Tuesday, July 13th, 1999
Ah, I remember it all as if it were a flashback…
For those of us for whom Nick at Nite and TV Land are indeed repositories of TV memories (as opposed to watching something your parents watched just because it’s like, you know, retro), the past is so crisp I gotta wear shades.
Have I mentioned we don’t have cable? That of course makes it all the more special when I’m traveling and I have an extended chunk of time (usually late in the evening) to plop on a motel room bed and watch these fine, fine channels way into the wee hours.
I especially enjoy TV Land’s interstitial graphics (no, don’t go diving for dictionaries-interstitial means that stuff between programs). Based on road signs and found roadside 60s art, it’s reminiscent of stuff I did a decade ago-but much nicer, and with a budget. And like the programs they surround, they’re so crisp and clean!
That’s also exactly what’s so odd about itand I promise to put my TV-techno-hat on only momentarily to explain. Watching these reruns (and others like the restored original Star Trek on the Sci-Fi Channel), we’re seeing the past much, much clearer than it ever was. These resurrected programs have been re-transferred from their original film to (digital) videotape using equipment that’s simply generations beyond anything they had even at the networks in the 1960s.
So when I Dream of Jeannie first aired on NBC (during that time that shows made the transition to "living color") viewers were actually seeing a shakier, blurrier, smearier version of the image, even more so after it made the trip from a "film chain projector" in New York to your local station and out into the air to land in your enormous RCA Victor color TV. Similarly, the audio came off of film in glorious tinny mono, with fidelity not unlike an AM radio station.
Now when we tune in, say, Dragnet 1968 on TV Land, we see in excruciating detail the cheesiness of the sets, of the makeup, of the bad rear projection, of the obvious stunt doubles in the cars-it’s like getting a new prescription for your glasses. On Lost in Space, you can see the seams in the fake sky just above the cardboard horizon and the wires holding up the Jupiter 2. And since colorful shows sold color TVs, these oldies sure are ultra-colorful. the riot of vivid hues hitting the walls of the 1960s USS Enterprise. (The cinematographer on that show, Gerald Finnerman, went on to win Emmys and Oscars, and really, the show’s lighting is quite beautiful-and completely unrealistic.)
Similarly, these revitalized shows have taken the audio into the digital realm with simulated stereo, and did sneaky digital things to clean up and expand the quality of the sound, just to bring it up to our standards and expectations of present-day (and not even high-definition) television.
All in all, it’s (appropriately) kind of an acid trip experience (especially in a motel room at 2 am): a purified, digitized Petticoat Junction can be almost terrifying in its clarity-and an example of a rememberance of things as they weren’tquite.