Television has always played a big part in my life. As a kid in the 60s, I was always up bright and early on Saturday mornings, parked in front of the television with a big bowl of Trix balanced on my still-pajamaed little legs. On Friday evenings, I'd watch The Wild Wild West with my Mom and, on Sundays, everyone's family would tune in to Ed Sullivan. Mondays brought The Monkees followed by Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Tuesday nights were filled with Red Skelton's variety show and Doris Day's sitcom (if I was allowed to stay up until 9:30). Wednesday offered the action-packed camp of Batman, with another episode on Thursday on the same "Bat-channel" at the same "Bat-time."
When the mod 70s came along, ABC presented a Friday night line-up that I still remember vividly — The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, That Girl (and later The Odd Couple) with Love American Style as the grand finale. My Dad loved All in the Family, although he was convinced it was a documentary. Later, programs like Happy Days and Marcus Welby MD were not to be missed.
Guess what? Thanks to cable networks like MeTV and Antenna TV, I still watch many of these shows from my youth. These shows were simply shot, with uncomplicated plots and mediocre acting. The jokes weren't great and the sets were used and reused from one show to another. And I still love them. They remind me of a good time in my life, when my biggest worry was finishing a book report and a weekend trip to the shore was a grand vacation.
However, I'm a bit disturbed by the commercials that are shown on these nostalgic networks. Because I am more than just a casual watcher, I get to see many of the commercials over and over. (I guess the advertisers got a really good deal or maybe they don't get that many advertisers. It's hard to tell.) I see commercials for ambulance-chasing lawyers promising to get huge sums in compensation for those who have been wronged by something called a "transvaginal mesh." (I don't think I'm eligible.) There are spots for medical providers who can get hydrophilic catheters delivered discreetly to my home. (I don't think I need that.) And, of course, there are a plethora of invitations to apply for a reverse mortgage. All of these products and services have one thing in common: their target audience is old.
It started when I saw a commercial with some white-haired old guy hawking the life-saving benefits of a reverse mortgage. (I still have no idea how a reverse mortgage works, but it sounds shifty and it seems like they are preying upon desperate, easily-confused old people.) Upon closer inspection, I was alarmed to discover that the old guy was none other than Henry Winkler, AKA "The Fonz," the leather-jacketed King of Cool from Happy Days. Yeesh, Fonzie! Really?!? He was no longer the svelte tough guy who could start a jukebox with a well-placed rap of his fist or attract a bevy of gorgeous chicks with a mere snap of his fingers. He was a paunchy geezer with Sansabelt® pants and a head full of gray hair in dire need of a haircut.
Later, a matronly woman seated by a crackling fireplace delivered a heartfelt plea about the virtues of securing a burial plot, so the task wouldn't be a burden to your family. A few prerecorded testimonials were afforded by several elderly couples before returning to the solemn-looking woman continuing the pitch by the blazing hearth. To my horror, the woman was Morgan Fairchild, the ubiquitous TV bombshell famous for her shapely figure, surgically-pointed nose and impenetrable hair helmet. Now, here she was — not sipping a cocktail on the Lido Deck of the Love Boat — but comfortably fuzzy in a sensible, cable-knit cardigan, extolling the upside of pre-purchasing my grave.
That's when it hit me. The advertisers were using spokespeople to whom their target audience could relate. Here were two icons from my TV watching heyday. Had I become the target audience for these products?
When did Fonzie and Morgan become old people? And did I get old right along with them?