My TV Childhood: Intro

“Do you let Archie watch any TV?”

Now that we’re coming up on 18 months with our little guy, we’re getting this question more and more. You’d think two people who grew up on television would have already introduced Archie to the medium we love so much. But we’re also two by-the-book nerds, and so far we’re trying to follow the official recommendation to avoid screen time until age 2.

That’s not to say we don’t ever have the TV on when Archie is in the room. Heck, there’s actually a TV in his nursery, a remnant from the room’s days as Alan’s man cave that came in pretty darn handy during those blurry 3 a.m. feedings. So far, though, we haven’t really sat him in front of anything meant exclusively for him. Instead, he’s drafting off what we’re watching, which is why you’ll see him shake his head to the theme from “Real Time with Bill Maher” or grin at the sound of someone hitting the Daily Double on “Jeopardy!”

As I’ve started to think about transitioning Archie into his first shows over the next few months, I’ve found myself feeling an unexpected twinge of sadness. And it’s because I’m realizing his TV childhood will be nothing like mine. Like, almost literally not at all the same.

It’s no secret that I loved watching television as a kid, but deep down, what I really loved was being home. And not in the introverted “indoor kid” sort of way. If I was watching TV, it meant Mom was in the kitchen making lunch, or Dad was out mowing the lawn, or my brother was on the other couch, or the whole family was in for the night. TV meant everything was safe, secure, settled.

For a long time, I’ve looked forward to having my own child and creating that same sense of warmth around the shared experience of watching television. But now I’m wondering if the constantly evolving technology of TV–as convenient as it is–may keep that from happening.

This doesn’t solely speak to the fact that I'm… what’s that word… old, but to the radical shift of the television business over just the past few years. Even though as a child I was watching TV a good 30 years after my parents did as kids (I was born in 1976), our experience was essentially the same. The shows were different, the picture quality was better–and the sound was in STEREO, no less–but I still had three main networks and a couple of local stations to choose from. Classic Hollywood stars were still making regular appearances. I still had to sit in front of a piece of furniture and watch shows when they were on–and only then.

Archie… who knows how Archie will be watching TV in five years. Two, even. (“Mommy! I want Thomas on left eyelid and Dora on right eyelid!”) So I decided to chronicle my own TV childhood growing up in Chicago. Partly so Archie might one day be able to read this on his newly installed center eyelid, and partly so I can get a better sense of the real-life context around my TV milestones. I realize now it’s in the fond family memories where my television nostalgia truly has its nucleus. By mining my past for those moments and those emotions, I hope in the future I can create the same sense of solace for Archie–whether all varieties of screen are on or off.

I’m going to start in roughly chronological order, so next time, we’ll tune in to my local PBS station, channel 11 (WTTW).

Christine Moore