Appearing on Fridays, This Was Television Asked & Answered is a chance for the writers of TWTV to answer questions about TV history. Questions can range from the personal to the critical about historical television.
While we came up the question for this installment, we’d love for you, our readers, to submit questions for us to answer in the future. Feel free to leave them in the comments, tweet them to us, ask on Facebook, or email them to us.
This week’s question is: What’s your earliest TV memory?
Cameron White: I think it was either the old premium-cable Disney Channel (before it was actually called Disney Channel and moved to basic cable) or the O.J. Simpson trial. I also have memories of ZDTV, the predecessor to TechTV, but that may have been a bit later.
Noel Kirkpatrick: You’d think it would be something like Sesame Street, but my first real TV memory, the one that feels tangible, is actually a bit depressing. I was five or six years old, sitting on the couch with my sister, and we were watching Inspector Gadget. Our parents came into the room and informed us they were getting a divorce. Go-go-gadget joint custody!
Les Chappell: Like you Noel, I fell in love with Rocky and Bullwinkle repeats decades after they originally aired. And like you Noel, the serialized quality of those stories stuck in my impressionable young head, to the point that I learned how to record a VCR before I was six and got seriously agitated if I missed any installments of the story. Even more than 20 years later, I still remember such details as the mooseberry bush, Fingers Scarnose, the Rue Brittania foot inscription, and the mysterious identity of Mr. Big.
Cory Barker: I guess you really start growing old once you cannot remember a specific initial first television memory. I would love to say that it was Sesame Street since I spent so much of my childhood watching and loving those characters but honestly the picture I keep seeing in my head is not of Big Bird or Ernie, it’s of Fred Rogers and those damn warm-looking cardigans. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood‘s theme song, model ‘hood, and that trolley took me into a calm, comforting space. I probably liked Street and even Shining Time Station more but Rogers and his world of Make-Believe evoke brighter television-related memories (perhaps because those other two shows had so many non-TV-related texts, products, etc.).
Anthony Strand: I rarely stop talking about my love for the Muppets, so this will probably sound like a lie that I just want to believe. But it’s actually true: my earliest TV memory is the birth of Luis and Maria’s daughter Gabi on Sesame Street. According to Muppet Wiki, that episode aired on May 20, 1989, which means that I was four-and-a-half years old. I suppose I’d been watching the many episodes of buildup (such as Luis telling Big Bird that together he and Maria made a baby growing inside Maria’s tummy), but my first concrete memory is of this episode itself. Oscar reluctantly taking Luis’s call from the hospital, the other adults trying to coax news out of him, and especially everyone’s delight over how tiny her toes are. I remember running out to the kitchen to tell my mom that Luis and Maria named their baby Gabriella, and I remember her saying “That’s a beautiful name!”
Less than a year later, my younger brother Benjamin was born, and I made a point to check how small his toes were.
Andy Daglas: As for many kids in my age cohort, Nickelodeon was the ne plus ultra of the TV dial for me. I remember waking up around 6 a.m. just to watch The Muppet Show and Mr. Wizard. I remember devouring Nick At Nite’s roster of shows that had a decade or two on me, like The Dick Van Dyke Show and Dragnet. And of course I remember afternoons chock-a-block with the cult Canadian import You Can’t Do That on Television and Looney Tunes—to this day I can’t hear “The Blue Danube” without picturing anthropomorphized musical notation. Mind you, this was all before Nick even hit its original programming stride in the early ’90s—but that’s a different topic.
Greg Boyd: I remember my dad introducing me to The Dick Van Dyke Show very early in my life, and Law & Order reruns and The Practice were among my first introductions to the world of TV dramas. But probably a bit before those came Arthur: a PBS Kids animated show that I watched quite often during my childhood. PBS aired other shows that I occasionally watched as well—two others that I vaguely remember are Between the Lions and Zoom—but I believe Arthur was the first show I ever watched on any sort of consistent basis.
I’m not sure why I liked it, exactly, but I recall it being less overtly educational than most of the channel’s kids’ programming. It still tried to teach me things, of course, but it rarely seemed to talk down to me or go overboard with the lessons it was attempting to impart. Even then, it appears I was looking for some degree of subtlety in my television shows. Outside of that, there’s not a whole lot I remember about the series (which is still running) or its characters. My favorite episode was “The Great Sock Mystery,” but I don’t really recall most of what happened in it outside of the title and basic premise.
This isn’t a show that had a huge impact on me, as you can probably tell from the fact that I have almost no memories of individual episodes or character traits. But it’s the earliest recollection I have of television, and of its power to enthrall me.
Kerensa Cadenas: I remember watching Saturday morning cartoons (with the exception of Saved by the Bell and California Dreams) with my dad. I was a weird kid who woke up strangely early—6 a.m. usually—and I would watch the various blocks of Saturday morning cartoons on the network stations with my bowl of cereal while my dad read the paper. I was so obsessive about my TV schedule—I used this pastel paper to write out a rigid time-ordered schedule that included the show name and network (with channel number). This schedule only changed if we had a free preview of the Disney Channel—then all bets were off. And my poor dad would spend the rest of the weekend humming the Polly Pocket commercial jingle.
J. Walker: I know I watched a ton of cartoons when I was kid—my room was littered with He-Man toys of every variety—but the first thing I remember watching on TV had to be the Los Angeles Lakers. This would have been ’87 or ’88, when we lived in Canoga Park, CA and the Showtime Lakers were winning championships. My mom discovered that the radio signal reached our house a split second before the television signal, so she’d mute the TV and set the game on the radio. That way, when Michael Cooper threw up a three pointer, we’d already know if it was good. That blew my mind when I was a kid; looking back, it’s just one of several little things my mom did to make the world as interesting as possible for her kids. She was awesome that way.