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Television Of The 1960s - Nostalgic Family Values

Television shows during the 1960s reflected good, old fashioned ideas of family values. Controversy was not up for discussion. People liked to gather in front of the set as a family while eating those horrible TV dinners. It was clean and safe to watch for all.

Television was also just starting to really become an essential item in many households. Two decades earlier, a television set in the home was a major purchase where a family could consider themselves lucky to have one. During the 60s, the prices of these sets were starting to come down so everyone could afford to buy one and in some cases two.

In spite of the price of the television set going down, people were not quite couch potatoes yet. To sit in front of the tube for more than a couple of hours was to show your sloth and lack of intelligence. There was very much a taboo to admit in being a television addict. Towards the end of the decade, this was starting to change.

Possible the reason for the lack of extended viewer ship, apart from the societal norms, was lack of believable content. Sure it was clean and pure television where the whole family could watch without flinching, but within its innocent and naive content lacked a connection to the growing problems of the real world. This fake TV land was a means of escape in a confusing era, but there was too much going on that people did not want to miss by sitting in front of the box.

One event of the time that everyone did make sure to watch was the moon landing in 1969. Our country may not have been the first to send people into space, but we were going to be the first to send our boys to explore the surface of the moon. We had to see it for ourselves to wander the limitless possibilities of science and space. It was a huge event which has given NASA much public support for future missions, although the enthusiasm would tend to wear out a decade later.

The shows of the decade basically fell among one of these themes: Family Sitcoms, Children's Educational, Cartoons, Musical, Southern Sitcom, Westerns, Police, and Live Comedy.

We loved to entertain ourselves with the clean family shows that always had a father who worked a full time job and came home just in time for dinner and to talk and/or lecture the children. The mother was always a housewife who dressed in a freshly pressed dress, pearls, high heels and make up while doing the chores, baking cookies, making meals, and tending after the children in an always loving manner and never really questioning the authority of the husband who was always right who even if he was wrong she would gently lead him in the right direction without confrontation. The children were well mannered, clean, and polite to adults and got into trouble by getting a bad grade and hiding it, or tearing their good clothes, or some other pretty minor catastrophe that could be solved within a half an hour and learn a lesson from it all.

If there was a single parent, it was so only due to a death of a spouse and a female would assume maternal care for the child without a relationship with the father.

That was the formula family show displayed in "Danny Thomas Show," "The Andy Griffith Show," "Leave It To Beaver," "Hazel," "Bewitched," "Dennis The Menace," "Courtship of Eddie's Father," "Dick Van Dyke Show," "Flipper," "Family Affair" and others. "The Flintstones" was the first prime time cartoon family to maintain these family values and seems strangely familiar to "The Honeymooners."

What a shame it was to realize that many behind the scenes of some of these shows promoting family values often ended up abusing and taking advantage of the most vulnerable members of the cast, the children. Very few children who grew up around the setting of a television show were allowed to be children and treated more like property, a work horse. Those are the children who grew up bitter since their childhood was robbed from them. To boot, not many of these actors were paid their worth and even then had adults bilking the trust funds that were supposed to be their for them when they became adults. Fortunately, by the mid-60s there was a bit more care in handling these minors and protecting their interests, but it was a bit too late for some. So much for the ethics those shows were trying to teach!

Alternative family shows started to make the scene in the mid-60s to reach for those who were not impressed with the pat, simple formula programs. The solution was to take the same concept of family values, but stick them in unusual situations. "Bewitched" came early in the 60s, but was looked upon not favorably because of the so-called "evils" of witchcraft. It became an instant hit in the areas where they did broadcast it. This opened the door to other not so normal families such as "The Addams Family" and "The Munsters" which starred the funny and lovable un-dead characters coping as a normal family. "My Favorite Martian" was a normal lifestyle for a man who was hiding an alien posing as his uncle. "Gilligan's Island" was one big family while trying to be rescued. (Hey, if the Professor is smart enough to make all those electronic devices out of nothing, why couldn't he figure out how to fix the boat?)

Children were the main target audience for Saturday morning ratings. Other targets for children were early morning and after school geared to hook a young audience who would soon be the main target audience for the prime time in the next decade. Ground breaking and thought of as controversial back then, Sesame Street was a program to help children learn the alphabet, phonics, numbers and relating to people from all walks of life. It started programmers to realize pre-school children are very able to pick up educational concepts thought to be for school aged children. These kids were soon to become more sophisticated in the eyes of the media as programming was designed to enlighten them even further. It was a gradual change over the next couple of decades when the line between children's shows and adult's shows would be hard to tell.

"Sesame Street" was great to teach children many things with a lot of flash, music and glitter to make the children pay attention, but it was not the only show for teaching lessons. "Captain Kangaroo," was geared for a more laid back approach at learning new things with the Captain, Mr. Green Jeans, and a cast of many puppet characters. There was no frazzle dazzle, but a straightforward method to calmly get the lessons across with a touch of light humor.

Saturday morning shows were just becoming a child ritual during the 1960's. The decade started with many of the serial Western shows and ended with cartoons and American Bandstand. While most of the cartoons on Saturdays were specifically for children, it was rare to find a show that would entertain adults on occasion. Bullwinkle was the "Simpsons" of its day. According to A.J. Jacobs, author of "Fractured Fairy Tales" this show was blasted by its critics for such biting humor meant for adults but airing at a slot for children. "Bugs Bunny" cartoons were aimed for children and adults as well, but when the "Road Runner Show" debuted in the 60s there was much complaining of the violence for kids. Here is a list of some of the hot cartoons of decade:

Timothy and Kevin Burke give the low down in the book, "Saturday Morning Fever: Growing up with Cartoon Culture" which tells you all you could ever want to know about the childhood ritual.

The teenagers, who were often thought of as too sophisticated for the cartoons were wooed with programming personalized for them, "American Bandstand" and "The Monkees" since producers thought the only way to reach the teen market was through pop music. "Dobie Gillis" was a sitcom geared more for the teen crowd, but was along the lines of programming for the whole family.

For a more polite, politically correct term, the hottest trend in this decade were Southern flavored shows. Others, not so politically correct minded would refer to them as the "hick" shows. Most of the time these shows were supposed to be in a Southern town or featuring people from the South with old fashioned, down home, country values. It's not that all of these characters were stupid, but naive about the realities of the times. They were definitely in their own world. It was especially so in the program "The Beverly Hillbillies" featuring the Clampett family from Bugtussle who suddenly became rich and moved to a mansion in California around posh and sophisticated neighbors while maintaining their old ways. (Okay, so Jethro was stupid, but that was the exception, not the rule!)

These shows with a Southern flavor often stereotyped a Southerner as simple-minded, laid back, wary of strangers and set in their ways. Among this class were the shows "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Green Acres," "Gomer Pyle, USMC," "Mayberry, RFD," "Andy Griffith Show," and "Petticoat Junction."

The 50's carried into the 60's America's love affair with the gun, good guys versus bad guys and a backhanded compliment of vigilante justice with a sometimes pat on the back to notorious gangsters of the Old West. Of course it was reasoned you always work out your problems by confronting the issues with the opposing side before you come out shooting. Fortunately, most of these shows that did make use of gun play had a solid backbone of moral values (apart from murder) which was never pointed to when it came to gunning down fellow classmates and coworkers and this was usually contained to the movies and not television. However, it was a start in desensitizing our reaction to violence.

The best of the Western shows did not, however, have graphic elements of violence and were more about families surviving together in a new frontier. Some of the best, quality Western shows were "Wagon Train," "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke," "Dr. Kildare," "Rawhide," "Real McCoys," "Lassie," "The Virginian," "Bonanza," and "Daniel Boone."

Going hand and hand with the Westerns were the shows on police justice. It was a very hard thing to do during the iron rule of J. Edgar Hoover who would log a file of any police or federal officers shown in the media in any negative light according to how he saw it. Hoover would keep a personal file of all those who created the show, the actors and everyone behind the scenes if he did not agree with the portrayal. To put on a television show featuring such officers was to risk offending the man that could bring many careers to a halt. {Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition by Athan G. Theoharis and John S. Cox }. Among those shows which made its mark in TV history are "I Spy" "Perry Mason," "Car 54, Where are You?," "Dragnet," "Mission: Impossible," "Ironside," "The FBI," and "Dragnet."

For those who liked the drama of the good guys versus bad guys with a flavor of James Bond, there were series such as "The Avengers," "The Prisoner," "Peyton Place," "Branded," and "The Fugitive." And if you really wanted different sci-fi, there was the good space show, "Star Trek" and then there was that god awful "Lost In Space."

Last, but not least, there was the show the family was supposed to race to the set together to keep up with the hottest talents around. From musical shows to comedies, these were the epitome of family entertainment:

  • The Joey Bishop Show
  • Perry Como Show
  • Red Skelton Show
  • Candid Camera
  • Sing Along with Mitch
  • Ed Sullivan
  • Red Skelton
  • Jackie Gleason Show
  • Laugh-in
  • Dean Martin Show
  • Red Skelton Hour
  • Glen Cambell Goodtime Hour
  • Carol Burnett Show
  • Jackie Gleason Show
  • Smothers Brothers