Re-Re-Re-Reruns

In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king, and in the land of summer, TV re-runs rule. (Why do writers feel compelled to quote homilies so much? I don't even know the origin of the phrase except I like the Tom Waits song that uses it.) I was on vacation a while back and threatened to watch daytime TV then write about it. I never did watch it, at least not as studiously as I had planned.

First of all, I found myself bored silly by all the game shows and the barrage of daytime talk shows. (Except Caryl & Marilyn, who made me laugh because they make each other laugh. I especially enjoyed Caryl's demonstration of jiggly cellulite on her thighs. Now, the show has been taken off the air.) The next problem that came up was defining "re-runs," or rather, narrowing the gap. For example, are cartoons re-runs? I vote no, although the point is arguable. (I will also save the rest of this thought about cartoons for a future column. I love cartoons.) For this column's purposes, daytime TV begins at 6am and ends at 6pm.

Re-runs are the comfort food of television's menu. It's like seeing a familiar Denny's sign on an unfamiliar road or the old favorite tune that kicks in on the radio at just the right moment. And, like comfort food, these shows are often guilty pleasures. Feeding those guilty pleasures is its own reward, and that's why I watch the damn Brady Bunch. But the comfort and familiarity of these shows is why we turn to them when we're home sick. Even Saved by the Bell comforts someone.

This sort of reckless acknowledgment of the less attractive aspects of one's personality can be exhilarating and even empowering. Today, The Brady Bunch! Tomorrow, The Waltons! Naw, even I can hardly stomach The Waltons, but somebody does -- the Family Channel runs the hour-long Seventies nostalgia show in the morning (FAM, TWC Ch 30, 8am) and again in the afternoon (6pm) when the ultra-wholesome Highway to Heaven (4pm) kicks off a three-hour block of sugar-coated programming that includes two half-syndicated Carol Burnett (5pm) shows. Some of the Carol Burnett shows are real gems but since it's sandwiched between HTH and another Waltons episode, it's too scary for me to try and watch. The Family Channel's true redeeming quality is Stooge TV (10pm), especially for the original episodes with Curly, but I digress into nighttime programming, which is why NICK at Nite (TWC, Ch 38) doesn't count here. Bless NICK for having The Bob Newhart Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but such oases do not exist in the wasteland of daytime TV -- at least not here. Instead, during the day on Nick you'll find Papa Beaver Stories (12:30pm).

Morning network news shows have replaced many of the old rerun slots for shows but WTBS (TWC, Ch 21) definitely gets the jump on the dumb meter Monday through Friday with a lineup that starts with Gilligan's Island (7:05am), Bewitched (7:35am), Little House on the Prairie (8:05am), Three's Company (9:05am), Mama's Family (9:35am), back-to-back Andy Griffith (10:05am, 10:35am), and Matlock (11:05). Double-whammies of Saved by the Bell (4:05pm, 4:35pm) and Family Matters (5:05pm, 5:35pm) follow.

I dislike these shows for the most part. And since during vacation I didn't wake up until Caryl & Marilyn, it was a relief tuning in to TNT (TWC, Ch 33) and finding The Outer Limits (11am) and two episodes of The Twilight Zone (noon, 12:30pm).

Our local independent station KNVA (TWC Ch 12) starts out with Blossom (9am) then offers the kind of rerun lineup I remember from elementary school days in the Sixties -- The Honeymooners (9:30am), Gomer Pyle (10am), Hogan's Heroes (10:30am), Beverly Hillbillies (11am), The Honeymooners (11:30am), Andy Griffith (noon), and I Love Lucy (12:30pm). Another local independent KVC (Ch 13) offers a similar Sixties lineup in the afternoon with Bonanza (1am), Dennis the Menace (2pm), and The Flintstones (2:30pm). KEYE (TWC, Ch 5) battles the talk show glut mid-afternoon with Roseanne (4pm) and Home Improvement (4:30pm), and KVUE (TWC Ch 3) tosses us Coach (4:30pm), but the other local station have little but talk shows, game shows, and those tabloid "news" shows.

Chicago's WGN (TWC, Ch 22) is big on re-runs too, and they know how to start a morning out right: Bugs Bunny! Bugs `n' Daffy (7am) hit the air bright and early, followed by the almost unbearable Animaniacs (7:30am). An hour of Bewitched (8am, 8:30am) is followed by an hour of Empty Nest (9am, 9:30am). There's Charlie's Angels (10am) but clearly, a more serious note is taken after lunch with The Streets of San Francisco (1pm), Beauty and the Beast (2pm), Beverly Hills 90210 (3pm), and the odious Saved by the Bell (5:30pm).

(Saved by the Bell's popularity escapes me completely. My editor Louis tells me he watches it because his household doesn't have cable but I suspect he thinks the girls are cute. My friend Andy considers it a cultural reference point -- Me: "Who's Elizabeth Berkeley?" Andy: "You remember -- she was on Saved by the Bell!" Me: "Uh, no...." Still, Saved by the Bell appears to be -- and this is a very informal survey -- the one show most available as a re-run on our cable system.)

I would think that the Lifetime Channel (LIF, TWC, Ch 27) could do better, but no, they gave an hour block to The Golden Girls (4pm, 4:30pm). Zzzzzzz. The Nashville Network (TNN, TWC Ch 35) goes good-ol'-boy as they lay claim to Dallas (3pm) then a two-hour, mind-numbing block of The Dukes of Hazzard (4pm, 5pm). It's enough to make you tune in to MTV.

This is probably the inspiration for the Nickelodeon Network's TVLand channel, but TWC doesn't carry it. Thank heaven for NICK at Nite, even if they can stuff I Dream of Jeannie back into a bottle and toss it in an ocean. And God bless Mary Tyler Moore.

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