My Obsession: Cozi TV
Channel showcases the best and worst of syndicated TV
It sure is a struggle these days to keep up with serialized television. If you haven't heard, we're living in the glorious golden age of TV, where nine new shows pop up on various streaming sites every week, and you literally cannot have a conversation with anyone (co-worker, convenience store clerk, therapist) without a "Hey you should check out a) that gritty Australian prison drama, b) the fictionalized version of that one stand-up comedian's life, or c) that show about rich people with problems. It is so good! It's redefining the genre." That's all great: I love the multiplicity of voices, the labyrinthine plot structures, and the immaculate production design. It's all amazing, really. So many choices at the buffet table to choose from. But my rampant consumption of all of these contemporary wonders hit a snag when I discovered Cozi TV.
Cozi TV is a NBCUniversal channel accessible via digital antenna (it's channel 36-2 here in Austin). Its lineup consists entirely of older, syndicated shows spanning back to the Fifties, but most of its prime-time and late-night programming are shows from the Seventies through the Nineties. And not just any shows from those decades, the shows from those decades. There's Rick and A.J., those private-investigator brothers known as Simon & Simon, a show whose guitar riffing, Southern-rock stomping opening theme just tops Jan Hammer's drum-heavy guitar wah-wah of another Cozi staple, Miami Vice (the less said about the Quantum Leap theme, the better). But The Rockford Files takes the theme-song award, hands down. Then there are those opening strings of Murder, She Wrote, once again reminding me that Jessica Fletcher (the nosiest fictional character in existence) will be poking around the murder capital of the world, Cabot Cove, Maine. Cozi can be a pretty heavy dose of nostalgia for anyone who came of age in the latter quarter of the 20th century, and it is my heroin. Often (always), I'll leave the TV on in the living room while I'm working in my office; just hearing the callbacks to my youth in the background spiritually replenishes me.
It's not all gold in those Cozi hills, though. If I never have to sit through an episode of Little House on the Prairie again, I'll die happy, because who wants to watch a family of 19th-century farmers get repeatedly shamed by their town and kicked in the head by a horse's hoof? And don't get me started on The Danny Thomas Show. That guy is a grade-A jerk. But that's just taste talking.
I understand this might not be everyone's cup of tea, and I couldn't care less. Rediscovering how brilliantly innovative The Avengers was, or how subtly amazing Peter Falk is in Columbo (alternatively: how boring Quincy, M.E. actually is) strengthens my soul. The dots aren't too difficult to connect: Many of these shows I was exposed to in a happier, sun-dappled past, so it's no wonder the nostalgic overload is addicting. I recall making the series premiere of Miami Vice appointment television for my whole family, only to have my uncle proclaim, after it was over: "They're just ripping off Starsky & Hutch." I wondered if we had both watched the same show, because I was mesmerized – I was also 13 years old at the time. But that's what TV does; it mines nostalgia, morphs it, and makes it something else (cf. that one Netflix show people like). It's a long, endless line of wonderful templates, evolving and devolving. Knight Rider wasn't the first show with a talking car.
And, as I occasionally have to defend my viewing habits with friends and colleagues, I'm reminded of an outlook I picked up some years ago: There's nothing guilty about your guilty pleasures. Own them, love them, and don't apologize for them. The only thing guilty around here is probably that dude who just rolled into town, acting shifty at the diner. But don't worry, Angela Lansbury is on the case.