A Crusade Through Television:
A 90's Baby Recounts His Television History
(With A Quick Flashback To Black & White TV)

By Abrahim Harb

The first memory of television was mere weeks after my family and I moved into a new house. In October 2000, at the age of 10, a new show premiered on ABC called Gilmore Girls—it followed a single mother and her daughter as they try to live life in Stars Hallow, Connecticut. It was canceled in 2007. Through the show, I was exposed to pop culture references including movies, singers & celebrities, literature and historical events. It was my first dip into pop culture, as well as a guide on how to follow a series that was packed dense with substance, plot and pop—also giving me a glimpse of how people in small towns are portrayed as somewhat wholesome, friendly, neighborly folks who eat up the gossip caused by a couple breaking up or one shop owner rekindling a feud with a shop owner. I learned an abundant amount of pop culture and over the years, shaped me into a pop culture junkie who loves music, art and celebrity shenanigans. I’m currently a contributing writer for the Independent at Northeastern Illinois University, where I create chaos writing reviews.

Often times, I would sit in front of the TV from 3-4pm with my siblings, watching Gilmore Girls as my mother cooked dinner in the kitchen. The relationship between the two main characters, Lorelai (the mother) and Rory (the daughter) was friendly and the maternal role was usually left to Rory. The show introduced me to how life could unfold, through the Lorelai character being a single mother and the Rory character living life with just a mother. Mid-way through the series, Rory had a “mid-life” crisis and the mother-daughter team was dismantled for about a season and reunites in such a powerful way; they simply embraced and it was a silent moment as music started to play. The entire series was light, but emotional, witty, but not ambitious—the actors didn’t just deliver their lines, they were the character. It is also one of my favorite shows that I’ve followed from series premiere to series end.

In the years to follow, starting around 2003, I became well acquainted with shows popular in the late 90’s early 2000’s, such as Friends, 7th Heaven and Full House. In a time where I began to cultivate as a person, son, brother and friend, I was influenced by these shows. They exhibited both the happy aspect of family (blood or otherwise) and the unhappy side. Despite wanting to surround myself with laughter, 7th Heaven taught me much about life (as seen through a camera lens) and how to deal with alcoholism, homelessness, acceptance, teenage pregnancy, abuse and tolerance, among other topics discussed in the show. It took the time to prohibit the audience to be engulfed by the situation at hand and learn a lesson through it; the innocent tone was aided by the religious authority—but not an overpowering religious influence. The family offered unconditional love and offered to help, but also candidly showed the positive and negative outcomes of a situation, without much sensationalism.

At the age of 14, in 2004, 7th Heaven was a regular in our household, my brother, sister and I would sit in the family room and watch the show as we did homework. This was the instance with most television shows, TV in my household is a family event. We all have our own shows we like, but we always come together to watch show(s). By the time I entered college in 2009, I had been seeking something more in my life and I decided to become more involved at church, specifically the youth group. The honesty and integrity portrayed in the show carried over into my life and I respected (for the majority of the time) authority, whether it be clergy, family or parental authority. I am a Christian and by nature, I went to church with my family each Sunday. 7th Heaven is undoubtedly where it was subliminally instilled in my mind to allow religion to play a bigger role in my life.

Between 2003 to 2008, Disney TV shows such shows as Even Stevens, The Lizzie McGuire Show, That’s So Raven, Hannah Montana, Suite Life of Zack & Cody and Sister, Sister, in addition to their movies such as the Cheetah Girls and High School Musical franchise dominated the TV in my home. These shows were all cookie cutter, yet still different with the tone they offered and gave me some good laughs. Essentially, each show exemplified a different family dynamic, united by love.

These shows left a huge impression on me during a time when I began to think about what I was going to do with my time on earth. I like to be surrounded by laughter—the sitcom is my favorite type of show. I began to cultivate this way of extracting and exaggerating, without exasperating the situation for comedy. My career path always stayed within the realm of writing and media/ journalism. That’s So Raven particularly inspired me, the lead character Raven Symone’s talent exuded beyond the screen and I aspired to be a well-rounded acting phenom, much in the same way she did, making anything funny with her signature sass. Her talent was comparable to Lucille Ball in “I Love Lucy,” they both served as inspiration and still do; in conjunction with the musical franchises Disney produced help solidify my yearning to become a better singer. My siblings and I would sing to the songs until our mom yelled at us for it. To this day, those songs still bond us three together as we sing to them in the car and whenever else; one of us starts and the other two come in, as if on cue. It is my belief that this era in Disney lent itself to cultivating talent on screen, inspiring viewers to work hard and want something like that. What better way to learn a lesson, get a laugh or learn something new by people appearing to be our age.

From then on, life as seen through my television history is a blur. Quality TV shifted and now mostly consists of few quality programs that cater to a specific demographic and typically paint a stereotyped, single-sided view of a certain group (i.e. Jersey Shore, Amish Mafia and Mob Wives); a slew of daytime talk shows that draw in audiences, usually, a higher amount of females (i.e. The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Katie Couric Show and The View); and an overkill of reality shows/competitions (i.e. Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Real Housewives franchise, American Idol and Americas Next Top Model) and a range of late night talk shows (i.e. Jimmy Kimmel Live, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Chelsea Lately) that comment on the hilarity of all that mentioned above and more.

TV before cable is something unfathomable for a modern consumer in 2013, unless you’re Amish of course. Nowadays, a household (depending on the size) has between 2 to 3 TV’s, odds are, one of them is a flat screen (usually the main TV used in a common area). Shirley Lenardi, born in 1929, remembers having the same thing when she was younger, but instead of TV, it was a radio. “We had a small one that was always on the side table in the kitchen and a bigger one in the common room. We also had a small portable one we would share.” Cable was invented in 1920, nine years prior to her birth. She doesn’t remember much during that time, but she remembers her first experience with a TV. Her brother-in-law, Frank had a TV and “the entire family went over to see it.” She added, “It was very small,” and they would all gather closely around it to get a glimpse.

I decided to contact Shirley, my elderly neighbor, since she and I bond over TV and like the same shows. She agreed, ironically, as we watched TV together. She remembers little about TV before cable, but she vividly remembers The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-1971) and Jack Benny/The Jack Benny Program (he started radio in 1932). She remembered certain guests and moments, but she couldn’t pinpoint any, remembering they were funny was all she could recall. Despite jogging her memory and discussing TV on a general level, she couldn’t recall much. Her memory isn’t the best at an old age, she would acknowledge it, stating several times, “I’m sorry, I don’t remember. I know there was a reason why I remembered this, but not why. Maybe it will come”. She did recall the Ford Theatre on radio (around the age of 19 in 1947), but didn’t remember it on television (in years later 1952-1957).

She had a much more vivid memory of television after cable, so I decided to discuss that in hopes of jogging her memory. It proved difficult. She didn’t watch it often, but when she did, she recalls a few programs. Her children loved to watch two educational shows: Sesame Street (1969) and Ding Dong School (1952). Bozo would be on at noon. In the late 60’s there were 3 main soap operas, she only recalled one, Days of Our Lives, that one of her daughters would come home from school to watch, which still airs at the same time as now at noon on NBC. “I didn’t watch TV much outside of the musical shows. Otherwise, it was just on in the background because either the kids or my husband were watching it.” She later recalled, saying, “My husband never really got into sports either, [on radio or TV] so he never watched it. But I knew people who did.” She doesn’t remember having a favorite news station, but remembers WLS, while living in Chicago. She remembers most of the talk and variety show hosts such as Johnny Carson, Jack Parr, Andy Williams and Jack Powell; in addition to The DuPont show with June Allyson, an anthology drama hosted by Allyson, and Baretta, a detective show.

Finally, as Shirley and I sat on the couch, she was to my left in her single chair, with her orange juice in hand and TV remote near—I pulled the ottoman between us, put my feet up and sat back down next to her. The vibe was relaxed because I had stopped by on Friday’s like I always do after class to watch Ellen with her. I asked her to be thinking about a few things (at the start of my interview) during our chat, among them, what she thinks the biggest change was in television during her lifetime. Stopping mid-thought about three-fourths way into the interview she said, “BRAS” I said, “What Shirley?” “Bras, they didn’t show bras back then and they do now. That’s the biggest change in TV.” I paused to think about it. She looked back and in a moment of confusion said, “Remember how you asked that before?” and I said, “Yeah, I just never really thought about how you would reply. I was taken aback by it.”

At that moment when it all clicked. TV influences our lives more than we'll ever know. It teaches us life lessons, how to act in a situation, how to extract the comedy out of life, how to be serious and seriously funny, how to feel about a topic and ultimately influences our daily lives beyond any amount that we can calculate. Why you may ask? Because with every memory I tried to jog, she could remember the person or moment, but couldn’t offer any more than that. A memory that is ingrained in your long-term memory never goes away and when reminded of it, nostalgia overcomes the mind, something is exposed that could be forgotten by years of life—but inwardly brings joy to a person upon remembering the memory, moment or year.