An opinion piece by TV critic Neil Genzlinger titled “Sure, You Loved Lucy, but Vintage Has Limits: A Case of Retro TV Overload” was published online at The New York Times website on Sunday and in the paper’s print edition yesterday. In it, Genzlinger argues that there is too much classic TV available and that nobody should be watching old episodes of I Love Lucy and The Virginian because they’re really not as good as people think they are.
It’s true that there are a lot of cable channels and digital specialty networks devoted to classic television. TV Land may have all but abandoned its roots but in its place are Antenna TV, Cozi TV and MeTV. While some might see this as a good thing, Genzlinger considers it a dangerous overload of ancient sitcoms and dusty Westerns that don’t hold up. He’d rather rip his eyeballs out.
From the article:
But if you’re watching this fare all day, every day, you need help, because “venerable” doesn’t necessarily mean “still watchable.” Sluggish pacing, wooden acting, wince-inducing jokes and obvious plot twists abound in the television of the distant and even not-so-distant past. Too much of this will turn your brain to mush as surely as too much of today’s reality TV will.
This is a particularly bizarre argument to make because there’s plenty of middle ground between not watching any classic TV and spending all day doing so. Anyone who spends all day watching television of any sort and from any decade probably needs help. Genzlinger goes on to list “nine great, important, fabulous vintage (or soon to be) shows” that he never wants to see again, including I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Green Acres and Dallas.
The article received more than 400 comments, most of them critical. Comments have now been closed.
To be clear, I don’t think Genzlinger hates classic TV. Nor do I think he’s trying to insult those who love watching classic TV. He’s writing with his tongue at least partly, if not firmly, in cheek. That said, I don’t agree with his article, however facetious it may be. He’s making a big mistake assuming that the only people watching classic TV are baby boomers who watched them when they were first on the air trying to revisit a time when television was better. That’s simply not the case. I’m proof.
While it may be true that a large percentage of those watching Antenna TV, Cozi TV and MeTV are baby boomers — and I don’t know that for a fact — I’m sure there are also plenty of younger folks watching as well, some of whom may be much younger. Should nobody ever be allowed to watch old TV shows again, simply because they’re old? That’s like saying nobody should ever read Shakespeare (an argument I could actually get behind; my hatred for the Bard runs deep) or watch Citizen Kane again. For some reason, television never gets the respect that books and films get.
(I’m also confused as to why Genzlinger mentions 7th Heaven, Boy Meets World and Sex and the City in the article when the bulk of the other shows he mentions are from the 1950s through the 1970s with a few from the 1980s. I’m not quite ready to call any TV show from the 1990s retro, no matter what TV Land and Nick at Nite seem to think.)
If there’s any sort of “retro TV overload” these days, it’s not the sheer amount available but the fact that so many of the classic TV shows being shown on Antenna TV, Cozi TV and MeTV — like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bonanza, and Gilligan’s Island — are the same few dozen shows that have never not been on television. We need more retro TV, not less. Genzlinger can be forgiven for being tired of seeing the same old shows but that’s no reason to dismiss the entirety of TV history. Instead, he should be pushing for Antenna TV, Cozi TV and the like to add less well-known shows to their schedules. While they may not hold up any better than Lucy or Gilligan, at least they’ll feel somewhat fresh and new.