What is this TeeVee of which you speak…?

Adams TV Guide

The older kids had their teeth checked yesterday. The large screen TV in the dentist’s office had the Munsters on. (Last time it was the Flintstones). My kids were a little baffled, but increasingly intrigued. By the end, I could barely get them out of the office. “He’s a vampire!” “He’s a werewolf”. “There’s an invisible person!” (“No, that’s the effect to show that the person is scared”). “Are they married?” “How many children do they have?” “Did you have this when you were a kid”?

I explained that it was already old when I was a kid, and that I’d seen parts of episodes a few times at friends’ houses (on account of not having a TV), and otherwise I hadn’t seen it in about 30 years.

They wanted to dissect it in detail the second they got in the car. I mentioned that I preferred the Addams family, and that the Munsters was a rip-off of the Addams family. As I described the Addams family evolution from New Yorker cartoon to television show to 90s movie, one of them asked, “What’s the difference between TV and a movie?” My kids are 8 and 6. After a moment of cognitive vertigo, I figured this was easier than explaining arson or the Trojan war (which I have been asked to do while driving). This is what I said (minus most interruptions):

TV used to come over a signal into your house. Like wireless internet. Although instead of using it for mail and movies and everything else, it just had a few channels. All you did is watch it. It showed news and shows. They came on at the same time every week, like 7:00 pm every Saturday, and you had to watch it then. Movies were shown just in theaters and you went to the theater and sat there for an hour and half and watched the movie.

(“There weren’t movies on TV?”). Sometimes, mostly on special occasions. Shows were made just for TV and they had commercial breaks. (“What are commercials”). Commercials are little ads for things like cereal. (“And coffee?”). And coffee. And insurance. So you’d watch for 15 minutes, then they would have commercials, so an hour show was really more like 40 minutes. (“Where did the commercials come from?”) The companies pay the TV people to let them advertise. Then the TV people use the money to make the shows. (“That’s called compromise!”) That’s called commerce.

When it was my 8 yearold’s turn to use the iPad after dinner, I heard her sighing gustily “the Munsters aren’t on Prime!”. “Try YouTube”. So she found Munsters episodes, a Munsters documentary and what look like a fairly abysmal 90s re-tread of the Munsters.

My kids probably think of my description of television sort of like I respond to the description of my mother hauling water in buckets from the spring house to do the washing when she was a kid. And I’m almost describing it second hand, because I didn’t even have a TV growing up. And my kids don’t know how weird that is.

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