You may find this odd but I was a reader of TV Guide long before I owned a television set. Allow me to explain. Back in the nineteen fifties I was a starving art student attending Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. In those days money was tight and we often had to choose whether we would eat lunch or purchase art supplies. On more than one occasion, art supplies trumped lunch. This was simply the reality of being an art student in the fifties. As I made my way home from school each day I would often stop at the local drug store where magazines were sold. I’m not sure, but I think TV Guide came out either Monday or Tuesday of each week and I was always eager to get my hands on the latest copy detailing the upcoming television fare. You see, back in the fifties, television was our mass media. Much like our Internet today, television was our window to the world. The events of the day, be it across the country or around the globe could be seen and heard on television. It’s difficult to explain the impact simple black &white television had on our lives.
Of course, I didn’t own a television set back then. So, why would a young art student be so eager to purchase a magazine that showcased all the shows I would not even be watching? Oddly enough, reading about TV was almost as good as watching television. TV Guide had a clean, crisp editorial style and for its time was a pretty good looking publication. There were often articles and reviews along with synopsis of upcoming episodes of popular shows. Of course, there were the occasional television specials which allowed network executives to coin a word that added splash and dazzle to their presentations. They called their shows, “Spectaculars.” It was corny but American audiences ate it up. So, why was a starving art student reading everything about shows he would never watch? It may sound weird but I gained a certain pleasure reading what others were enjoying on television. Dave Garroway hosted an early morning gabfest on NBC and Steve Allen commanded the desk which would soon become a staple on late night talk shows. Jackie Gleason ruled Saturday night and every Sunday evening, an awkward TV host named Ed Sullivan promised you, “A Really Big Shoo.” Television was a pretty big deal back in the fifties and I didn’t even own a television set. I’m not telling you this to garner any kind of sympathy for a poor, starving art student. Actually, I was quite content doing without such goodies and concentrating on the job at hand. Unlike kids today, I never felt I deserved a television set or anything else for that matter. I was lucky enough to be going to school and that was about as good as it gets. Today, pampered kids can’t live without a cel phone, iPad or the latest Apple laptop. Of course, in their eyes it wouldn’t hurt if dad sprung for a new BMW. After all, Am I supposed to take a bus to school? Please!
Back in the eighties, Sony developers arrived at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank to show off their amazing new technology. Technology that was at least a decade away and couldn’t be implemented because broadcasting (in America, at least) was still analog. However, what we witnessed was jaw dropping spectacular. On view were large flat screens and pictures so high in quality we felt as though we were viewing images through an open window. “This is where television is headed,” Sony informed us. “Once digital becomes the norm, your television viewing will never be the same.” Today, a good deal of those eighties promises have finally come true and we view high definition, flat screen television transmission with the same casualness we gave cheesy, analog, images decades ago.
I was once a fifties, starving art student unable to afford a television set, but all that has changed. I now have more television sets than I know what to do with, and I eagerly consume media using an ever growing host of digital devices. The once exciting format and brisk editorial style of TV Guide no longer thrills me, and the new, larger format is a bore. But, I’ve not forgotten my weekly visits to the magazine store back in the fifties. The latest issue of TV Guide was on the shelf and I considered this the greatest little television magazine in the world.