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Archive for November, 2012

“The following program is brought to you in living color.”

If you can remember hearing those words, you might not be older than dirt, but you probably grew up with its grandkids.

I still remember the “good old days” when TV screens were small and most of the time the programs – like “Howdy Doody,” “The Honeymooners,” “I Love Lucy,” “Father Knows Best,” and even “The Wonderful World of Disney” – were presented in black and white. When something was broadcast in color, the announcement would be made: “The following program is brought to you in living color.”

(It never occurred to me to wonder if that was in contrast to “dying color” or some other condition. Maybe the announcement was to prepare people so they didn’t die of shock.)

Of course, if your family didn’t have a color TV, the announcement did little good – other than to make you envious of families that did have the luxury of “living color.” And even for those of us that did acquire color TVs as soon as they became affordable, the color was no comparison to what we enjoy today with our high-def, huge-screen monitors. But back in the 1960s when I was growing up, color of any kind was a wonder.

Actually, the first “color TV” I remember was when I visited the home of a friend and they had laid a sheet of transparent green plastic over the TV screen. It made everyone look kind of green – not very good because many people still believed there might be little green men from Mars back then, but at least there was some color other than black and white. (Purists, of course, will even tell you that black and white technically aren’t even colors, so I guess in the early days we watched no-color TVs.)

Today we can still watch black-and-white programs from the past, including one of my favorites, Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone,” and regard them as quaint examples from entertainment history. But as a boy, I found TV of any kind, color or not, a special treat.

We had just three channels – how did mankind survive, right? And they didn’t all come in clearly. Rooftop TV antenna and “rabbit ears” atop the TV would improve reception somewhat, but often we still had to put up with “snow” – fuzzy pictures in which sometimes we could barely make out the characters.

And programming wasn’t 24/7 as it is today. I’m not sure when the shows first came on in the morning, and stations always signed off after the evening news. After a scene of the American flag waving in the breeze to the tune of “the Star-Spangled Banner,” a test pattern would be projected on the screen where it would remain until the next morning. It too, of course, was only in black and white.

I’ll always remember the “living color” days. If you were watching the NBC network, the NBC peacock would appear, displaying the primary colors to prepare you for the technological marvel of a full-color TV program. How could anyone ever forget the spectacle of Tinker Bell flying across the screen, waving her wand and turning the images from black and white to “living color”?

Walt Disney would then appear, his mustache in living brown, ready to introduce the featured program of the evening, whether it be Davy Crockett, a nature film, or Mickey Mouse cavorting with his friends. As Archie Bunker would say years later, “Those were the days.”

Oh yes, we didn’t have remote control “clickers” then, either. We had to physically get up from our chair or couch and turn the channel selector knob. It’s a marvel more people didn’t suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome with such frequent torque to their wrists. But that’s a story for another day.

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