We were talking about bad television - reeeeeeally bad television - and my buddy was trying to convince me that "Small Town Security" was, without a doubt, the worst show on TV. I reminded him of "Honey Boo Boo," and MTV's (very-literally) short-lived "Buckwild." Our discussion of reality-TV led its way to scripted television, and I realized that my coworker's age had spared him gems like "Hello Larry," "Manimal," "BJ and the Bear," and that horrific 1979 abortion where Andy Griffith builds a working rocket out from a Texaco truck.
I've often wondered if Andy Griffith's complete and total disregard for the laws of science - radiation in particular - was why Opie lost all his hair.
Anyway, as my buddy had never heard of SuperTrain (and definitely didn't believe that a single bad show almost destroyed a network), I found the series on YouTube and played him the opening credits. His eyes grew wide as saucers. "My god," he muttered. "That looks just...awful." After watching his reaction, I couldn't resist showing him other bad series'' opening credits, starting with BJ and the Bear: That's right. A trucker and a chimp, and their wacky misadventures once a week in prime time. Suddenly, Small Town Security doesn't seem that bad, does it?
It's hard to remember a time when we didn't have TV at our fingertips, an era before smartphones, iPads, computers, and DVRs. I grew up in the 70s/early 80s, in an age when even VCRs were scarce. If you wanted to watch Dallas at 8pm, you had to be in front of the set at 8pm...unless of course you were wealthy enough to afford a VCR ($800), and lucky enough to have remembered to buy tapes.
In the late 1970s, my Father worked for the 7up company. Squirt was one of the products they sold, and one night in 1978, Father brought home "Billy Squirt" (aka: the "little squirt"), a midget spokesman for the soft drink. Mother made dinner, and the dwarf had several scotch on the rocks before Father dropped him off at his hotel, sometime after 10pm. My sister & I were in the living room, eavesdropping occasionally, but ultimately far more focused on the TV.
I mention all this because Billy Squirt happened to visit our house on the one night a year that CBS showed The Wizard of Oz. Apparently, he had been a munchkin in the movie, and as the film was playing (and the scotch kicked in), he entertained my parents with the behind-the-scenes gossip like which lollipop kid was sleeping with the ballerinas...and what the good witch really did with her wand. I was too young (and too engrossed in the film) to appreciate any of this, but as I look back at that night I can't help but think: man, that was the coolest thing ever!
Had YouTube been around in 78', I have no doubt that I'd have captured the entire evening on camera. Father's cigarettes. Mother's Sears coordinate. Billy's using his fingers to play with the ice in his drink. Forget The Wizard of Oz (or even the goddamn Star Wars Christmas Special), we were unknowingly staging a moment that captured the very essence of Springfield, Illinois in 1978.
At least until we realized that by watching the movie, we had totally missed BJ and the Bear.