Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Life in Four Colors (Part Thirty-Six)

While my comic book reading was in four colors, my television viewing in 1965 was purely in black and white... at home, at least.

I felt lucky to have a television of my very own, a 13" black and white set; my parents bought it for me in late mid-1965 so that I could stay up late on Friday nights and watch WAGA-TV's Big Movie Shocker, hosted by Bestoink Dooley. Mom and Dad said that they did this so that I wouldn't keep them awake watching the large television in the living room, but I don't think that worked out the way they envisioned. While the living room was 15 feet down the hall from my parents' bedroom door, my own bedroom was directly across the hallway from them, only about 4 feet away. Thankful to have my own television, however, I was glad to play the television at a sufficiently low volume that Mom or Dad had to tell me to turn it down no more than three times every Friday night...

I soon discovered that there was much more to watch than Bestoink Dooley. 1965 was a wonderful year for television: The Man from UNCLE, The Wild Wild West, Amos Burke-Secret Agent (a reboot of Burke's Law designed to take advantage of the James Bond-inspired fascination with secret agents of all sorts), The Addams Family, Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, Gomer Pyle, the Smothers Brothers, Honey West, Gilligan's Island, Lost in Space, Bewitched, F Troop, The Munsters, My Mother the Car... so many choices! Of course, in those pre-VCR-or-DVR days, choices had to be made: if I wanted to watch The Addams Family, then Hogan's Heroes had to wait until summer reruns, since they aired at the same time. The Flintstones were skipped in order to watch the entirety of The Wild Wild West. Difficult choices indeed...

My television was black-and-white, as was the family television that we all watched in the living room; color televisions were very expensive at the time, and our family budget didn't allow for one. (This may be hard to believe, but color televisions were such a rarity that many programs were still aired in black and white; the situation was similar to the situation with HDTV in 2003 and 2004, when less than half the network's prime-time schedule was broadcast in HD because there weren't enough sets to make it cost-effective.) However, the grandmother of my best friend, Gary Steele, did have a color television--a big 19" set--and she was perfectly willing to have her grandson and his friend spend the night with her on the occasional Friday night. Even better, she was willing to spoil us with hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries made from real potatoes, thick-cut and crispy fried with enough ketchup to satisfy the tastes of two adolescent boys. Mrs. Davis lived about a quarter-mile from my house, so it was always convenient for Gary and me to meet at my house, gather our stuff, and walk to her house for dinner and a night of color television viewing.

A typical Friday at Mrs. Davis's house saw us packing up all of our comic book acquisitions for the week, along with some drawing paper, pencils, and pens. We'd read some, talk comics, eat, watch television, and then produce a few pages of our own comics. We'd stay there until mid-day on Saturday, at which point we'd head over to my house for more comics, more food (sometimes Mom would have a can of Poss's Brunswick Stew for us, knowing it was a favorite; other times, it was a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup, which was a more than satisfactory second choice), and more drawing.

My color television options expanded dramatically in early 1966, however, when Mom and Dad bought their first color television. It wasn't a family set; it was an 11" General Electric Portacolor television, and it was my parents' television set, placed atop the chest of drawers in their bedroom. If I wanted to watch a show in color, I would sit back there on the edge of their bed, about 18" away from the set, and stare enthralled at the tiny screen and all of its wonderful colors.

And what a perfect time to get a color television set! Early 1966 saw the debut of a series that I simply had to see in full color: ABC's Batman. The earliest commercials for the show made it appear that it would be a serious television version of Batman, complete with an ominously somber voice-over by Adam West, reciting that whole bit about striking fear into the hearts of criminals. The show, of course, was less than serious, but it didn't matter--for a comic book fan, it was television nirvana, and soon after the series debuted, I was able to watch it in glorious (albeit tiny) color!

The quality of the color left a little bit to be desired, unfortunately. If I didn't know better, I would have sworn that Robin's costume was red, yellow, and blue/turquoise; if I adjusted the sets colors sufficiently to make the green parts of the costume truly green, then everyone's skin took on a sickly pallor, and the yellows were skewed. That was the problem with color television then; it seemed to approximate colors rather than reproducing them vividly. That was okay, though--it wasn't black and white!

Gary and I continued to spend the night at his grandmother's house on the occasional Friday--after all, her color television was larger, and there were still those wonderful french fries (I have always been a french fry aficionado--and by aficionado, I mean addict, of course...). But in 1966, I no longer had to leave my house to see a television show in color... and the networks must have gotten the word regarding our new color set, because beginning with the 1966-1967 fall television season, almost every network program was aired in full color!

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