How I Benefited From What My Father Didn’t Watch
My father was never much of a TV watcher. I’m sure he bought that first 21-inch black and white set to keep mom happy as she had to stay home with me and my newborn baby brother Rikk.
Sports and news were dad’s interests on TV, along with the occasional documentary.
He watched TV with mom, but what that really meant was sitting in the same room, reading a book or magazine or newspaper while she watched TV.
Sports was his thing on weekends, and where we first lived in Appalachia he had to go outside and physically move the antenna from one part of our yard (where it could line up with the valley that permitted two TV stations’ signals to pass) to another (for a second valley that allowed a third station’s signals to pass), so we tended to set the antenna to the first position Monday through Friday then Saturday and Sunday he reset it to the station with more sports.
Channel hopping was not easily done back in the day.
There were two fictional shows that dad did watch: The Untouchables and The Twilight Zone.
The Untouchables I could understand; set in the 1920s when gangsters and outlaws like Al Capone and John Dillinger ran rampant across the U.S., it reflected people and incidents my father heard about as a child in that era.
But The Twilight Zone was a head scratcher. How could my father, an eminently practical man who read only non-fiction, relate to such a far fetched show?
“Well, I’ll tell you, Buzz,” he once said to me (he always called me Buzz because, like, that was my name). “I don’t like most shows because they’re made up stories. If you’re going to make something up, you might as well go all the way.”
There was one other show he watched with my mom (if by “watched” we mean fell asleep in his armchair while it was on) and that was The Dick Van Dyke Show.
The Dick Van Dyke Show is probably the single most influential show in the history of American television, but not in the way most of you think. While it was a popular show, it didn’t change American culture…directly.
But what it did do was to inspire literally tens of thousands of people to become writers and creators -- little Buzzy Boy included.
My parents would put my brothers and me to bed each night then settle in for an evening of TV (or reading and napping, in my father’s case). Mom darned socks or sorted laundry whiled dad settled into his big overstuffed chair and snoozed.
I would wait half an hour for the show I didn’t want to see to end, then carefully / quietly sneak out of my bed and creep to the living room door to peer over the top of my father’s somnolent form.
I learned to be quiet, not to laugh out loud so as not to wake dad up (mom, being partially deaf and far more tolerant of curfew violations, was less of a worry).
What did little Buzzy Boy see in The Dick Van Dyke Show that made it worth the risk?
Even as a child, The Dick Van Dyke Show presented everything I wanted out of life: A fun creative career as a story teller, smart and funny co-workers who were also my best friends, a smart and appealing wife who loves me and whom I love in return.
I got all that when I grew up, and am happier for it.
So when I say The Dick Van Dyke Show influenced tens of thousands of us -- because in my generation of Hollywood scribes there are more of us who were inspired by the show than not -- I’m not saying it in the sense of copying a particular fad but in following an entire lifestyle and point of view.
To be fair, a little credit must go to the legendary EC comics bullpen, those magnificent maniacs who turned out Tales From The Crypt and Weird Science Fantasy and eventually MAD magazine. Dad’s ability to work himself out of a job mean we moved a lot when I was growing up, and because of that I gravitated towards sci-fi fandom because then my friends [read pen pals] were never further away than the mailbox and a change of address form. Thru sci-fi fandom I learned of the EC bullpen, and that further refined my dream to work with really cool friends on a really cool project that people would remember decades later -- and I got my wish!
© Buzz Dixon