Yes, it is possible to get sentimental about a TV set. In fact, it's easy, especially if you think about the family that once sat around it with you.
A recent episode of ABC's "The Wonder Years" had a whole household overcome by the thrill of getting their first color TV set in the early '60s. Kids today, and millions of young adults, think TV was always in color and probably can't imagine getting the least bit excited about it.But the coming of color was indeed a big event for the TV audience of the time. We were just getting over the arrival of television itself. And now came the circusy specter of "living" color. Color TV was a symbol, too, of the American standard of living and the blessings of a beneficent technology. First color television - then, a man on the moon!
Color TV looked different than it does now. Early color cameras required three times as much light as current models do. The color picture seemed electric, blurry and alien - enticingly artificial. Who cared that it didn't look real? It was better than life; it was television. Color sets were different, too. There was no such thing as solid-state electronics, only tubes. So the sets gave off as much heat as a fireplace.
And imagine this - those sets were still Made in the U.S.A.
RCA owned NBC and was the company that pushed hardest to colorize the country. NBC shows were designed to exploit colorfulness - especially the Sunday night Disney hour, whose title was changed to "The Wonderful World of Color" so nobody could possibly miss the point.
Each week the show opened with a kaleidoscopic display of colorful sights like Disney cartoon characters and a flower opening in time-lapse photography and a jungle cat leaping up a tree. An accompanying chorus trilled, "The world is a carousel of color! Wonderful, fabulous color!"
RCA hoped kids would sit in front of lowly old black-and-white sets and moan and groan about how beautiful this would be in color. They would coerce their parents into springing for a set.
One of the first color videotape productions ever made has just been revived by The Disney Channel. "An Evening with Fred Astaire," aired by NBC in 1958, won a slew of Emmys and led to two more glittering Astaire specials.
Technicians at the UCLA Film and Television Archive worked long hours to return the Astaire tape to its original luster. Modern tape machines had to be modified so they could accept the antique. Painstakingly restored, the show is now available in color to millions more families than could have seen it in color the first time it aired, when color sets still were scarce.
The best time of year to have color TV was, of course, Christmas. Football games weren't in color yet, nor was most live coverage of news events. But when the holidays came around, the networks would televise seasonal "spectaculars" on which color ran riot. The Tournament of Roses Parade from Pasadena on New Year's Day was the climax.
Annual telecasts of "The Wizard of Oz" probably did a lot to sell color sets, too. It was no kick if Dorothy opened the door of her relocated home to find an Oz in the same shades of gray as Kansas.
TV colorcasts of the '50s were topped by "Peter Pan" on NBC. You don't have to look hard to find baby boomers who look back on "Peter Pan" as one of the biggest vicarious thrills of their youth.
We believed a boy could fly. In fact we believed a middle-aged woman impersonating a boy could fly, at least if the woman was Mary Martin. Unfortunately for generations then unborn, pod-heads at NBC later erased the tape, and it's believed that no good color copy of "Peter Pan" remains.
Back at the dawn of color TV, my grandfather took one look at it and pronounced it a failure. He said the people all had orange faces and that the colors didn't look real. Exactly. That was one of the best things about it.
You turned on the set and you opened the window on a richer, brighter world. Reds were redder and blues were bluer, and boys could fly. Color TV couldn't be more commonplace now, but when it first appeared, it couldn't have been more magical. These were wonder years indeed.