Color TV ~ By Allen Kopp
In the early 1960s everybody wanted a color TV, but few people had them. They were expensive and, in the small town where we lived, not easy to get. You had to pay a nonrefundable deposit of twenty-five dollars to get your name on a waiting list to purchase one, which might take six months to a year, depending on how fast the dealer could get them from the factory. And, even if you had a color set, you were still going to be watching black-and-white TV most of the time because there were only three shows on in color. When you think of the early years of color TV, you think of The Wonderful World of Disney and Bonanza on Sunday nights and Hazel in the middle of the week. (I was never able to understand the appeal of Bonanza, in color or black and white.)
Color TV was so much to be desired that Woolworth’s offered a low-cost (cheap) solution to those who wanted a color set but, for whatever reason, didn’t have one. For one dollar, the lucky shopper could have the illusion of color TV with a cheesy little item that was essentially a sheet of plastic with three bands of horizontal colors; the top band was blue to represent the sky; the middle band green for trees or grass; the bottom band brown for the ground. You attached this sheet of plastic over your black-and-white TV screen with adhesive and, if you squinted hard enough, almost closing your eyes, you might have been able to convince yourself you were watching color TV. Of course, if you were watching indoor scenes where you don’t see the sky, trees or the ground, the colors didn’t make much sense, but who’s to quibble with such innovation? Our next-door neighbors had one of these things and their cat, apparently not liking it, shredded it with his claws.
My grandparents were the first to have a real color TV. They were modestly well off and had only themselves to look after, so they bought themselves a top-of-the-line model. It was a squat metal cube with a twenty-four-inch screen with rounded corners. It sat on four spindly legs canted outward, making it look like a Martian spaceship that had landed on earth. If we were ever at their house on one of the nights that a color show was on, we were thrilled (well, I was, anyway) to see TV in color. It was a real novelty. It didn’t matter what the show was; its being in color was the thing that made it cry out to be seen. I could tell everybody about it at school the next day and watch their grimaces of envy.
As thrilling and desirable as color TV was, though, it wasn’t without its problems. The color had to be adjusted every time the TV was turned on. This meant bending over and fiddling with knobs to try to get the color just right. With one knob you adjusted the color of the color. You waited for a face to appear on the screen and then turned the knob until the face was as close to the color of flesh as possible, which turned out to be about the color of baloney. With another knob you adjusted how much color you wanted. Did you want the color to look like it was just barely color, or did you want it to jump out at you in a blatant, unnatural way whenever you entered the room?
By the mid-to-late sixties, everything on TV was in color, so it was no longer the novelty that it once was; it was just one more thing to take for granted like electric lights and the internal combustion engine. TV technology improved, of course, but it would still be many years before we had more than three (five at the most) choices of what to watch. We had a channel for each of the three broadcast networks, an “educational” channel that had shows about such things as blue babies and dentistry, and one “independent” channel that was fuzzy all the time because it had a “weak signal” but had the huge advantage of showing The Three Stooges every weekday afternoon.
Things have come a long way in fifty years. TVs now are sleek and lightweight. Gone are the heavy cabinets and consoles that weighed two or three hundred pounds. No more “picture tubes” (and other small tubes) that burn out like light bulbs and have to be replaced periodically. No more fiddling to adjust the color. No more knobs. No more metal TV antennas on roofs—most people are now connected to some cable or satellite system that offers hundreds of choices instead of just a handful. There’s a “niche” channel for every interest.
Old black-and-white movies (movies made before the wide-screen format became the norm) are shown on a high-definition TV with the same proportions as they had on the movie screen (with a black space on both sides of the picture), or you can see them “stretched,” in which case they cover the entire rectangular screen and you lose some of the crispness of the picture. Recent movies look much the same as they do in a movie theatre. With a high-end, high-definition, flat-screen TV, it’s almost like having a miniature movie screen in your living room. And the best thing about it is that movies are broadcast as they were meant to be seen. We no longer have to put up with movies being cut up to allow for endless, idiotic commercials and “reformatted” in dreadful “pan and scan.” There are some people who apparently care about the integrity of the art form. That’s the kind of innovation we don’t often see.
Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp