Robert Cox

Writing on the Wall

Robert Cox is a reporter and page designer for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CCNnews@cox-internet.com.


Born in primetime, raised on reruns

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

I spent an inordinate amount of time napping last weekend.

It started Friday afternoon when I got home from the office. I was tired and a little worn out, so I decided to lay down for a bit. Four hours later, I woke up. A few hours later, it was bedtime.

On Saturday, I slept in, then took another nap in the afternoon. When I woke up, it was dark.

Things seemed back to normal on Sunday.

I blame working a daytime schedule. I’ve always been a night owl. From the time I was a kid, I never wanted to go to bed — or get up — when everyone else did. I might miss something. Working the night shift for 17 years didn’t help, but it certainly fit my schedule.

Maybe that’s just what I’m used to. Maybe it’s something else. See, not only do I hate mornings, but I also hit my productive peak in primetime.

Perhaps it’s only natural. See, there’s a reason I said “primetime.”

On the day I was born, so the story goes, my mother went into labor early in the day. After a phone call to the doctor, she was told there was no rush, so she finished watching her afternoon soaps before heading in.

I was born at 7:07 p.m. on a Thursday in December 1971, just in time for the first commercial break during primetime. Since then I’ve been hooked.

As a small child, I watched Davy Crockett and Zorro reruns. I also remember yelling at the TV because the Romper Room lady never said my name.

“I’m right here! Say my name!”

The first time I got to stay up and watch Dallas was a big deal. It didn’t make a lot of sense to a little kid, but just hearing the theme song set my blood pumping. Usually that was all I got to hear, because 9 p.m. was my bedtime.

As I grew older, I discovered that the NBC affiliate in Paducah, Ky., broadcast its audio feed over the radio, so I started plugging my earphones in when I went to bed. It took a little practice to figure out how to sleep without strangling myself, but I pulled it off.

That opened my world to the wonders of Saturday Night Live and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, things I never would have “seen” otherwise.

We didn’t have cable until I was in high school. We had an antenna stuck on top of a flagpole on the side of the house.

To make matters worse, my family was a strict CBS family. The TV sat on Channel 12 for most of my childhood. I say most because the only time the channel changed was for Monday Night Football, Saturday morning cartoons, the movie of the week on The Wonderful World of Disney and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

The adventures of Marlin Perkins and co-host Jim Fowler — “While Jim wrestles the deadly crocodile, let’s talk about life insurance” — inspired a love of animal shows that has lasted to this day.

Otherwise, anytime there was something I wanted to see on a different channel, I had to go to a different room to watch it. We only had one color television and it was the one in the living room. It was also the only one connected to the big antenna.

For about 12 years, I thought every episode of Star Trek was in black and white. 

Things got more complicated once we got cable. It just fed my addiction. Now, instead of having four channels to keep up with, I had a few dozen. 

It wasn’t long before I learned how to wait until everyone else was asleep, then sneak into the living room for a late-night snack and some late-night TV. 

I’m pretty sure my mom and grandparents knew what I was up to, but as long as I kept it down and made sure the TV was on the right channel when I went to bed, they let it go.

In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered. By this time, I was a full-fledged nerd. Star Wars was the first movie I saw in a theater and I’d grown up watching every episode of the original Star Trek, along with every 1950s-era B movie they put on the air. There was no way I was going to miss this new Trek.

I also wanted to save it. We still didn’t have a VCR, so I used some of my hard-earned lawn-mowing money to buy a brand-new VHS cassette and went to the video store to rent a VCR.

I still had to hook it up to the old, 13-inch black-and-white TV I had in my room, but it worked well enough. I taped the show and watched it as many times as I could before I had to take the VCR back to the store.

All these years later, I still love TV. I watch more shows than ever, but I watch most of them online, streaming on Netflix or various other services. 

Sometimes, I may have to wait to watch what I want, but I’m no longer bound to the networks’ broadcast schedule.

On the flip side, now I have to make time to watch even more shows, which may explain my napping schedule.

Every once in a while, I just need an extended commercial break.