Weekend Assignment #242: Back to TV Land

Karen is firing up the Wayback Machine for a trip to TV Land with this Assignment:

Weekend Assignment #242: Local television used to feature lots of kids’ shows and late night movies, often featuring a colorful local host. Share a memory of local TV of yesteryear.

During my childhood, I lived in Fairfield County, Connecticut, less than an hour’s drive from New York City (traffic being favorable, that is). Most of the TV stations we picked up broadcasted from New York. My town had one AM-radio station of its own, and no television. If atmospheric conditions were right, we might get signals from stations in our own state (New Haven sometimes, and occasionally from Hartford), but the New York stations were more powerful, in more ways than one.

The thing that strikes me now is that when your “local” TV stations are in a Major Media Market – a concept defined by New York City – it can be hard to know what’s truly “local” TV, except for the news. And when you’re being raised outside of New York City by parents who are natives of New York City, it can be really challenging for a kid to grasp that the world centered on NYC isn’t really the whole world.

This is a roundabout way of saying I don’t remember very much in the way of locally-hosted TV shows or movies when I was a kid. I know there was a host for the “Dialing for Dollars” movies, but I didn’t usually watch them and have no idea who it was. Most of the TV I watched as a kid was reruns, game shows, and cartoons. My sister and I did watch Wonderama on Channel 5 whenever we could on Sunday mornings. For years, I wasn’t sure whether that was a local NYC show or not, since I rarely met anyone from outside the Tri-State are (NY/NJ/CT) who had ever heard of it; as it turns out, it originated from New York, but it was only broadcast there and in five other cities (one of which was LA, which explains why my SoCal native husband and brother-in-law remember it too), so I’m going to count is as local.

We watched the show during “the Bob McAllister years,” which are nicely detailed in Wonderama‘s Wikipedia entry. I actually remembered most of the segments mentioned, including the tunes to the goofy songs, and we used to have fun dancing along during “Wonderama A-Go-Go” (re-named “Disco City” in the mid-’70’s), which was like American Bandstand for kids. I never knew about those goody bags for the audience, though – considering all the junk food in there, good thing they threw in a toothbrush!

When my family moved to the Tampa Bay area in 1977, we lost Wonderama, and we definitely lost Major Media Market status as well. I was 13 then, and pretty well past kids’ TV anyway. But I do wish I’d had the soft spot for absurdity, camp, and really cheap/bad moviemaking then that I have now, because then I might have appreciated Creature Feature more. I think quite a few local stations had a showcase for drive-in-type horror movies that ran with that title, actually; we’d even had one in New York, but it wasn’t hosted. St. Petersburg’s edition, which ran on Saturday afternoons on Channel 44, was hosted by Dr. Paul Bearer. He also made personal appearances at the city Halloween carnival, but the only really scary thing about him was his bad puns, like his signoff, “I’ll be lurking for you!”

(On a related note, I’m hoping that if Tall Paul does this assignment, he’ll write about the local horror-movie host he remembers – Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Yes, that Elvira. She got her start here in LA. Where else would she come from, really?)

If you have any recollections about TV shows from your childhood – particularly the local variety, and the cheesier the better – I’d love to hear about them!

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  1. I think I remember Wonderama from my early childhood (lived in Pelham, NY before moving to DC when I was 8). Is that the one where the audience sings “Kids are people too” at the end?

  2. Heh. I love the name “Paul Bearer.” And you’re right, of course, about the major media markets. I”ve never lived in or very near one, but even their local stuff seem to have a huge impact on the rest of the country, especially their local talent, who often make the jump to network.

  3. Kate – It absolutely is (or was)! You were probably watching it on Channel 5 too :-).

    Kathy (Bermudaonion) – My parents had some restrictions on our TV watching, and even now I rarely just have the TV on in the background – I’m watching something specific, or else it’s off. It’s probably part of why I love to read too, but I think the example of my reading parents is a bigger factor.

    KFB – Yeah, that name always cracked me up, but then my weakness for the punny is well-documented. And having lived in both the NYC and LA media markets, it really does seem like local TV in those areas is at a higher standard (unless it’s on public-access cable, which is cheesy everywhere).

  4. I thought I commented on this already. I must have done something wrong.

    We kind of had the same thing here near Chicago. Though we did have a couple of local channels, but they mostly played reruns of old TV shows or movies. But we had one that did some shows.

    It DOES make sense that Elvira started out in LA. I forgot about her. I’m not sure how. 🙂

  5. Mike – I don’t know how you could forget Elvira either. Tall Paul said he used to watch her for her awful jokes. Uh-huh.

    Well, you grew up in a Major Media Market too, so it makes sense that your local TV was kind of similar to what I remember.

  6. Other than the news on TV, I don’t recall any local shows being airred in the places I lived. Local broadcast was usually left for re-runs of older television shows and movies. There probably was something, but I’m drawing a complete blank.

  7. Wendy (Literary Feline) – I think that this sort of local programming has been dying out over the last 20 to 25 years or so…and you’re younger than I am :-).