TV Made Me Who I Am by (2 Stories)

Prompted By What We Watched

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In the 60s and 70s our television was our hearth. My family gathered around the RCA black-and-white to watch together, and the next day most friends and neighbors would have watched the same shows.

Today we make a big deal about how music was the key cultural touchstone of that era, but I’m not so sure. TV generally followed where music led, but its reach was farther and its experiences were more widely felt. I was a huge Beatles fan in the 60s, but I have probably been shaped more by Star Trek than the Beatles. Television programs are more direct, more detailed, and can cover a lot more territory than love and rebellion. They’re far longer than what fits on a 45 rpm single, and they incorporate imagery, dialog, music, characters, and more. It’s not surprising, then, that they carried the most influence of any medium of the era.

We did not regularly attend a house of worship, so to some extent I received my moral grounding from TV. I learned about justice from The Rifleman, forgiveness from The Honeymooners, persistence from Gilligan’s Island, and many things from Star Trek, including racial harmony, loyalty, logical thinking, and teamwork. I even acquired a healthy sense of skepticism from Laugh In. Could I have learned any of that from Hendrix, Dylan, Lennon or McCartney? It’s a stretch.

DVR maker TiVo used to print employees’ favorite television programs on the backs of their business cards. Nine shows were listed: three from each of three life stages, which were something like “Growing Up,” “On My Own,” and “Today.” I sometimes wonder what would go on my card. Here’s what I’d put today:

Growing Up

  • The Bullwinkle Show
  • Star Trek
  • Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In

On My Own

  • Monday Night Football
  • ABC News Nightline
  • M*A*S*H


  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
  • Major League Baseball
  • The Big Bang Theory

What programs would you list, and how have they made you the person you are?

Profile photo of Pete Stahl Pete Stahl

Characterizations: been there, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    We also, as a family sat around a black and white TV and watched things like The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s funny, we never watched Westerns, but my husband found a TV station that is dedicated to “oldies”, so I’ve been catching up on “The Rifleman”…what a lovely show it was. Always a good moral lesson and such a love story before father and son! Nice to be reminded of those values today. I LOVED “Rocky & Bullwinkle” and had old tapes of them which, unfortunately, were ruined in a house flood last year. My loss!

  2. John Zussman says:

    Great way to phrase the question—which shows helped make you who you are. I wouldn’t disagree with anything on your list.

  3. Suzy says:

    Nice story, and interesting point about TV being more influential than music. Nowadays, of course, with music videos, there is more of an overlap between the two.
    Surprisingly, even though you and I have lived through the same decades, the only shows on your list that I have ever seen are Laugh-In and M*A*S*H. I agree with Betsy about watching the Ed Sullivan show as a family, we certainly did that every Sunday night.

  4. Deborah Abel says:

    At our house, dinner wasn’t served until after Star Trek. My mother was in love with Captain Kirk and praised his manly attributes to anyone who would listen. All four of us kids teased her a lot, it was all in fun. Over the years he turned out to be a pretty awful person (if you don’t know I won’t spoil it for you). We still tease her a lot (she’s 87 now) and I learned that good things don’t always come in pretty packages.

  5. Constance says:

    “Our television was our hearth.” Brilliant and very quotable.
    Thumbs up for John Oliver and Big Bang Theory.

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