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March 11, 2009

Television and Shared Memories

Mail.google.com When I was a child and then a teen, in the 60s and 70s, the only new television programs airing in the U.S. were on ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. Therefore there were relatively few TV shows to watch. Because we also did not have computers and video games, a larger percent of time was spent watching TV. My point is that because so many people were watching so few shows, Baby Boomers have a shared nostalgia of television shows of their youth.

I worry that our kids won’t experience this when they are our age. Ever since Fox became the fourth network, more and more channels have been adding new programming to their lineup. At first HBO was the only cable channel with first-run programming. Now it seems that almost every cable channel is trying to get in on the act. The viewing audience today is so fragmented that most people haven’t even heard of many of the television shows currently on the air.

Baby boomers can sit around and reminisce about Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, Mash, Happy Days and Three’s Company, whether they liked the shows or not. Everyone knew something about every series on the air and had probably seen them all a few times even if they weren't fans. It is almost impossible to keep up with every show that comes on now. It is hard enough to even remember what number channel each station is on.

Don't get me wrong. I think this fragmenting of TV series among many channels, as opposed to just three networks, is a good thing overall. We are able to watch many quality shows that never would have stood a chance in the ratings on the networks. My despair is only as to memories.

American Idol and Friends are currently two of the few television shows that have had high enough ratings and buzz they are sure to be part of our kids shared memories in the future. But even their ratings are much lower than most average shows were years ago. Who knows, this might lead to a form of making friends when our kids are older. Two current teens meet thirty years from now and if they remember the same television shows they become great friends; if not, they go their separate ways.

Posted on 50-something Moms Blog by Jennifer Wagner. Slightly different version originally posted on Connect with your Teens through Pop Culture and Technology 4/17/08.

Jennifer Wagner is a blogger and lives in NY. She is married with two sons.

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