As a boy growing up in the always-fascinating 1970s, I wasn’t especially fond of fall. From my youthful perspective, autumns in New York typically represented abrupt and unpleasant endings of pleasant summers and—most critical of all—the beginnings of agonizingly long school years. However, there were a handful of silver linings in those past autumnal clouds, like the three networks’ spanking new prime-time TV schedules. Brand new episodes of familiar and favorite shows—like Kojak and Sanford and Son—plus a fair share of debut programs to sample, made fall evenings the highlight of increasingly dark days. Back then, sitting in front of the boob tube was a welcome elixir for the autumn blues.
Well, that was then and this is now. The three networks—CBS, NBC, and ABC—still promote their fall prime-time schedules in the months of September and October. But the competition is stiffer than ever before. There are cable channels aplenty to tune into and countless other visual distractions to occupy one's time. When I mull over this extended, hysterical, and most bizarre of election years—this latest autumn in New York for me—I can’t help but hark back to the good old days. Or, I should say, the good old nights. When I was a fourth grader in St. John’s grammar school, 1971-72, Friday evenings were a special time. Weekends were in the offing and the ABC prime-time lineup on that most appreciated of weekdays was quite something: The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love, American Style. I recall watching these shows one after another, missing Love, American Style occasionally because it was at once past my bedtime and rather adult-themed. Fast forward to the seventh grade, 1974-75, and CBS’s mind-boggling Saturday night offering: All in the Family, The Jeffersons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show.
For sure, it was a less insane time because of the prime-time bounty. I gave some serious thought recently to this singular time of year—to fall. The leaves turn a kaleidoscope of colors and fall, which means—for me at least—a lot of sweeping and bagging. But I’m old-fashioned. Nowadays, excruciatingly loud leaf blowers are the rage—they should be outlawed—and compound the insanity that is seemingly everywhere. For some strange reason in this fallback of mine, I remembered looking forward to, and eventually watching, a couple of brand new sitcoms on the 1970s fall network schedules: The Montefuscos,with the always-impressive Joe Sirola—who is happily still among the living—and The Dumplings, with the always-large James Coco, who is not. The former series ran for nine episodes in 1975, and the latter, for ten episodes in 1976. I suspect I watched them all.
Consider, though, how times have changed. We’ve got a whole lot more to choose from on television and via other venues. But less is sometimes better, I believe, even if The Montefuscos and The Dumplings weren’t exactly laugh riots. When cable TV first came my way, I took advantage of the additional choices and watched nascent political debate shows like Crossfire with Tom Braden debating Pat Buchanan. And then along came FOX, MSNBC, and more and more contentious blather night after night after night. Too many people have gotten hopelessly hooked on the daily vitriol, and it's definitely taken its toll.
Happily, I've weaned myself off of all that but, unhappily, can’t fall back—like in those days gone by—on the prime-time lineups of the networks. Netflix streaming has been my savior in these stressed times. Stream along with me, I say, and watch Poirot, Inspector George Gently, and Foyle’s War. Let the talking heads talk to the wall for a day or two or three, Sing a happy song. You’ll feel better. You’ll be less angry, too, with lower blood pressure. Remember that Mary Richards could turn the world on with her smile. And neither Bill O’Reilly nor Chris Matthews can do that.