Nostalgic cable television programming like that seen on TV Land, Nick at Nite, and to some extent, the Hallmark Channel and TBS, are a hit with the watchers. The generation that worshipped The Brady Bunch and who lived The Wonder Years is fast increasing, and connecting with new generations everyday to become the prevalent consumer.
With large screen adaptations of small screen favorites (i.e. Star Trek) on the rise, the big TV picture is expanding, as is our consciousness of its social ties. Perennial outings like The Bob Newhart Show and I Love Lucy continually find new fans via syndicated reruns. Again and again, archetypal comedies, dramas, action-adventures, mysteries and even musical-variety shows and specials have become learning canals for today's viewer.
While the influence of classic television programs can no longer be denied, questions abound:
Have programs from the past affected the way we live in the present? Have we really learned "what love's got to do with it" from Samantha and Darrin on Bewitched? Have we discovered sincere inner-strength from the "ancient" wisdom introduced to the mainstream viewer through Kung Fu? Are we more tolerant of those who happened to be different because Star Trek made us so?
Channels switch and signals cross, but the focus is clear: We have indeed learned a lot about life from watching classic TV - and we continue to do so.
Maybe yesterday's young television viewers have developed into today's hip parents because they screened the strong results of classic TV parentage, the kind played so entertainingly and effectively by say, Nancy Walker as Mrs. Morgenstern on Rhoda (the 1970s spin-off from that same era's Mary Tyler Moore Show. The pressure was off because such likable performances outweighed the quirkiness of what could have become an unlikable character. The viewer was better prepared to acquire lessons on how not to be a mother from a funny, non-preaching fictional personality, and walk away with an inspirational thought in the process.
The contemporary twentysomething, thirtysomething, fortysomething and fiftysomething Mom and Dad may view a troubled child and subliminally (or consciously) recall the compassion presented on The Donna Reed Show or Family Affair, and ask, "Do you wanna talk about it?"
Classic shows like Father Knows Best, The Bionic Woman, and Perry Mason cater to the highest common denominator in each of us. They encourage family values, scientific and medical education, observational skills, spiritual support, and true friendships.
The Rockford Files, The Odd Couple and The Beverly Hillbillies have it down on how to entertain viewers, while offering balanced and somewhat imbalanced characters in a psychologically-nutritious manner.
It is true that classic TV programs, or any television shows, do not necessarily and/or directly create good (or "bad") behavior in the audience. Yet, with a series like The Waltons, a significant number of viewers may be affected in a positive way and experience the magnification of good-hearted feelings.
How much of an effect past television favorites have on society depends on the amount of power and suggestion that the audience is willing to grant them and which programs they choose to watch. Either way, today's central demographic patron is yesterday's child, long-hungry for a TV era gone-by - especially in these trying times.