When I was four, all was peaceful on the television front. It might be hard to imagine in a 500 channel universe, but in our small town we could only get one station. It was CKVR Barrie and it broadcast CBC programs in glorious black and white. My brother Jay and I happily watched The Friendly Giant, Howdy Doody and The Last of the Mohicans — whatever was on. And we got along remarkably well.
Then, when I was five, we moved to Toronto. The first time mom turned on the television we got a big surprise. There were six channels including three stations from a mysterious, wonderful place called Buffalo!
Suddenly American shows were inundating our living room: Bonanza, Andy Griffith and The Flintstones to name just a few.
In the mornings I’d get up extra early, long before my brother did, so I could watch Rocketship 7. Hosted by Dave Thomas and Promo the Robot, they showed cartoons and taught astronomy. Children would call in and play for prizes which were hidden behind the planets.
Sadly, only Buffalo area residents were allowed to enter so I could only dream about winning a bike. One of the sponsors was Marshmallow Fluff. If you mixed it together with peanut butter it created something magical known as a “fluffernutter.” Mom asked about marshmallow fluff at the grocery store but it wasn’t available in Canada. My sorrow was almost Dickensian. Buffalonians were the luckiest people in the whole wide world!
I loved American TV. There was only one problem: Jay and I had vastly different tastes. When I wanted to watch The Flintstones, he insisted on stupid Daniel Boone. When any reasonable person would have picked The Andy Griffith Show, he’d irrationally switch the channel to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. That’s when the yelling would start.
A few seconds later we’d hear my dad’s heavy footsteps on the stairs. We knew if we weren’t quiet by the time he reached the top stair, it would be prudent to purchase extended health care benefits. That’s because dad would start taking off his belt.
Suddenly The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t seem so bad after all. You may think I capitulated because I was afraid of punishment. Hardly. I was just trying to save my dad the ignominy of having his pants fall down.
Finally, one Saturday night, we reached critical mass. Jay and I were vociferously arguing about whether we’d watch the infinitely superior Gilligan’s Island or Kentucky Jones, a show only “big, dumb, stupid heads” would watch.
This time the belt was off and dad meant business. Just then mom came in. “I’m sick of you boys arguing and constantly changing the station,” she said flipping the channels for effect. When she got to channel seven she stopped. “Oh goodness, look,” she whispered, “I had no idea Lawrence Welk was on. Let’s watch.”
Of all the suffering that could be imposed on young children, including corporal punishment, there was none so painful as The Lawrence Welk Show. Dad put his belt back on.
From then on mom watched Lawrence Welk every Saturday night. There was no more Gilligan’s Island or Kentucky Jones. Subsequently, Jay and I agreed to stop arguing about television. After all, mom didn’t know what time Perry Como or Andy Williams were on. Best keep it that way.