What It Was Like to Watch TV in the Dark Ages

This post was brought to you by this old photo I recently came across, of the family room in the house where I grew up.

When I was growing up, the Twin Brothers Rama and I were allowed to watch one hour of TV on school nights. Ours was not a household where the TV was always running in the background; you had to ask permission to turn it on and you had to have a program in mind that you were going to watch, be it the Cosby Show, Knight Ryder, Dukes of Hazzard, or Family Ties.

The way you knew if there was a program you wanted to watch was by consulting the TV Guide, which came with the Sunday paper and had programs listed in it on rudimentary charts where times and dates intersected to tell you what was going to be on.

When it was time for the program to start, you would sit down on the couch like a human being and direct your full attention at the screen for the duration. Which is to say you would watch one show straight through from start to finish, commercials and all. If you were lucky, you got some hot buttered popcorn straight from the wok and if not, you just ate nuts which you cracked open yourself. If you wanted to change the channel, you had to stand up, walk over to the TV set, and turn the knob like a monkey in the zoo.

Every couple of minutes, your dad would run over to the TV set and start fiddling with the rabbit ears and your mom would tell him to sit down.

“Just leave it alone! You’re making it worse.”

But your Dad would never leave it alone. Not right away, anyway.

“As long as someone stands here with one finger on the antenna and one foot on the floor, we’re good,” is what he would say.

When he was done fiddling, the reception would be perfect for the three seconds it took him to run back to his spot on the couch.

If you wanted to watch a movie, you would go down to the Video Store with your entire family on Saturday afternoon to rent one plus a VCR, which weighed forty pounds and took up half of the space in the trunk of your Buick Regal.

As the hour drew nearer for movie night to start, you would start angling for a good seat on the couch, on the edge by the end table. You would do anything to avoid getting stuck in the middle between the Twin Brothers Rama – mouth breathers both – even if that meant staking out the spot three hours ahead of time and acting surprised when you looked up from your book to find that it was time for movie night already.

God help you if a love scene came on once the movie started, because guess what – your parents were watching, too. You’d have to sit perfectly still and act completely disinterested while in fact you were taking copious mental notes.

Your mother would say to your father, “Why does Hollywood have to ruin every perfectly good movie with gratuitous sex? It’s disgusting!” And you would be simultaneously embarrassed and irritated because you felt that your parents should not be allowed to watch – or comment – on that sort of thing.

The next morning your Dad would pack the VCR up and take it back to the Video Store before the stroke of noon.

And you know something? Those were good times.

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16 thoughts on “What It Was Like to Watch TV in the Dark Ages

  1. Kat

    HAHAHA!!!! What a perfect post! Perfect.
    I don’t think I ever watched a movie on a VCR until I was maybe 13 years old and at my friend’s house. My folks were always the last on the block to have that sort of thing. No microwave until then either. NEVER a video game, are you kidding me? BUT, my brother worked at the cable company so we did have a lot of tv channels. ;)

    Reply
  2. vodkamom

    Oh Good Lord I remember watching tv on Sunday with the whole family! Crowded around watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom!

    Sigh.

    Reply
  3. Becca

    Fond memories! We moved to a town in the mountains when I was eight and the only way to get any TV was to get cable, so we did. But we were not allowed to watch MTV under any circumstances…which just meant that my sister and I would sit really close to the TV with the sound down low and a finger on the channel button ready to change it if we heard my mom coming down the basement stairs.

    We don’t have cable at our house now and I can never find the remote, so really nothing’s changed.

    Reply
  4. Tom

    I remember many a Friday evening with my cousins at my grandmother’s house watching Big Chuck and Little John and the horror flicks they used to show. I can’t remember if the television was black and white or the movies were. Either way, those were some fond memories.

    And I find it ironic that even with 200+ cable channels available to flip through today, often times I cannot find a single damn thing to watch that is even remotely interesting. Sad, isn’t it?

    Reply
  5. Maria @BOREDmommys.

    I miss those days too, so much. Life was so much simpler and everything was appreciated for what it was. Also, I lived exactly what you lived, except it was all in Greek. Thanks for the read!

    Reply
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  8. Marta

    Oh, the Tv Guide! How I remember painstakingly looking through it and highlighting the TV shows I wanted to watch. I also remember setting the VCR to record if we were not going to be around to watch it live. Those were days my kids will never know. My 4 year old gets frustrated that he can’t pause TV at his grandparents because they don’t have a DVR like we do!

    Reply
  9. Stephanie Smirnov

    Sweet memories, We made similar weekend pilgrimmages to our local video store which for some reason included the owner’s name: “Alex Minoff’s Video Hut,” kind of like “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” Poor Alex Minoff got crushed when Blockbuster came to town, put him right out of business. We didn’t care, Blockbuster was shiny and huge and always smelled like fresh popcorn.

    Reply
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