Pop culture critics usually define “the golden age” of television as between the years of 1947 to 1967, but everybody has their own ideas about when TV was truly at its best. A new DVD set, Watch Around The Clock: In Color, advertises itself as being not only a “TV time capsule complete with an authentic broadcast experience”, but also “a full broadcast day from television’s golden age”. It consists of over 24 hours of cartoons, movies, TV shows, and commercials, and is packaged in a brightly colored box that’s reminiscent of ’50s-era advertising, complete with a booklet designed to look like a vintage TV listings magazine or newspaper insert.
The whole idea of this being a day in the life of a television station several decades ago is further set forth by the disc’s menus, which arrange the shows and movies into actual hourly slots. But despite the lack of historical accuracy (its most recent show comes from 1975, when it was still rare for a television network to broadcast 24 hours a day.), this DVD set does offer an interesting look at our pop culture past.
In this alternate reality, the day starts at 6AM, with an hour’s worth of Popeye cartoons. The next six hours, referred to in the packaging as “Kid’s Clubhouse”, mostly consist of the type of cartoons low budget TV stations used to use to fill space in the holes of their schedule. All that’s missing is the local host (usually a clown or somebody in a vaguely military-esque uniform) and station-specific ads.
While some of these selections don’t have much to offer adult viewers (Wacky & Packy particularly sticks out as being very simple and boring), and six straight hours of cartoons is excessive in anyone’s book, it does show just how inventive and diverse kids’ cartoons used to be. In 2017, we have at least half a dozen networks devoted to nothing but animated children’s programs, but they all seem to blend together in several different animated styles and plot types, not to mention the often pesky problem of over-explaining simple plot details or feeling the need to be educational or teach some sort of valuable life lesson. Instead, these cartoons, especially the stellar, Hoppity Hooper (which came from the same wickedly clever minds behind The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends), merely exist to entertain. Other included cartoons, like the early stop-motion claymation of Gumby (a precursor to many Rankin/Bass holiday specials) or Clutch Cargo‘s oft-maligned storyboards-with-moving-lips tech (later used for skits with celebrity photographs and impersonators on Late Night With Conan O’Brien), show how the limitations of technology and low budgets pushed their creators into artistic directions that would inspire the creators of future TV shows and movies.
Next up is six hours of “Daytime Variety”, which cops out on the concept by merely including the animated 1939 Fleischer Studio version of Gulliver’s Travels and three made-for-tv movies (The Borrowers, Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, and The Over-The-Hill Gang). It should be noted that the “sister” compilation of this set, Watch Around The Clock, which contains black-and-white offerings from the ’50s and ’60s, fills these time slots with various game shows instead. Chances are, any of these movies will be aired on one of your local movie TV channels at least once this month, and likely with a better picture and sound than available here (None of the selections on these discs have been digitally remastered or restored.) Still, it continues the concept, as these could have been likely candidates for random afternoon TV viewing in the mid-’70s.
“Prime-Time Favorites” is a hodge-podge that mostly consists of westerns (as that now-rarely seen, non-existent on network TV genre was still very popular at this point in history) and sitcoms, with only a lone episode of Mannix representing anything in the detective procedural/drama variety. But what’s really interesting about these selections is that successful, well-known TV series like The Lone Ranger (presented here in its fifth season) and The Lucy Show, are sandwiched in-between the failed, one-season-and-done shows that were canceled due to low ratings. People today often only see the best of any given decade, so not only is it rare to see what viewers rejected but also insightful. So here we have single episodes of 1958 Australian importLong John Silver (apparently “pirate shows” is a TV genre that never really took off), 1955’s Judge Roy Bean (which tried to rewrite its historically harsh character and times in an unrealistically family-friendly light), the Tim Conway-starring Rango (Western-sitcoms are another rarely-successfully TV trope), and Dusty’s Trail, a Gilligan’s Island rip-off featuring Bob Denver and Alan Hale Jr., but set during The Oregon Trail.
Finally, the evening ends with even more movies. The Last Time I Saw Paris, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and The Proud Rebel are listed under “Midnight Movie Marathon”, and are a pretty good approximation of the types of movies that would be found on TV late at night during the mid-’70s. Again, these movies still frequently air in better quality prints on various movie-based networks, but the included commercials do make for an interesting bonus.
We now live in a time when people pay a premium for the ability to fast-forward or skip ads when watching video content, but back in the ’70s, commercials were virtually unavoidable and thus expected to be memorable and entertaining. Children even looked forward to seeing some ads, because they either featured beloved characters (such as Quisp, the cereal-loving alien from the planet Q, or Peanuts‘ Snoopy eating sandwiches on Hart’s bread) or showed them new toys that were available in stores.
Some of these commercials even serve as a better time capsule of what life was like during these times than the shows they interrupt. For example, classic spots for toys like the G.I. Joe, Slinky, Barbie, and others are featured alongside spots for cleaning products and dinner ideas, because it was not only assumed that a mother was at home during the daytime, but also that she was also keeping an eye on whatever her child was watching. During the evening, a public service message from the American Heart Association warning about the damaging effects of smoking is bookended by two ads for cigarettes, both advertising a “cool, refreshing” experience.
Written in small letters on the back of the box (and not mentioned at all on the product’s official website), is an especially cool bonus feature: a bonus DVD. Holiday TV Classics: Volume Two contains about five and a half hours of Christmas-themed episodes of The Adventures Of Ozzie and Harriet, The Colgate Comedy Hour, Petticoat Junction, The Paul Winchell Show, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Red Skelton Show, and Family Doctor. These episodes are all in black-and-white and don’t feature any vintage commercials, but it’s still a really nice addition to the set. (You could even set this disc up to run on a TV set to a low volume in the background as a high-tech Christmas decoration at parties.)
Chances are, if you have access to a lot of nostalgia-based TV networks (MeTV, Retro, and AntennaTV come to mind), or if you already have a considerably large collection of vintage TV shows on DVD, then you’re probably familiar with the offerings on Watch Around The Clock: In Color. However, if you only have fond memories of the ’70s, or are just interested in its various vintage programs, then this set is a rather reasonably priced crash course in what the TV landscape was like at the time.