I was born the day television was invented.
I remember when the television was turned off it left a bright white spot in the center of the screen. The family traipsing upstairs to bed while, alone, I’d move in, way too close to the screen, and sadly watch the white dot gradually fade to black as the television died. I’d stare, transfixed, until the ghost was gone.
When I was 5 years old I’d get up real early in the morning, before anyone else was awake, sneak downstairs, turn on the Sylvania, and stare at the Indian Head Test Pattern. There was another test pattern that looked like an astrological chart. I’d sit, drink my milk and stare at the television’s only shows on at that hour – The Test Patterns. To calibrate your TV. Right. Our TV’s only calibrations were ‘on’ and ‘off.’ It was 1953.
The test pattern heralded the dawn of the TV day. It began with this visual formality. The profile of an Native American. In full feathered head dress. Looked like a coin. Whew. The cartoons hadn’t started yet.
Then, at 7 o’clock – the cartoons. Old black and white Max Fleischer cartoons. Koko the Clown popping out of an ink well. This is 1955. Kids school desks still had ink wells. For the ink. To fill your ‘fountain’ pen from. I had one, and was so bad at filling an empty pen with ink that my fingers were perpetually blue.
In real life a little freak like Koko emerging from an inkwell on my school desk would’ve scared the shit out of me, but this was Koko once removed. On TV. Quarantined. Koko was followed by another silent black and white gem – Farmer Gray. No one remembers fucking Farmer Gray except me, and a few other coots.
Betty Boop, born of the same small Silver Lake Fleischer Animation Studio, would become world famous. Miss Boop was the first sexy cartoon female. Shapely legs, high heels, tight top bodice. An early morning cartoon Dominatrix. An animation escapee from Vegas.
Fleischer tried to tone the Boop thing down with Popeye’s sexless, boring girlfriend, Olive Oyl. On and on I viewed. It didn’t matter what was on as long as it wason.
I’d watch the crappy comedies that got funneled down to daytime TV from early prime time. I was there for The birth of The Price is Right. I marveled at the first ‘stick mic.’ I saw the beginnings of endless soap operas. They caught my attention for their cheesy one-a-day production, compared to the night time shows. And I sat through early morning reruns of the sublimely boring comedy December Bride. Which spawned the very first ’spin-off’ – the equally boring Pete and Gladys (starring a Pre-M*A*S*H, Harry Morgan).
The next generation of kids were unintentionally hypnotized by children’s television programs like Beany & Cecil, Davey & Goliath and Courageous Cat & Minute Mouse. What can I say? Cartoon teams were very big back then, like the enormously misguided Winky Dink & You. This was the first and worst attempt at interactive TV ever. This show actually encouraged kids to draw directly onto their television screens in order to save Winky Dink from any number of perilous situations. They were supposed to buy the special pens and plastic covers to place over the TV tube before they drew on it, but most kids didn’t and wound up drawing directly onto their screens with permanent markers. As you can imagine, this caused some serious parental backlash.
Considering the high quantity and low quality of shows us baby boomers were subjected to, it’s a wonder that we’re not a lot more screwed up than we are. Then again, at least we weren’t a generation of children who became zombified by the enormity of content available on their smart phones. We just watched too much stupid TV.