By Guest Columnist BO HIERS, a semi-retired marketing officer in the reinsurance industry and super-proud grandfather of his beloved grandson, Fletcher
There’s no point arguing, so don’t even try. The 1960s was hands-down the best decade ever for quality television, and it’s not even close.
I know this to be true because I grew up watching 1960s television, and never since have I been more consistently entertained night after night. And just think, I was not watching those amazing shows of yesteryear on a 65-inch High-Def plasma TV. No, sir. Those shows were mostly viewed on a 27-inch Zenith console, which turned out to be way more furniture than television screen. Not only that, but the first half of the decade didn’t even offer color television, at least not for us. Here’s my point – the shows were so stellar, none of that mattered.
To prove my point – let’s only focus on shows that aired in the ‘60s containing the word “The” in their title. For brevity’s sake, I’ll only include a baker’s dozen of such shows, but just know the true list is as long as it is impressive: The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch, The Big Valley, The Carol Burnett Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The F.B.I., The Jackie Gleason Show, The Lucy Show, The Tonight Show, The Twilight Zone, and The Wonderful World of Disney.
Still skeptical? Let’s take a random night of the week, say Sunday, and dial up the Way Back Machine to see what was available. Well, what do you know! Three of the most iconic shows in television history aired on Sundays in the ‘60s – The Wonderful World of Disney, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Bonanza, arguably the greatest Western of all-time.
Well, you say, what about cool detective shows airing in the ‘60s? Here are 11 classics right off the bat, and I’m barely trying: 77 Sunset Strip, Dragnet, Hawaii Five-O, Ironside, Mannix, Mission Impossible, Perry Mason, The Fugitive, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Mod Squad, and The Untouchables.
I’ve already referenced several time-honored situation comedies, but it would be criminal to leave out these classics: Bewitched, F Troop, Get Smart, Gilligan’s Island, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., Green Acres, Hogan’s Heroes, I Dream of Jeannie, Mr. Ed, My Three Sons, Leave It to Beaver, Petticoat Junction and That Girl.
Hold on! I haven’t even mentioned the following iconic shows: Adam-12, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, American Bandstand, Bat Masterson, Ben Casey, Cheyenne, Daniel Boone, Dark Shadows, Gunsmoke, Julia, Lost in Space, Maverick, Rawhide, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, The Smothers Brothers, Wagon Train and 60 Minutes.
I have vivid memories of my dad lugging home our new color television in the mid-60s. It was a Friday night in our home in Druid Hills, and the entire family was gathered around the new TV. It felt like Christmas Eve at the Hiers home, and we were all getting the coolest new toy ever – a color television set! The possibilities were endless. Imagine our disappointment when my dad turned the new TV on, and Batman and Robin were standing in a very black-and white bat cave.
But not to worry! My dad pressed a magical “AFT” button on the Zenith, and Voila! The bat cave was instantly transformed into a showcase of amazing colors, and my new plan for the entire weekend was to never leave the television set.
I’ll share one more vivid memory of ‘60s television, only this one was far less pleasant. As a matter of fact, it was terrifying, and it’s all Alfred Hitchcock’s fault. In an episode of his television series entitled “Final Escape”, a prisoner makes a bargain with a gravedigger: “Bust me out of jail in one of your coffins, and I’ll pay you a hefty cash reward.” I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
Everything, that’s what! The elderly gravedigger suffers a fatal heart attack just outside the prison walls, and the prisoner is buried alive. The last scene of the prisoner clawing at the coffin while screaming is still terrifyingly etched in my mind. Come to think of it, I’ve been generally on edge ever since, and especially wary of elderly men carrying shovels.
When I think of ‘60s TV, I still think of all the legendary sayings that stick with us to this day. For what’s it worth, here’s my Top Twelve:
- “Just the facts, ma’am.” Detective Joe Friday
- “Oh, Rob!” Laura Petrie
- “There’s a sign post up ahead. Next stop – The Twilight Zone”. Rod Serling (cue the creepy music)
- “I know nothing.” Sergeant Shultz
- “Book ‘em, Danno.” Steve McGarrett
- “How sweet it is!” Jackie Gleason
- “Danger, Will Robinson.” Robot
- “Lucy, I’m home!” Ricky Ricardo
- “Nip it! Nip it in the bud!” Barney Fife
- “Missed it by that much.” Maxwell Smart, Agent 86
- “Beam me up, Scottie.” – Captain James Kirk
- “Sha-zam!” Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
I started watching 1960s television as a first grader and was still watching in ‘69, when I entered my sophomore class in high school. I certainly get the argument that almost everyone will say the decade they grew up in would be the best-ever for television. And, thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, there’s no way ‘60s television can compete with the sheer volume of today’s programming, not with over 200 available shows on any given night.
But in terms of quality television, the ‘60s were hands-down the best decade for television ever. And if you have a problem with that, you can take it up with my talking horse, Mr. Ed.