In recent weeks, the classic TV world lost performers who created two of the most influential characters in the genre:
Tom Bosley, who played Howard Cunningham (a.k.a. Mr. C on Happy Days) (ABC, 1973-1984) and Barbara Billingsley, who portrayed June Cleaver on Leave It To Beaver (CBS, ABC, 1957-63).
In view of the massive media reports of their demise, from the four main broadcast television netorks, to Time Magazine, it was clear just how imbedded in our society - and in our combined psyches - these TV personalities (the actors plus their characters) had become.
No, Happy Days and Leave It To Beaver did not display reality. The 1950s and early 1960s (Days was set in the 50s and Beaver was filmed in 60s) were far from happy days. And families like the Cunninghams and the Cleavers, or for that matter, Robert Young and Jane Wyatt's Jim and Margaret Anderson from Father Knows Best (CBS, NBC, ABC, 1954-1963, did not exist. These thoughtful and entertaining programs did not showcase how families really were or are - but they certainly continue (in reruns and DVD form) to present how they should and could be.
In my reality, I was blessed to have a beautiful family. I grew up in the inner-city of Rochester, New York in a lower middle-class neighborhood. My Mom and Dad stay married - and when they became elderly, I served as their primary caregiver. Growing up, our relationship was far from perfect, and when the roles reversed, and I became THEIR parent, our relationship did not become any less challenging.
But it was rewarding.
Every second of it.
And that's the message that those like Tom Bosley's Mr. C and Barbara Billingley's Mrs. Cleaver leave behind:
Love and family, with its ups and downs, is far from perfect, as with everything in life. But when the interaction between family members is earnestly realistic (which Father Knows Best really did do best, more so than Happy Days and Leave It To Beaver), and when there is space allowed for a margin of error, the result is always rewarding.
I don't know anyone from y generation whose life, while growing up, was ever like Happy Days (certainly not the first few seasons, when it was a calmer, sweet little show, filmed without an audience), Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best.
And I certainly don't know of any new family today - in this complicated, cynical and edgy existence (on or off TV) - who has a flawless, TV-kind of family.
But the charming presence of Tom Bosley's Mr. C and Barbara Billingsley's Mrs. Cleaver, neck pearls and all, offer hope, just like they did on their first runs. They made a difference in the lives of millions of viewers around the world, for years in the past - and they will continue to do so, forever in reruns, for years yet to be.
And if even just one "TV child," like myself and so many others, is able to learn a little bit more compassion, or kindness, or to remain that more "hopeful" because of watching a sweetly idealized family TV show that presented sweetly-idealized TV parents, well, then...wer'e all the better for it.