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Local TV used to mean local shows

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

I have two colleagues here at Reminder Publications who are veritable wells no, change that: mines of pop culture trivia.

Matt Mahaney is the type of guy who actually wonders who made the better Darren Stevens on Bewitched: Dick York or Dick Sargent. He actually cares about this stuff.

Leigh Catchepaugh is the person in the place who can remember as many bizarre animated kids' shows as I can. Who remembers Courageous Cat or Cool McCool, for goodness' sake?

Matt and Leigh routinely stroll by my office and drop names from the past of things that I've not thought about in years.

Somehow the subject of local television came about the other day. Today, there is not much, if any, locally-produced television programming aside from the news.

The youngsters in the audience may find it difficult to believe, but local stations such as TV22 and ABC40 (or WWLP and WGGB as they were known in my days) actually made their own shows.

One of the trivia dynamic duo started the conversation by talking about the local kid shows. Again, here is a concept foreign to anyone under 30 today. The stations would produce a program with live local talent that would feature cartoons or Three Stooges shorts. Many of these shows had a live audience of local kids.

In the video game era, it's hard to believe that kids could be entertained by a formular that included a couple of cartoons and local budget schtick.

We were, though. It was a time of lower expectations.

ABC40 seemed to be the king of these shows. There was a Bozo show on the station at one point, a musical show called The Strum and Drummers, and, of course, the station's masterpiece: The Admiral and Swabby. The latter is probably the best remembered local kids show.

ABC40 also had an interview show, Conversations With. I seldom watched it as a kid as it had a very slow pace that lost me when compared to a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Although WTIC was the CBS affiliate we all watched, it didn't qualify as a local station as it never covered anything over the state line. That didn't stop kids of my era from watching The Hap Richards Show in the morning and Ranger Andy in the afternoon. I remember the revelation I had when I learned that morning kiddie performer "Hap" Richards was also sportscaster Floyd Richards at night.

And speaking of a show with a slow pace, WTIC had a game show called What in the World that was similar to watching paint dry.

Now, over at TV22, all I can remember is the Wicky-Wacky Cloud Club with Phil Shepardson. TV22 put their production money into other kinds of shows, such as the daily "women's" show, At Home with Kitty and the interview show Western Massachusetts Highlights. The station also started As Schools Match Wits way back in the black and white era as well.

And local stations even had editorials by the station's owners or managers. Television stations actually expressed opinions about local events. My parents were loyal Bill Putnam watchers and I remember my dad being amused by Putnam's choice of ties.

Now some of these shows were cheaply done and all too often had the air of desperation about them that came from not having enough resources to produce a 15-minute or half-hour show. But the lack of resources never stopped these performers and producers from giving it their all day after day.

They provided a local flavor that is sadly lacking today from local broadcasting. Like shopping malls with the same chain stores, too many television stations have the same blend of syndicated slop that precedes the network offerings.

How many "judge" shows can we have? How many entertainment/celebrity shows can we endure? I don't care about "Tomcat." I don't want to accompany The Insider to Terri Hatcher's dressing room.

As cheesy or corny some of the local shows may have been, they reflected the communities they served. Judge Judy or Alex can't do that.

This column represents the opinions of its author alone.

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