Too much boob tube: Where do you draw the line?
Over the years, people have often said to my three kids some variation on this line:
”Boy, you’re lucky — your dad reviews TV; you must get to see everything!”
To which my luckless little darlings had to wearily reply, ”No, we don’t.” Why? Because since I had to watch everything that was on TV, I knew even more than the average parent how much true garbage there was on TV at all times of the day, and my wife and I kept close eyes on what the girls were allowed to consume. Let other parents allow their children to watch Saturday-morning TV while they slept in, foolishly assuming the networks were programming ”kid-friendly” fare: I knew that Saved by the Bell was soul-shriveling swill that would only warp their notions of what plot-structure and punchlines were supposed to be. And I forbade it.
In one area, however, we fought a battle, lost, and finally joined in, in watching. I’m still a tad guilty to admit it, but ABC’s devilishly clever marketing ploy in the late-’80s through the ’90s — setting aside Friday nights from 8 to 10 p.m. for that two-hour block of sitcoms grouped together under the ”TGIF” label — became the absolute cornerstone of my daughters’ TV watching for years.
Come on, you know the shows I’m talking about: Family Matters (with Jaleel White’s immortal Steve Urkel), Step by Step (remember Suzanne Somers and Patrick Duffy married with their step-children?), Perfect Strangers (major shout-out to Bronson Pinchot!), and the biggest Friday night time-waster of all time, Full House.
And when I say ”time-waster,” I mean it in a fond way. Nowadays, with the Olsen twins perennial gossip fodder and Bob Saget a filthy-Aristocrat-turned-1-vs-100-game-show host, it’s hard to believe, but Full House — with cute-rock ‘n’ roll-boy John Stamos and wacky-boy Dave Coulier filling out the motherless household — was heartwarming junk.
My daughters identified intensely with the Full House older sisters, D.J. (Candace Cameron) and Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), and their minds were boggled when we explained that one character, Michelle, was played by both Ashley and Mary-Kate. Full House taught lots of soppy life lessons, but years of viewing reassured me that while it was silly fluff, it was never mean-spirited or cynical fluff.
Ditto the series that replaced Strangers in the cycle, the indomitable Ben Savage vehicle Boy Meets World. (Eventually Sabrina the Teenage Witch was also subbed into the ”TGIF” schedule.) I think my daughters’ opinion of what teachers should be was partly formed by William Daniels’ cranky-but-wise Mr. Feeny. Not a bad academic role model, really: a stickler for proper grammar and rules of school discipline.
If it sounds like I’m grasping at value-laden straws, you’re right: As a parent, I tried to use Full House, Family Matters, and Boy Meets World as jumping-off points to talk to the kids about how they and their friends thought about rules in the home and school, how these shows worked as entertainment (why did we laugh at corny jokes? Why was Urkel, for all his cartoon-ish behavior, a more interesting character than any of the kids on Boy Meets World?).
As you can imagine, these little discussions were about as welcome as if I’d suggested we all gather ’round to watch a tape of Meet the Press. My kids were hungry for their sitcoms — we didn’t allow weeknight viewing once they started school — and the special once-a-week snacks that accompanied them. (Ah, to think when they were little, we were able to keep sugary beverages out of their little gullets by fooling them into thinking fruit juice and seltzer was soda!)
One of my daughters recently reminded me that she used to decline invitations for Friday-night sleepovers with her friends because she didn’t want to miss all the ”TGIF” shows.
Have your kids ever exhibited such obsessive behavior? Are there TV shows your kids love now that you really wish they didn’t? What shows did you try to watch that your parents hated?