When I was growing up, TV was more real, sometimes too real. And not the fake reality of today, but a gritty real.
The most realistic shows were the blue collar shows. There was "All In The Family" with Archie and Edith which was set in Queens, "Good Times" which was set in the Chicago projects and "What's Happening Now" about a single mom raising her kids in Watts, and of course, "Sanford and Son".
The protagonist of "Sanford and Son" was Fred, a widowed, old black man and the original hoarder. He lived with his son Lamont. The show was set in a junkyard in Watts. The opening credits depicted the city's boarded up business and dilapidated houses. Everyone was poor and struggling to get by. The Sanfords owed an old pick up truck.
"What's Happening Now" was centered on single mother Mabel, her son Roger and her daughter Dee. Roger and his two best friends Dwayne and Rerun always met at the diner where "Big Shirley" worked. Dwayne's saying was "hey, hey, hey" and my sisters and I used this expression whenever possible. Dee was a tattle tale just like my little sister Annie who blackmailed me into paying her off just like Dee did to Roger.
"Good Times" hit even closer to home. In "Good Times" the family of five struggled to get by. James and Florida Evans had three kids: J.J., Thelma and Michael. The Evans family was often in danger of eviction. James worked hard like my dad and fancied himself a pool shark. My favorite characters were the feminist neighbor Willona and her adopted daughter Penny who was played by Janet Jackson. Penny's mother was abusive (she burned her with an iron in one episode) and Willona called CPS and saved Penny.
Archie Bunker from "All in the Family" reminded me of my father in his heavy coat and hat and his thinning hair. Archie always got his words mixed up just like my dad. I remember watching the episode where Edith died. I couldn't stop crying. After Edith died, Archie bought a bar that reminded me of my dad's bar "The Big O". Sometimes, I switch the channel to an old rerun of the show when I want to be reminded of my father.
A blog about television must talk about the "The Brady Bunch" which defined suburban life in the 1970's. As a child watching reruns, I was transfixed by the Brady Bunch episodes. The story lines were simple, Jan broke her glasses, Marcia's prom date stood her up, the kids used the phone too much, but the narratives were well plotted and always tied up at the end. What drew me into the Brady house was how pleasant life was. No one ever threw anything at one another or screamed at each other in the Brady house. And, they had a maid. It was an escape into another life for me.
Nowadays, with the obsession with reality television, TV is a wasteland of the worst sort. The problem with reality television is that it is not realistic at all. Instead, it is fake and melodramatic making TV mountains out of molehills. Shows such as "Real World", "The Hills" and Jersey Shore" fall into this category. And, please do not even get me started on the celebrity reality television sub-genre which is meaningless, mind numbing television, These shows are addicting like candy bars and if you watch too much you get a stomach ache.
The concept of reality television has undermined the whole purpose of television that was present in the 1970's. "The Jeffersons" showed it was possible for a man of color to make it, Archie Bunker showed viewers that a man could be more than the sum of his prejudices and "Good Times" demonstrated that life in the projects was hard, but still a life full of love and laughter.
And, that is what I want more of in my television. I will continue to watch the quest like/game show reality television (i.e., "Top Chef", "Amazing Race" and "Project Runway"), but from now on, I expect more.
We all should.