Saturday, January 23, 2010

TV made me everything that I am

By Michael Wiley

As a child I spent many happy hours watching television, hours that my wife and I now deny to our kids, telling them that we don’t watch television (except when we pull it out of the closet for emergencies such as approaching hurricanes and the running of the Kentucky Derby) because they can spend their time better by reading or drawing or climbing trees. The fact that my wife and I read, drew, and climbed trees while also watching hours upon hours of television when we were kids doesn’t change our minds. Still, we secretly worry that we’re depriving our children of an essential part of their education, maybe even a part of childhood itself.

Much of my own sensibility comes from the television shows I watched as a kid. I got in my first fistfight one morning when I was four years old and wanted to watch Popeye while a friend wanted to change the channel to watch . . . I don’t remember what, something weak-kneed like Rocky & Bullwinkle. I remember being angry and, if it’s possible for a four year old, aesthetically wronged. How could anybody want to watch Bullwinkle when one could watch a little guy like Popeye conquer Bluto and win the girl? This was art, I explained to my four-year-old friend in not so many words, and soon we were on the floor wrestling and throwing little fists at each other.

I grew up. A little. At age ten, I spent nearly every weekday afternoon watching re-runs of Adam-12 and then Dragnet. The ridiculously scrubbed-faced actors who played LAPD cops in Adam-12 would never make the cut in today’s gritty police procedurals, but the episodes kept this kid on the edge of his couch. Joe Friday was staid and stiff in Dragnet, but I felt a thrill every time the announcer said, “the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Who needed reality TV?

Did watching these shows lead me to write detective novels? At least it didn’t steer me away from writing them. On the other hand, for a while I also watched The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, and I never did learn to play bass guitar like Danny Bonaduce. But if you read closely, you might see similarities between one or two of my femmes fatales and Florence Henderson.


Terry Stonecrop said...

I love the little fists flying. Popeye must have been an influence. I bet you ate your spinach too.

TV does seem to bond different generations.

Femmes fatales and Florence Henderson:)

Michael Wiley said...

I still like spinach! and in recent years my hairline has started to recede. My wife looks nothing like Olive Oyl, though.

Sophie Littlefield said...

My favorite thing to do over at my friend Susan's was to turn all the rec room furniture into the wild west and sing the Davy Crockett song while shooting each other. "Daveeee, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier!!!"

Michael Wiley said...

I think that I still might have my raccoon skin hat tucked away in a box somewhere, Sophie. But please don't tell PETA.

Kelli Stanley said...

Hmm ... from what I've heard about the guy who played Greg Brady and Florence, I don't think you're that far off, Mike!! ;)