Growing up our household didn’t partake in the luxury of cable television. It was pure agony. I used to see ads with Grandpa Munster shilling a local cable TV company and would tell my parents that cable was the way to go. When I’d watch WWF SuperStars and Gene Okerlund would urge the viewers to contact their cable provider and tell them you want the next PayPerView, I would attempt to use the upcoming extravaganza in my sales pitch. It was all for naught. But 1998 would be a transitional year for me, specifically the summer. My family would end up completing a move to a new house in late July and the cable TV drought would come to an end.
Although the summer of 1998 would begin with the status quo as far as channel selection was concerned, one exciting development was a brand new TV for my bedroom. Now I’d had a TV in my bedroom since childhood but it was always a hand me down that didn’t quite work or a flea market find. The first TV in my bedroom was a bulky old black and white unit that sat atop my chest of drawers. As a kid in the 1990’s, black and white TV was better than no TV at all, but just barely. I avoided watching it unless absolutely necessary or if I was watching the St. Louis Blues on a west coast trip playing against the LA Kings or Vancouver Canucks which would mean a late local start time. Hockey loses a bit of it’s luster when you’re watching the grey team playing spiritedly against the slightly less grey team.
Summer kicked off with a brand new 13″ Emerson color TV compete with a remote control that my mom bought me as an 8th grade graduation present. It was pretty basic even for 1990’s standards. It’s only input was a coax connection so I couldn’t even hook an old NES up to it without an RF Modulator and tuning in to channel 3. Still it was glorious. For the first time I could watch TV in my bedroom, in color, and for more than 30 consecutive minutes. I hooked up the included antenna and made a spot for it atop a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy chest I used as a nightstand in my room. From that point forward my late night TV watching moved into the privacy of my bedroom where I could multi-task on important work like skimming video game magazines.
Although my venue for viewing changed my options were still quite limited however. One staple that I had indulged in for years was a Saturday night ritual. From midnight to 2 AM every Saturday (or Sunday Morning more accurately) a local independent station would broadcast 6 consecutive episodes of The Three Stooges. Throughout the summer of ’97 I made sure to record the marathon every weekend and although the school year curtailed that enthusiasm somewhat I reinstituted the practice in 1998. For the record I refused to record episodes featuring Joe.
That covers one night of seven. Sunday’s were always pretty drab for TV as far as I was concerned but I did find a weeknight routine that summer. As my parents went to bed and I had the house to myself I began tuning in to David Letterman in passing, mainly to watch his T0p 10 lists, and then actively watching Late Night with Conan O’Brien. I really enjoyed Conan’s show and it became the first night time show that I actually sat down and watched start to finish. Although he had several recurring segments, the one from that era that I remember the most was “In the Year 2000”.
Another summertime tradition was watching The Price is Right. It was broadcast every weekday at 11:00 AM which meant I seldom had a chance to partake throughout the school year. But summer allowed me the opportunity to watch Bob Barker and his beauties bestow prizes upon an enthusiastic audience. By August I could tell you exactly how much a box of Cream of Wheat cost. Sometimes I’d even head across the street to my friend’s house where we would watch the show together and eat a healthful breakfast/lunch of Little Debbie snacks as we shouted at the contestants. Man those guys that bid $1.00 would really grind our gears. Although it was exciting to see someone do well enough on the Showcase Showdown that they won both showcases, it was equally as fun to see someone bid so far off the mark that it was comically bad.
Weekday afternoons if I was not otherwise engaged my local Fox affiliate played back to back Simpsons episodes at 6:00 PM and 6:30 PM. It’s something I watched every day during the school year but during the summer these were prime activity hours so my viewership really depended on what irons I had in the fire. It’s crazy to think that as of this writing, not only is The Simpsons still on the air, but that as big a fan of the show as I was in the 90’s there are now more episodes that I haven’t seen than ones I have.
Although it’s broadcast run had come to an end in the spring I also enjoyed watching reruns of Seinfeld every weeknight on a local independent. If I recall the episodes aired between 10 PM and 11 PM and since I was only 14 I was typically home by that point. Seinfeld was probably my favorite show on TV at the time even though it’s airing was now entirely in syndication. Kramer’s antics made the show for me and as I began playing golf that summer his enthusiasm for the sport further increased my admiration for the character. In addition to the comedic factor, Seinfeld touches on a number of topics that are especially pertinent in the mind of a young teenager such as The Contest.
In late July my family moved and our new house had a Primestar satellite dish installed outside. Since the primary argument against cable for years was that my parents were saving for a new house, the argument was no longer valid and with a satellite dish already present they finally caved and subscribed to the service. Looking back on it now, Primestar was very rudimentary but man was I in heaven as my childhood dream of having cable TV had finally been fulfilled. Unfortunately there were a few casualties as a result. At the time local stations were not included in the package meaning that we had to use an antenna to watch any local affiliates. Since I’d watched terrestrial TV for years and didn’t feel like fiddling with a set of rabbit ears anymore, all of the aforementioned shows were casualties after the move. Gone were Conan and The Price is Right, replaced with different offerings that I previously was not able to access.
Although it was bittersweet to say goodbye to some of those shows, I had been watching them for years. Now it was time for the excitement of paid television! So naturally I spent a lot of time watching old TV shows and movies. Back then there wasn’t a lot of original programming on cable. But that was ok because a lot of the things I watched were either new to me or programs and movies I hadn’t seen in so long that they seemed new again. I regularly watched TNT’s Movies for Guys Who Like Movies and TBS’s Dinner and a Movie where the host and hostess would cook a meal with a theme based on the movie shown.
In an effort to replace Late Night with Conan O’Brien I started watching Cartoon Network’s Space Ghost Coast to Coast. I honestly don’t remember anything but the title so it must not have had a profound impact on me. This sentence is only here because I was told never to have a paragraph consist of fewer than three sentences and I didn’t have enough to say about Space Ghost otherwise to warrant it’s own paragraph. That ought to do it.
I was also excited to see reruns of The Real Ghostbusters being played on The Family Channel (rechristened Fox Family). By 1998 I hadn’t seen the show for some time and I was dying to watch it again as I had such fond memories of it. I ended up recording several episodes (on VHS of course) that I would hold on to for years until Time Life officially released the series on DVD back in the 2000’s.
Another show I was happy to be able to watch was South Park, which a friend had turned me onto earlier that year. I’d end up watching the show through 1998 and into 1999 when I simply stopped. I’m not sure if the humor just wore out on me or I found something better to do but mysteriously in 1999 I just stopped caring. I’m sure they ended up getting along without me.
There was something else I watched throughout the summer of 1998. Something that I grew an obsession over. Something that took the world by storm. Something I’ve decided was too important to throw into this segment and deserved it’s own dedicated piece. Professional wrestling. WCW and WWF shows were not TV programs but a lifestyle in the summer of ’98. I’ll go into those in further detail next time. If you’re a fan of the sport I think you’ll enjoy the trip down memory lane breaking down one of the hottest summer’s in wrestling history. If you aren’t a fan I guess you’ll be bored to tears so you’ll probably want to look up the summer of 1998 in Beanie Babies instead.
Maybe it’s age talking but TV seemed more fun back in 1998. The world wasn’t so politically correct and terrified to offend people so there was a lot more risqué humor. Clinton jokes were aplenty fresh off of his Monica Lewinsky scandal which gave the night time hosts plenty of ammo. The threat of terrorism hadn’t reared it’s ugly head yet and we hadn’t been involved in a war for some time so people seemed a lot more carefree and loose and receptive to humor on TV. Regardless of the circumstances, the summer of ’98 was a great one in TV as far as I’m concerned.