When Television Was King

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  • Whenever batch mates from high school would attend reunions, we would always reminisce about the good old days. And what mattered to most of us all those years ago was getting home from school in time to watch our favourite TV show.

    I belong to that generation that grew up watching television, the so-called lost generation that learned how to read, write and add from watching child-friendly shows like Sesame Street and the Electric Company. Before having breakfast we would wake up early on Saturday mornings to watch the Saturday Fun Machine which aired on RPN Channel 9.

    After spending five days in school, Saturday meant we could spend most of the day in front of the TV screen. It was the weekend and there was no need to study our lessons or do our homework until the following day, Sunday, when we would have to sleep early in the evening for the start of another week of school.

    Back in the 1970s, television sets were not the streamlined, slim flat screens we are all familiar with today. Instead of Samsung and Sony, we had Zenith and Hitachi, with monitors resembling those seen in the old sci-fi Star Trek series, complete with a pair of antenna a la My Favourite Martian.

    It was a real luxury back then being able to stay at home during weekends and watch what the channels had to offer to us avid viewers. Back then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were only five channels to choose from: channels 2, 4, 7, 9 and 13. Cable television and UHF didn’t exist yet. Mornings would begin with various movie trailers of Filipino, American and Hong Kong movies.

    After the movie trailers, the variety shows would quickly follow. Through the years we have seen so many variety shows, hosts and guest hosts that it has been a blur: Student Canteen, Lunch Date, Kalatog Pinggan and the variety show institution Eat… Bulaga! Watching the noontime shows that are aired today is like getting stuck in a time warp. The more time passes by, the more things stay the same.

    Early afternoons welcomed you with black-and-white Tagalog movies that are now considered real gems. I get goose bumps when I remember watching a young Fernando Poe, Jr. in the monster movie Anak ng Bulkan which had a giant eagle named Golyat. Manang Biday and Manang Waray fought it out while Darna, featuring the young Vilma Santos, took it out on the Planet Women. Dolphy was the undisputed King of Comedy back then, and Vic Silayan and Pancho Magalona were timeless matinee idols.

    Early evenings began with those regular weepers, soap operas that everybody loved to watch, Anna Lisa on channel 7 and Flor de Luna on channel 9. Then my Mom and Dad would come home from work at the PAGASA and Dad would take his place in front of the television set to watch the evening news.

    Back then, I remember that the evening news telecast started in prime time because they came on at 7:30 p.m. Tina Monzon-Palma was the anchorwoman of GMA-7’s newscast, while Harry Gasser led the Newswatch on RPN-9. Right now, the newscasts on television has just gotten earlier and earlier.

    Primetime was such an exciting time for us kids way back then. Channel 7 had a monopoly on all the latest foreign TV shows, one for each day. The A-Team with George Peppard and Mr. T aired on Mondays with their McGyver-like improvisations and comedic routines. Knight Rider was another all-time favourite when David Hasselhoff still wore a shirt. You could watch Lee Majors doing his routines as a stuntman on The Fall Guy on channel 7 and in reruns of the Six Million Dollar Man on another channel. There were also flashes of The Love Boat and Charlie’s Angels.

    Channel 13 had the monopoly on primetime Filipino shows back then, and they had some really funny ones. There was the gang of goof-ups of Wanbol High on Iskul Bukol and there was the great gag show T.O.D.A.S., Television’s Outrageous Delightful All-Star Show. And they had a really long-running sitcom in Chicks to Chicks, which eventually became Chika Chika Chicks after moving to channel 2. It featured the personas of Ines Capistrano (Nova Villa) and Jimmy Capistrano (a post-basketball Freddie Webb) and made Carmi Martin a staple of showbiz.

    Channel 9 had two memorable comedy shows in Duplex and in Noel Trinidad and Subas Herrero’s musical gag show Champoy while several of Webb’s buddies in the PBA had their shot at TV viewership away from the hardcourt on the silly sitcom Prrt… Foul!

    Sunday mornings featured Jeanne Young on Spin-A-Win where you could agree or disagree before DJ Hillbilly Willy played the next song. Also airing was German Moreno’s extravagant pseudo-vaudeville shows on channel 7, and the evenings were ruled by the PBA games, Nora Aunor’s long-running Superstar and Sunday’s Big Event, the prototype for big TV outlets for movies.

    Television is said to be a mirror of the lives we live, distilling reality in the so-called idiot box. Despite all of the trash one can watch these days, TV still offers some terrific and intelligent alternatives, like most of the TV programs we grew up with. Television, then as now, is not always a lobotomizing experience, unless you keep watching brainless TV shows like Beavis and Butt-head. With proper parental supervision, you can discover for yourself just how helpful TV can be to learning without going overboard.

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