It’s official. I am getting older. There is no other way to rationalize the strange phenomenon that has altered my television viewing practices of late. One night, I went to bed hopped up on 30-minute sitcoms and the occasional reality train wreck and the next day, I woke up with an inexplicable desire to watch hour-long, commercial-free shows heavily laced with British accents.
There is only one logical explanation for this: I’ve reached some mystical age when PBS suddenly becomes cool.
This is unsettling for someone who all but boycotted the network as a child. Oh sure, I was a long-time “neighbor” of Mister Rogers, but I had a problem with any organization whose programs were suspiciously educational. Sesame Street was a little too concerned with things like letters and numbers; The Electric Company was some kind of phonetic utility firm, and Reading Rainbow? Please…I knew a literacy lesson when I saw it. Only Mister Rogers Neighborhood and his Neighborhood of Make Believe appeared to lack pedagogical value (and of course became my favorite PBS show!)
I also had a monumental issue with any station that required the bottom dial of our prehistoric television set. (If you understand that reference, then you are at least as old as I am.) If PBS couldn’t hang on the same dial as ABC, CBS, NBC and the local independent outfit, I didn’t need to tune in. (Lest you think I am biased, I had the same opinion of the religious affiliate that showed a block of Tennessee Tuxedo cartoons in the afternoon before starting their daily Lester Sumrall marathon.)
I spent the better part of my life believing that PBS was for old people like my father who routinely pre-empted my Saturday morning cartoons to watch This Old House, The New Yankee Workshop, and The Woodwright Shop. He had a special affection for PBS staples such as Cosmos and Nova not to mention every in-depth study of the Number Seven the network could come up with. He even went so far as to donate money during Pledge Week.
In my young opinion, Pledge Week was proof positive that PBS was a ruse. Let’s face it, the only time PBS broadcast anything worthwhile was during Pledge Week. For seven days, the network offered programs never seen throughout the year while talking heads at the phone banks begged for money and promised more high-quality programming like the show one was currently watching. They may have guilted my father into making a donation with their plea, but they weren’t fooling me! I knew that when the lights went out and the phone lines closed, they packed up their Suze Orman lectures and Ed Sullivan retrospectives, leaving with the same shows we had before.
This makes the current turn of events even more disconcerting. Either I’m getting older, PBS programming suddenly resonates with me or they finally got that windfall they were looking for because the lineup has radically improved. I’ve caught myself tuning into Masters, the American Experience and BBC imports such as Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, and Paradise at an unhealthy rate. I downloaded their app as part of my conversion to “quality” programming and have spent hours online watching documentaries on everything from the Kennedys to that guy in the Philippines who became the lead singer of Journey. Good times, I tell you.
My family is worried that prolonged PBS viewing could lead to Matlock and Murder, She Wrote marathons. They have begun to keep track of the number of times I tune into, mention or recap some show I have recently watched on the local affiliate and I suspect an intervention is on the horizon. Maybe they will lock me in a room with loud rock music until I come to my senses.
That’s fine by me. I hear PBS recently did a documentary on Jimi Hendrix. Maybe I can stream it!