Sunday, June 16, 2019 07:35

I’ve Never Seen That TV Show


It was 1980 and I was 13 years old. Mork and Mindy had just started its third season. As I recall, the first two years were really great but during the third season, the show went downhill fast. I was extremely disillusioned by this happenstance. The kid in me, in some sort of silent social protest, swore off network television shows for good.

For good. Forever.

Really. Not joking.

It’s 2013 and this is my 33rd year of not watching any network television shows. And, when I mean any, I mean any episode of anything. Among the shows I’ve never seen (except perhaps a minute or two in passing) include L.A. Law, The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, ER, Law & Order, The West Wing, and any syndicated cable show like The Walking Dead. The only episode of anything that falls under this rubric that I watched was the very first episode of Portlandia (since I’m a Portlander). However, it sucked so hard that I never watched another one. In missing 33 years of TV, I don’t feel I’ve actually missed anything (and have read many more books as a result).

However, I never became one of those people who quit watching TV. A couple years later, our family got cable for the first time and we had 4 movie channels pumped into our house: HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, and, most influentially, the Z Channel.

Coincidentally, I turned 12 in 1979 which happened to be probably the greatest year in Cinema History. Being exposed to films like All That Jazz and Apocalypse Now at an age where I already was a precocious kid, I got totally hooked on mature, artsy, adult-themed cinema.

I’d seen the Z Channel at friend’s homes from time to time but I didn’t get it into my house until perhaps 1982. I would read the TV Guide cover to cover each week and select 3-4 films to tape on our VCR. With no Internet back then (and since we didn’t get the Z Channel Guide sent to us…we might have been getting the channel without paying for it), I could only rely on the name of the film, the number of stars it was given, the top couple leading actors & the year it was made in deciding what to watch. However, this lack of IMDB-like guidance ended up exposing me to a wide diversity of films that I might not have ever picked to see on my own.

While people I knew were watching shows like Family Ties, I was getting my mind blow by films as diverse as Lindsay Anderson’s “If”… and “O Lucky Man!” (perhaps my favorite film of my teenage years), the original Death Wish, Ken Russell’s phenomenal “Women In Love” and even unlikely films like “The Subject Was Roses” plus large number of films whose names escape me but remain embedded deep in my subconscious.

The wonderful documentary on the Z Channel shows quite accurately that Z was the TV equivalent of the Velvet Underground (not many people listened to them but everyone who did formed a band). Clearly, the is the main reason, I’m addicted to watching films today (especially artsy, foreign, documentary, and 60’s-70’s films) lies in my Z channel addiction for 3-4 years as a teenager. Imagine if someone culled through the best of Netflix and forced you to watch certain films not necessarily because you’d choose them yourselves but because watching them would ultimately be good for your mind and your soul. That’s what Z Channel was like and it was one hell of a film education.

Once in a while, while watching a film that I think I’ve never seen before, I get a weird sense of déjà vu and when that happens, I realize that I’ve actually seen the film before…likely 20-35 years ago…maybe in the theater as a kid, at one of the film societies I regularly attended in college, or perhaps on the Z Channel as a teenager. Those moment are very precious to me. I have no such sentimentality with the old TV shows that I watched…though I was a big fan of Fernwood Tonight.


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