A Colorful Look Back At Retro Television Family Gold
I have tried to watch and like new television shows, specifically so-called “family shows.” I really have. But my gosh, I just can’t. I try. But I just can’t.
The new shows are so unappealing, so mean-spirited, so unlikable. All the characters look the same, talk the same; everyone is sarcastic, and everyone rolls their eyes.
Ok, maybe not everyone.
But mostly everyone.
And it doesn’t help that there are like a bazillion TV commercials that air or stream while trying to watch an assortment of modern dramas, comedies, specials, or movies, be they family-oriented or not.
Those in front of and behind the scenes have talent. And it’s not anyone’s fault, in particular. It’s a group effort, actually. Those in power who greenlight these shows do so because they think audiences want these shows.
But in the end, it’s all mishandled, misguided and improperly presented not only by the creative forces at work who are directly responsible for the given show’s production, but the advertisers, and investors who allow such bunk to ever get on the air — or stream in the first place.
The Early TV Family Classics
Back in the day, circa the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, there were tremendous shows like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett, The Donna Reed Show, My Three Sons, Leave It To Beaver., and so forth. And thanks to DVDs or classic TV-geared networks like ME-TV, COZI-TV, Antenna TV, and the like, those days can be here again anytime the audience wants them to be.
These are the top five genius television classics that were filmed in black and white.
However, contrary to popular opinion, from an organically-aesthetic perspective, each of these shows, and their characters, were not all that black and white, even though many early editions of such programming were filmed in exactly that way.
In fact, they were very colorful and multi-dimensional.
At times, and in retrospect, when any one of these programs are referenced in the spectrum of television in particular, and popular culture in general, they are too many times pidgin-holed as too sentimental or lacking depth, story and character development.
In reality, such an assessment could not be further from the truth.
The characters on each of these shows interacted with one another on very real terms; they treated each other as honestly as possible within the context of their time. The shows may be products of their time — but they delivered as honest a portrayal of family life as was possible by the medium of their era (early 1950s-to early ‘60s).
For example, on Father Knows Best, Jim and Margaret Anderson, as played by the elegant Robert Young and Jane Wyatt, on several occasions became legitimately and realistically upset with and disappointed in their children (played by Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray, and Lauren Chapin). In fact, during one particularly startling moment from the series, when all three children were acting selfishly, Wyatt’s Margaret berated them as a group and actually called them brats!
On The Donna Reed Show, the iconic film star of big-screen classics like It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), transferred to the small screen by portraying a character who fully embraced being a housewife and mother. She cared for and adored her husband (played by Carl Betz) and children (Shelley Fabares, and real-life siblings Paul Peterson and Patti Peterson), but was always sure to correct them in very straight-forward terms if she believed they were off-track in any way, shape or form (particularly when it came to not displaying loving-kindness).
Fred McMurray, as the star of My Three Sons, was one of the first widowed parents on television, and always took an amiable, but firm hand in raising his trio of teens (Mike Considine, Don Grady, and more real-life siblings Barry Livingston and Stanley Livingston (the latter of whom joined the series after Considine left).
Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsly as Ward and June Cleaver on Leave It To Beaver, watched over their two young sons (Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow) with a close but a respectful eye, making certain to allow their children the space that each human being deserves — at any age — for their own personal growth. Leave it To Beaver, in fact, was one of the most mature family sitcoms in history, despite the fact that its stories were essentially told from the perspective of its youngest child.
The “Seinfeld” of Its Day
On The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett, the king and queen of classic TV parentage commenced their media empire in radio, raised their two sons, Ricky and David Nelson (who, in reality, were their true-life off-spring) with sound, spiritual hand — based on the actual stories of their very reality — as they were all playing themselves!
Truth is, the Ozzie and Harriet show played with a wink and a prayer, taking one simple incidental action, like looking for a pen, and expanding that concept for its entire half-hour, much like the mega-hit Seinfeld would do decades later.
But you’ll be hard put to try and explain that to contemporary critics of past programming.
Anytime anyone attacks classics TV shows from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s (even when they transferred into color), and labels them as overtly-syrupy or something of that nature, you can respond as once did the genius Emmy-winning actress Michael Learned. Appearing on NBC’s The Today Show a few years back, Learned, who played Olivia Walton on The Waltons (CBS, 1971 -1981) addressed with authority how various unscrupulous critics over the years have mistakenly attacked her beloved series (created by Earl Hamner, Jr.) without knowing all the facts.
“Those who call our show too saccharine,” she said, “…simply don’t watch it.”