Do You Remember TV?

By Michael Gitter, Sylvie Anapol, Erika Glazer

Published by Chronicle Books

144 pages, 1999

Buy it online




Reflections on the Cathode Wasteland

Reviewed by David Middleton


The first program I ever saw on a color television was The Flintstones. My family was getting the new TV set delivered on a school day and I rushed home at lunch time just to sit and watch Fred bellow at Barney in glorious color. I remember the rest of the day spent in front of the real wood, automobile-sized, combination stereo/TV console set, watching everything from Wild Kingdom to the news. Only now not in the bluish monochrome tones and shades of black and white; I was seeing the vast wasteland in full color. Never mind that the rest of the world had had color sets a good three years ahead of my family or that I was thoroughly disappointed when I found out the woman of my 7-year-old dreams, Wilma Flintstone, had flaming red hair -- the very color of my mother's own 'do at the time -- or even that the entire real world had always been seen in color by its entire population. This was, after all, TV.

Good ol' TV, where all my misinformation on the world congealed. People could travel through space faster than light, crimes did get solved in under an hour by detectives in rumpled coats, doctors would find cures for terminal diseases, William Shatner's hair was real.

When I think back on all the time I wasted in front of the tube, I feel nostalgic and warm. It was a safer time when things like deadlines, mortgages and traffic tickets were something only my dad had to deal with. But I also look back on those days and realize I was watching shows like The Partridge Family and Hee Haw, and loving them.

I feel a bit woozy.

Do You Remember TV? brings back all that warm nostalgia and even a bit of the nausea. Thumb the book at random and you are bound to come upon something that will either have you fondly reminiscing or cringing in horror, knowing that at one time you actually liked Love American Style or knew all the words to that Alka Seltzer commercial. This is not a book which evokes indifference. Do You Remember TV? serves up bite-sized morsels of your cathode ray past, forcing you to consume them with all the relish of the Wednesday night liver and onions your mother used to serve when you were a kid. Sure looks good on the plate, but do I really have to eat it? But then this is TV. The paragon of bad taste: leisure suits, feathered hair, ad jingles, spandex, skinny ties, bologna, sound bites, whiter-than-white teeth, test patterns, Richard Dawson.

Do You Remember TV? really does look good. Well laid out and designed with bold typography and colorful photos of all your favorite (or not so favorite) old shows with some commercial breaks in between. But what does it say about the medium of television itself? Well, not much. It offers no deep analysis, no real intelligent insights. Just pictures and words that, as they pass you by, entertain you for a bit; then it's time to move on to another. Which, if you think about it, is exactly the sort of depth television offers. If it says anything at all, then it would be about the transitory nature of the medium. The book, like television itself, only offers us a shallow glimpse of vacuum tube life. But, again, it's only TV. Shallow is its middle name.

Do You Remember TV? is the sort of book I would recommend sharing with your friends. Sit around on some bean bag chairs, fire up the lava lamp and pass the book around. Reminisce, and hope you'll get a good laugh thinking about Farrah's hair or whether Petticoat Junction should have stayed on just one more season. Or maybe you'll just end up strangling yourself with your love beads. I wonder if in 20 years or so I'll look back and think, "How could I have possibly liked watching Ally McBeal?" Nah, that'll never happen.   | May 1999


David Middleton is the art director of January Magazine and just loves watching all the crap they put on television. Really.