The World in Black and White

September 16, 2007 at 10:34 pm (The Easy Chair, Waxing Nostalgic)

On this eve of the Prime Time Emmys, I reminisce about the early days of TV.

Once upon a time, television was free. It came to your house, much like water. (Back then, people even drank water out of the tap. Can you imagine?) In the boonies, you needed a pair of ‘rabbit ears,’ or if you were rich or a TV snob, you had an antenna on top of the house.

To improve reception, Freewheelin’ showed me how to modify a coat hanger or a speaker wire, cheap bastard that I am.

Television sets were relatively expensive. A good color TV would run $400-$500. When our family upgraded to a color console in 1976, it was as if indoor plumbing had came to the house. I inherited the 13-inch black and white set!

Until the early ’90s, I was behind the times. I had cable, but it was still hooked up to the 13-incher. My cousin, embarrassed at my rotary-phone ways and black and white TV lifestyle, gave me his old 19-inch color. (And a touch-tone phone; welcome to the ’90s!) It served me well, until one day a puff of smoke and a funny smell signaled its demise.

At that point, I reached a crossroads. I had succumbed to cable TV’s evil ways, and was willing to pay to be amused. When my tax refund came back, I went crazy and bought a 27-inch Philips Magnavox.

In a few months, it will be ten years old. In a couple of years, it will be obsolete.

Without the rented digital cable box, that is.

Those little black and white TVs, while not particularly cinematic, were great for hauling to a boring work site, or killing time in your mom’s attic when unemployed. I fell in love with Bullwinkle and The Pink Panther.

To this day, the original episodes of Star Trek look funny when I watch them in color.

Why am I tripping on this? The other night I was at a friend’s house, and one of her TVs had lost its color capabilities. As we clicked around, looking for a time-killer, I’d forgotten how beautiful simple black and white looked.

What was weird? The yellow first-down line on football games is hard to find. The DVD logo that pops up when you change out a movie? Looks weird if not bright blue.

Some things helped. Justin Timberlake’s HBO concert looked very stylish, albeit a bit twitchy. The Sleep Country Lady was still hot, in a Morticia Addams kind of way.

Other things looked scary. Cruising past an adult site, we stopped and questioned/admired. (“Is that real?” “Look at his nose! It’s real…”) Fox 12 News? They really need color to make those kids look older.

So, I sit here, watching my near-obsolete monitor to the rest of the world, where Sally Field (“You really like me!”) is being censored. The show is forty-five minutes over time, yet nobody is playing that dramatic ‘get off the stage’ music. The ‘ode to dead people’ abruptly went black ten dead celebrities too soon.

Another tribute to The Sopranos?

What will the future bring? Fred Thompson, TV star, is running for president. Al Gore theoretical former president and inventor of the internet, won an Emmy. Is this irony, or is the world as fucked up as it seems?

It is! James Spader just beat James Gandolfini for Best Actor. The voters should be spanked! By James Spader!

Tina Fey won for Best Comedy. (30 Rock.) There is a TV god, and she is a TV goddess.

And there is a TV Godfather. His name is David Chase. The most engaging, brilliant series of all time just won another Emmy.

The Big One. Congratulations to the cast and crew of The Sopranos.

That means it’s bedtime. Be sure to join us at 5:30 AM for Sunrise Semester and The Farm Report.

On that note, right after the National Anthem comes the test pattern…


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