When I was a little girl, things were simple. There was one breadwinner (my Dad), one kind of bread (Wonder), one kind of milk (whole), one type of coffee (a cup), and one huge television set (Zenith). We had only seven TV channels to choose from, and, while the NBC peacock was mighty colorful, the CBS eye had me hooked.
In fact, CBS was my coming of age. Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans popped out of the blonde console before I could say "overalls," and I'd never have survived childhood without Lucy and Ethel. In the sweet '60s of my youth, the CBS eye stared me in the face. Sometimes I even thought it winked back.
But their current feud with Time Warner has turned that wink into a blank stare. Now that CBS has been yanked by Time Warner, amidst childish quarrels over retransmission fees and digital rights, it seems like the big eye has been closed shut, as if a chunk of my childhood has been squooshed. It's all one silly sandbox temper tantrum, with one network diva pulling Time Warner Tamara's pigtails, the other giving CBS Samantha a black eye. It's a blame game of bullying and name-calling. And we, the innocent viewers -- off on our see-saws and swings -- have been blind-sided. I say both media moguls need a time out.
As a kid, I spent many memorable days at home sick under the quilts with Cream of Wheat and I Love Lucy. If hot tea and honey didn't cure me, Lucy's frantic antics mashing grapes and selling vitameatavegamine sure did. And then I had my hilarious animal companions: from Cleo, the whining basset hound, to Mr. Ed, the talking horse. When I felt light and giddy, Dennis the Menace kept me laughing; when dark and intergalactic, Rod (Twilight Zone) Serling kept me afloat. Amidst early pangs of high school clicks and heartbreak, I may have yearned for Little Joe on Bonanza's Ponderosa, but I turned instead to Route 66, zooming down the highway with Tod and Buz in my '61 Chevy Corvette. What was CBS if not Martin Milner, George Maharis and a Corvette convertible? Bored with the periodic table and the 13 colonies, I clicked on Mission Impossible, as Secret Agent Berman; my mission, "should I choose to accept it, involved the recovery of" my sister's stolen charm bracelet.
CBS was better than family therapy. I learned about sibling rivalry from Father Knows Best (mine did too) and Leave it to Beaver. The Cleavers may have been a bit sappy, but June, Ward, and Wally just about lived in my kitchen, Eddie Haskell lived next door, and I practically adopted "the Beav" as the brother I never had. As for my crush on Robbie, the middle of Fred McMurray's My Three Sons, let's just say it got me through algebra. I even learned time management when June and Ward monitored the Beaver's homework assignments, lecturing him about rules, deadlines and consequences.
CBS inspired my dream of a comedy career. I watched my first comic icons at the age of 10 -- from Mary Tyler Moore to Valerie Harper. Dick Van Dyke tripped across his living room; Carol Burnett yodeled into mine. Spinning my lavender parasol against the Manhattan skyline, yours truly This Girl quickly merged with That Girl Marlo Thomas. Encouraged to turn the world on with my smile, I've been sniffing around newsrooms ever since Lou Grant hired Mary Richards at WJM.
CBS amused, but also confused, my pre-feminist female brain. I wanted to be shorthand efficient like secretary Ann (Suzie) Sothern, yet sassy like Long Branch Saloon owner Kitty on Gunsmoke; career-minded like Murphy Brown, yet sultry like deep-throated Emily Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show.
On Saturday nights when my parents left me and my sister with the gum-cracking babysitter, CBS became my pal. Mesmerized first by The Jackie Gleason Show's June Taylor dancers bending like pipe cleaners into kaleidoscope formations, I then became entranced with the 9:00pm bubbles of Lawrence Welk and his loyal Lennon sisters.
On dreaded Sunday nights, I found solace by lying next to my sister under the maple dining room table, waiting for the whistle that signaled the opening of Lassie, followed by our national treasure, Ed Sullivan. Who could forget the huggable Topo Gigio talking to Ed-die and the landmark CBS broadcast launch of The Beatles.
The CBS impact deepened in my teen years. I learned courtroom jargon from Perry Mason and beatnik-ese from Dobie Gillis' Maynard G. Krebs. I watched the CBS eye blink in shock at history in the making as Archie spoke his redneck mind and Norman Lear's heroines talk feminism, abortion, and race on All in the Family; Maude; and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
A teenage guest contestant on CBS' landmark game show Password with Alan Ludden, ("Mr. Betty White"), my celebrity guest hosts were Soupy Sales and Sheila MacRae. I won $700 and a Singer sewing machine, and I'm still searching for the half-stitched skirt I started in 1966.
Yup, CBS totally changed my life. I would never have (a) understood tragedy so deeply without Walter Cronkite's teary announcement of President Kennedy's death; (b) developed my edgy humorist style without Andy Rooney; (c) learned the significance of international espionage, the NSA and Ed Snowden without my addiction to Illya (David McCallum) Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; or (d) experienced the zany wonder of comediennes Carol, Lucy, Cloris, Bea, and Valerie.
When my father was sick in bed with lung cancer, very few things could make him laugh. The Honeymooners was one of them, and I thanked CBS "to the moon" for making my Dad happy for those precious moments with Ralph Kramden.
So losing CBS programs now for some silly dispute is a smear on the smooth surface lens of my beloved CBS eye. Alas, demands for exorbitant retransmission fees will only trickle down -- first to Time Warner, and then to us, the loyal subscribers. Time Warner is retaliating by denying CBS news junkies the ticking headlines of 60 Minutes; CBS primetimers the pink egg-quirky Under the Dome; CBS comedy lovers the geeky hilarity of The Big Bang Theory; and CBS Sports fans their adored PGA Golf Championship, the gorgeous grunts of the upcoming US Open; and the fanfare of NFL football. Running interference, the blinding Tiffany Network re-retaliated by blocking online access to its shows for Time Warner subscribers.
The two hulky media giants resemble the Big Bad Wolves of our childhood fairy tales. They're huffing and puffing to blow our houses down. Whether it's an icy CBS glare or a nasty Time Warner punch, we're the victim bystanders, blinking in disbelief.
Once upon a time, CBS execs came up with a catchy logo: Catch the Brightest Star. Really? Today it's more like who can Commit the Biggest Sin.
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