own humorous catchphrases such as “And that’s the way Me likes it!” – which sounds like Bizarro-speak from the old Superman comic books.
For those of a certain age, Me-TV is a flashback to “those thrilling days of yesteryear” when TV came in black-and-white images with a laugh track.
Me-TV’s programming is exclusively television dramas and sitcoms that cover the 1950s through the 1980s. The programs include legendary heavyweights such as “I Love Lucy” and “Dick van Dyke,” “The Twilight Zone” and “Perry Mason.”
Many of the programs are also from the color revolution and beyond, such as “Bonanza” and “Wild, Wild West” as well as “The Odd Couple” and “Batman.”
Programming also includes long-running shows such as “M.A.S.H.”( 11 seasons), “My Three Sons” (12 seasons) and “Happy Days” (11 seasons).
What I enjoy are the old shows from the ’50s and ’60s that have fallen off the cultural radar screen, including “Dobie Gillis,” “Route 66,” “Honey West,” “Peter Gunn” and “Love American Style.”
I enjoy seeing these old shows and how well (or not) they hold up. Surprisingly, most hold up quite nicely.
Two World War II dramas that hold up quite well are “Combat!” and “12 O’ Clock High.” The first series covers an infantry squad led by the smart-yet-brusque Sgt. Saunders, who leads a loyal squad from various backgrounds.
Most of the cast, though relatively young, had actually served in World War II, bringing an added sense of authenticity to the series.
Noted actor Vic Morrow (killed in 1982 from an accident during the filming of the John Landis segment of the “Twilight Zone” movie) brings a world-weary, nuanced grit to the role of Saunders, which sets the tone for the popular series.
“12 O’ Clock High” is an Air Force version of “Combat!” with Robert Lansing (and
later Paul Burke) as the tough by-the-book commander of a bomber group.
The sitcoms hold up quite well also. What was funny during that period is still funny decades later.
The writing on sitcoms such as “I Love Lucy” and “Dick van Dyke” was always deft, insightful and never really mean-spirited. Even Alan Brady’s (Carl Reiner) “Shut up, Mel!” to underling Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon) made ego-driven star Brady the butt of the joke.
Viewing episodes of “That Girl” made me realize how really good Ted Bessell was at playing straight man to kooky girlfriend Marlo Thomas, the series’ star. Also noteworthy was Lew Parker, who played Thomas’ over-protective father, a role that could have been annoying, but Parker made the role lovable and hilarious.
Two things that really impress me about these old programs in retrospect are the writing and the early stars’ careers.
The writing on most of these shows is uniformly high caliber.
The characters are well-developed and the situations and plots are usually believable.
You can tune into one of these shows halfway through and get instantly hooked into it.
The other joy is seeing famous TV/film stars early in their careers in minor roles: Everyone from Robert Redford and William Shatner to an impossibly young Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates in “Rawhide.” Sammy Davis Jr. shows up as a gunslinger on “The Rifleman” and yet pulls it off believably.
Also noteworthy is Me-TV’s programming skills. The day after beloved actor Harry Morgan (Col. Potter) died, Me-TV aired a weeklong tribute of “M.A.S.H.” episodes that focused on Morgan’s character starting the very next day. That is impressive.
I really enjoy Me-TV. It’s hip, yet nostalgic; respectful to the programs, yet can poke fun at itself.
And that’s the way Me likes it.
Bill Eggert is a Johnstown native. You can read his blog at http://thebillvilleblog.wordpress.com.
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