Monday, April 5, 2010

Did Joan Collins watch CHIPs? Probably.

Over this past Easter weekend, a couple of occurrences threw my almost-50-year-old tukus into the wayback machine (And just as a side-note, my nine-year-old daughter told me, "Dad, you have the legs of a teenager, but your body looks super old.").

Actor John Forsythe passed away Thursday at the age of 92. Most of us remember him for his role as the sleazy oil tycoon, Blake Carrington, in the series, Dynasty, from 1981 until 1989. Dynasty was one of many highly successful nighttime soap operas which followed the exploits of the rich, famous and underhanded in their quests for even greater wealth and power. 1980s prime time television thrived on these dramas, which also included Dallas, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing. The scripts were...well... scripted, and didn't employ any sort of real-life dialogue. But then again, that was the point—no one cared to watch a "real-life" situation.

We wanted fantasy, which is why shows like Fantasy Island, Love Boat and The Six Million Dollar Man were so popular. We thirsted for Vaudevillian variety formats, and hence programs like The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The Carol Burnett Show, Tony Orlando and Dawn and The Donny and Marie Show exploded onto the scene during the 1970s and 80s.

Naturally, cop shows have thrived throughout television history, but today's offerings seem to be more about initials, like CSI, SVU, and NCIS. They project onto our screens like music videos, with deep, brooding blue shadows and beautiful, scowling, well dressed detectives. Shock value is a major ingredient, and no investigation is complete without the corpse of a splayed out ex-stripper on the autopsy table for all to examine.

Police dramas didn't formerly portray all of that realism. TJ Hooker, played by one of my favorites, William Shatner, was more interested in writing some babe a speeding ticket and then collecting the fine in his bachelor pad. The two guys on CHIPs wore their motorcycle cop pants so tight that Eric Estrada could've steered his bike and used his radar gun at the same time, if you know what I mean.

Something else I saw this weekend made me even more nostalgic then any of the aforementioned formats. My family and I have been bellying up to the Life series on the Discovery Channel every Sunday night. These shows are spectacular; each episode devotes itself to a different classification of wildlife, from birds to cats to fish to reptiles. It's narrated by Oprah Winfrey, and spans the globe to document some of the most breathtaking natural environments and animal behaviors.

Watching this series, I could only hearken back to another Sunday night nature show during the 1960s and 70s, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, hosted by a kindly, grandfatherly man named Marlin Perkins. Mr. Perkins opened each program in his studio, pointing to a globe and describing the adventure we were about to witness. At this point, we were whisked off to the location, usually somewhere in Africa, as Marlin and his assistant, Jim, traversed a dusty savanna in a jeep as several bushmen jogged alongside. I'm still not sure why they weren't allowed to ride in the jeep as well. We'd usually cut ahead in time, as Jim wrestled some sort of large reptile in a muddy swamp, while Marlin assessed and described the situation from the safety of the jeep. Eventually, Jim would shoot the beast with a tranquilizer dart, the bushmen would load it onto the vehicle and they would drive off to...somewhere else. Then Marlin would try to talk our parents into purchasing Mutual of Omaha insurance. Come on, Jim had it and look how he spent his time.

Wild Kingdom didn't possess all of the majestic cinematography that today's shows on the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet so vividly do, but it gave us suburban kids a look at regions of the earth  outside of the Seattle/Tacoma/Tukwila region.

We still may not have known where Botswana was on a map, but we could successfully load and fire a tranquilizer rifle.


  1. Is it sad that I still know the Mutual of Omaha song from the commercials? Or does it make me a very bright girl with a great memory?

  2. It's definitely better than having no memory of it whatsoever!

  3. Did it ever occur to ANYONE that Lynda Evans' shoulders were wide enough already? Or that she was a man with overdeveloped waxed pectorals?