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Woldum TV: Viewing the television through the lenses of generations

May 9, 2018

Though now when we hear the word “TV” we think of the term as synonymous with the content that is shown on it, a TV — or television— was once used to describe a physical object. It was a household fixture, the same as a blender or a toaster, with a utility and a purpose. It was where you got your news and your weather and your entertainment.

Now, at least for me, when I talk about “TV”, I mean the shows created that air on networks or online. Rarely do I even think of the actual object, and I’m sure many are like me in that they watch much of their TV on a laptop or mobile device. I myself, an avid TV watcher and television columnist, don’t even own a TV.

Televisions and television-watching habits have gone through countless transitions and iterations in the 96 years since the television was invented in 1927. And even though owning a household television didn’t become commonplace until the 60s, that’s still over 50 years of TV time for habits to grow and change. So I decided to interview three generations of Woldums for this, the Scene interview issue, to discover how varied and diverse our experiences with television can be.

The Subjects

Chuck: Author’s paternal grandfather, 88, retired financial accountant and army vet

Sylvia: Author’s paternal grandmother, 83, retired nurse

Grant: Author’s father, 59, Credit Union CIO

Karen: Author’s mother, 58, retired teacher

John: Author’s brother, 27, Media Relations

Rachel: Author, 30, Barista/Bartender

What is your earliest “TV” memory (the first time you can remember owning a TV, buying a TV, watching a TV show, etc.)?

Chuck: In 1947, when my folks brought back a TV from California, which we could get some WCCO programs on.

Sylvia: Seeing a TV at my doctor’s house in 1958 … picture was all green. And then when Grandpa (Chuck) got a good deal on the color TV. He got it at the local barber shop which did haircuts and sold TVs.  I, however, was not happy about it. I thought it was too much money and we didn’t need it. But he got it in time for the kids to watch Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in color. He said that was his big reason but I knew better. He just wanted color and also wanted to watch the World Series in color. But now I’m glad to have it.

Grant: Seeing the JFK funeral procession, including a horse-drawn cart holding his flag-draped casket.

Karen: Seeing coverage of JFK’s funeral in November of 1963 — I was 4 and remember where the TV was in our living room – the drapes being drawn, and the sense that something terrible had happened.

John:  I remember walking into the hallway at our house on Copper Lane in Eagan and being terrified of the bad guys on “Ghostwriter” (who had names like Mean Masher and Rocket Ripper).

Rachel: I remember watching The Ten Commandments, Anne and Green Gables, and The Chronicles of Narnia, all of which we recorded on VHS. I also remember on Saturday mornings, I’d watch Dink the Dinosaur and Land of the Lost, until I started taking dance on Saturday mornings and had to miss them.

What’s the most memorable thing you’ve ever watched or seen on TV (a big episode of a show coming out, a sporting event, a news story, etc)?

Chuck: Seeing things like the Kennedy assassination and 9/11.

Sylvia: Astronauts, things like major news stories.

Grant: I remember the shock and awe of CNN coverage of Operation Desert Storm in Iraq in Winter, 1991.

Karen: Watching the astronauts first walk on the moon in July of 1969. We went to the house of our church friends, the Favorits, because they had a bigger and better TV. I was 10 years old.

John:  Any Olympics, the 2008 Wimbledon match (5 hours between Federer/Nadal), the 2014 Sugar Bowl (Oklahoma upset Alabama).

Rachel: 1)Seeing the Cubs win the World Series in 2016, ending their 108-year draught. 2) Being in 9th grade, in art class, dressed as a cowgirl for Western Day, during the attacks on the World Trade Center. My art teacher was eccentric and had used much of the art budget to buy a huge flat screen TV so we could watch Sister Wendy during class. On September 11, 2001, for whatever reason we were just watching the news. I never paid attention to the TV but happened to look up right as they were showing the second plane crash live. I assumed it was old footage from something else and didn’t even pay attention, until the bad kid in class yelled “Oh my God, turn this up!” I remember saying “Wait, this is happening right now?!”

How often do you watch TV now, and how do you watch it (on a TV, computer, etc), and what do you watch?

Chuck and Sylvia: We watch about 3-5 hours daily. We watch the TV.

Grant: About 3-4 times per week on a TV to watch live sporting events.

Karen: I watch TV three or four times a week and I watch on an actual TV. Favorite shows are Hometown, The Crown, and Oklahoma City Thunder basketball games.

John:  a) Not often, only sports and CNN News b) TV/Computer streaming app like WATCHESPN c) Sports, news, travel shows.

Rachel: Every other day for an hour or so. I watch on my computer or my roommates SmartTV. Usually shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime, either crime/detective shows, late night/comedy, and whatever show everyone is currently talking about.

Do you have any programs/shows that you watch regularly? If so, what are they?

Chuck: I regularly watch local news, Fox News, and Fox news commentators.

Sylvia: When I was younger I used to watch the daily soaps.

Grant: No.

Karen: I watch The Crown and Hometown, but they have usually been prerecorded.

John: ESPN / college football / streaming shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Rachel: SNL, The Bachelor/Bachelorette when it’s on, Broad City.

What is your favorite TV show of all time? (Or some of your favorites if you have them!)

Chuck: Coverage of 911, several Super Bowls, comedies from our generation: Dick Van Dyke, Father Knows Best, Carol Burnett, Jack Benny, and Bob Hope.

Sylvia: We watch old black and white movies and we enjoy them, too.  Family shows were always good – no violence, and we always like the Carol Burnett, Perry Como shows and that sort.

Grant: The Bob Newhart Show, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, Nightline.

Karen: Casey Jones and Roundhouse Rodney, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Wonderful World of Disney, Batman, Star Trek, The Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch, The Waltons, MASH, Cheers, Ken BurnsCivil War Series.

John: HBO’s True Detective Season 1. Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad are a close second.

Rachel: True Detective Season 1, Breaking Bad, Veronica Mars, early seasons of The Office, the Disney Channel Original movies, The Simpsons.

What is the best thing about TV? The worst?

Chuck: Best – you can turn it off when programs are lousy. Colored TV, timely news and weather. Worst – covers some news events too much which encourages copycats (for example school shootings.)

Sylvia: TV can be good and it can be bad.  Sometimes there is nothing worth wasting your time on.  Grandpa usually has the remote so we watch that he wants to watch. Also, it can be very educational and of course we get the latest world news in an instant.

Grant: Best – It provides on-demand entertainment.  Worst – the overwhelming majority of programming is junk.

Karen:  Best – The pure entertainment value and also the educational value … it can be great when it’s done well. Also it can be a family activity. The Worst – So many channels, so little of quality to watch. Many programs seem to be made for shock value or to push the limits. There are some excellent series that have been on in the last 10-plus years though.

John: Best – easy access; right there when you need it; keep up with world events (sports/news). Worst – sucks your time; makes you live in a false sense of reality; keeps you from living/enjoying real life.

Rachel: Best – there is really great content out there right now, and talented and creative directors/writers/actors previously committed to filmmaking are deciding that the television format is an ideal form for storytelling. Programming is extremely diverse and there’s something for everyone. Worst – There’s almost too much content to weed through. Netflix releases a new show every day. And it’s an extremely accessible distraction from adult responsibilities, like finishing articles on time.


By Rachel Woldum

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