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Cathode ode


There's been an addition to the Observatory lately, one that's so old, it's new again to us — broadcast television.

How, you ask, could The Observer not possess the ultimate machine of observation in our own home? It was a matter of attrition. After the changeover of the broadcast signal to digital last decade, our big ol' black box with the chrome rabbit ears on top couldn't receive TV channels anymore (thanks, Obama!). But it was still fine for watching our library of movies and shows on DVD, and, yes, videocassette. So, we coasted for a few years in self-imposed TV broadcast isolation. And though we missed our local channels, there was always something to watch when the mood struck.

The pity family and friends would offer upon seeing our Century 20-era TV, with all its boldly jutting angles, its secret corduroy contours and its ample antiquated girth, was actually touching. One would think we'd taken in a disfigured pet off the street. Eventually, we moved our box of shame to a back room where we could enjoy our aging formats sans sideways glance.

Finally, a family member gifted The Observer with a digital televisual appliance from the near-modern day — one with a screen that doesn't need to zoom out some two feet from the wall (where'd all that inside stuff go?). Dad, you see, had moved on to an ever-thinner, yet still bigger, TV, like the rest of the USA. Like three-fourths of Americans, he also pays for cable TV. But as for us, with the acquisition of a digital TV, we went straight for the digital antenna, aka rabbit ears, aka "free TV," just like we had before the changeover.

Even with the lesser amount of available over-the-air stations compared to cable, there's still so much to observe, and there are still enough channels to do satisfying surfing. There's the AETN channels (which we could live on alone), the local LR network channels and, most intriguingly, the offshoot channels that show old network shows and cheapo movies.

Some nights, it's just comforting to watch Johnny Carson rip Ronnie Reagan a new one instead of laughing through gritted teeth at Stephen Colbert attempting to gain some traction of truth in the slippery Trumperica slough. Sure, stars begrudgingly plug their projects, but they also indulge in gleeful non sequiturs and read poetry from folded sheets of paper; Jimmy Stewart's magnificently recited "I'm A Movie Camera," for one. Carson's guests from the heartland — the grannies who shoot skeet, the grade-school bird-call experts — also soothe. (Today's homespun slingshot marksmen and country's oldest mail carriers must find their 15 minutes of fame making home videos.)

Sitcoms back in the 1970s and 1980s veered out of their lanes interestingly and often. Maude may get an abortion! Barney Miller confronts excessive force by police! Even Alice, when not waitressing at Mel's Diner, takes on college binge-drinking by son Tommy! Don't even get us started on "Soap." And y'all! Get on the trolley — this Jack Benny fellow is going places. And you read it here first — Ms. Gracie Allen is hilarious.

We've by now spent too much time (or is it just the right amount of time?) in thought about the embedded stereotypes and the production values of "Farmers Only" dating service commercials. Then there's the heartbreaking ASPCA and St. Jude's Children's Hospital commercials where we find ourselves punching in credit card numbers through the tears. (We're pulling for you, adorable St. Jude's spokeskid Alec!)

However, this question remains: How many among us actually have a structured settlement and need cash now? If The Observer ever observed our way into a structured settlement, we'd happily retreat back into amateur observation to make way for another comer. But you'd still be able to find our Observatory at night by the blue glow flickering in the windows here on the Little Rock.


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