Even if the reader did not watch these shows when they first aired, there were reruns throughout the seventies, eighties, and nineties, and some of them can still be watched on cable TV and streaming services. Besides, most of them are available as DVD box sets.
Younger people may find it hard to believe we loved those shows. How could we stand the primitive and amateurish visual effects? How could we tolerate the bias against women, gays, blacks and other minorities? How could we sit still through the slow pace, and the lack of jokes and punch lines present every other second in today’s sitcoms?
Well, those were more innocent times, we were naïve viewers, we couldn’t anticipate the complicated nuanced plots, complex social analysis and great acting of shows like THE SOPRANOS, MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD or HOUSE OF CARDS. Those early shows were all we had back then, and the whole family gathered together in front of the bulky black and white TV set to watch them. Few families had color TV in the early seventies in Brazil. Besides, now and then, one of us would have to stand up and reach for the TV aerial to adjust it or pound on the top of the TV set to get the image to straighten up. Did I forget to say there were no remote controls either? Bad news for the couch potatoes.
These were the most popular shows among my friends in those days:
Lost in Space. This was by far the kids’ favorite show. When I was older, my mother explained the reason we were so into that show was that it featured a well-adjusted, loving family confronting the tough obstacles an ominous Universe put in their way. Could be. The aforementioned family – the Robinsons (any reference to The Swiss Family Robinson, the novel by Johann David Wiss published in 1812, is not coincidental) – sets off to investigate conditions to colonize a planet near Alpha Centauri, due to the overpopulation on Earth in the inconceivably distant future of ….1997!
Their trip would last 4 years, during which time they would remain frozen in suspended animation. However, many other nations were working on similar projects, competing with the US. Therefore, the wicked and ambitious Doctor Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris), who worked for the US project as a psychologist, was hired as an agent by one of these competing nations. He carries the responsibility of sabotaging the mission. The problem is Doctor Smith gets trapped in the spaceship, the two-story disc-shaped Jupiter 2, seconds before it takes off, being forced to leave Earth with The Robinsons. The extra weight veers the spaceship off its original course and they get inevitably lost. He will be a burden to the family and their pilot, Major West, as they face innumerable perils in space or on the alien planets they sometimes land on. Rumor has it the producers’ plan was to feature the family patriarch Professor Robinson (Guy Williams, of Zorro fame) and his co-pilot Major Don West (Mark Goddard) as the stars of the show. But as the episodes developed, the focus shifted almost 100% to the adventures of Doctor Smith (played hilariously by Jonathan Harris), the male kid, Will Robinson (Billy Mumy), and their loyal Robot, who stoically took all the abuse heaped upon him by Smith. The trio simply stole the show. Smith was supposedly gay (and rather camp), but no one talked about it at the time, and there was never any fear that he could corrupt his young partner, Will. The visual effects were pathetic and look ridiculous by today’s standards. The settings and monster costumes are incredibly amateurish and silly too. But we loved the show.
I dream of Jeannie. Everyman’s sexual fantasy come true, there was never, however, a more innocent relationship between a master and his sexy slave than the one sustained by Astronaut Major Nelson (Larry Hagman) and the genie he finds imprisoned in a bottle on a desert island on the Pacific, setting her free.
Actor Barbara Eden, who played Jeannie, was at the height of her beauty and sensuality in those days, and, although the network decency guidelines wouldn’t allow us even a glimpse of her navel, she must have stirred the hormones of many a teenager and young man. Major Nelson, though, seemed immune to her attractions. We, on the other hand, were too young for those kinds of feelings and sensations. Girls loved the little doll house Jeannie lived in inside the bottle, while boys had the time of their lives watching the problems she caused Major Nelson by timing the execution of her magic tricks, accomplished by blinking her eyes and crossing her arms, to whenever Doctor Bellows (Hayden Rorke), the space program psychiatrist, was around.
The Time Tunnel. This show did what every school should be doing: teaching history in a fun and engaging way. This, of course, was far from the objective of the producers, who only came up with a clever premise to raise their ratings, without any noble educational purpose in mind. The show featured two scientists trapped in a time machine built by the US government in the shape of a tunnel, hence the title.
The machine gets out of control and the scientists cannot return to the present. Every episode would feature a story in which they’d land either in the future or the past. The episodes depicting important past events (the Second World War, the eruption of the Krakatoa and the sinking of the Titanic, among others) outnumbered the ones set in imaginary futuristic scenarios, which turned the series into great history lessons. We learned a lot from watching it, and had fun at the same time.
Batman. The most psychedelic show of the era, the 60s version of the Dark Knight was an explosion of color (for those who could afford color TV), unforgettable idiosyncratic nemeses (such as Catwoman, the Joker, The Riddler and The Penguin) and exciting fight scenes during which innovative onomatopoeic speech bubbles popped up on the screen (Pow! Plop! Bang! Craack!). The costumes worn by most characters were duly ludicrous and it never crossed our naïve minds that the whole thing was supposed to be a parody of the comic books. We took the adventures very seriously: the anthological death scene of Catwoman, falling from a tall building after dangling for a couple of tense minutes by the grip of Batman’s heroic hands before plunging into the void, depressed the most sensitive kids of the time. We all loved Catwoman, she was sexy and fun, who cared if she was evil?
Many other shows of the time were also popular, such as Land of Giants, Bewitched and The Monkees. Television evolved a lot in more recent years, and I daresay some of the new shows have way more quality than many of the movies we watch in theaters. I was lucky those silly shows coincided with my childhood and early teenage years: I was able to enjoy them fully without any sense of shame or guilt.
What was your favorite TV show of the sixties and seventies?