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Love, American Child

Consider this a kind of "State of the Love" Address for 2016, via a forty seven year old program.

If you are able to get the Decades Network, and you probably are if you have a CBS affiliate in your area, you might have tuned in to see some vintage programming that they broadcast (and I do mean broadcast, as the station is available, most everywhere, without a cable wire or satellite connection). They hold the lion's share of all of the programs that CBS/Paramount own, and with a lean for putting historic events (and vintage teevee shows) in perspective, they cycle through a lot of material, often linking what they show to the particular date, during the week. That also means, they don't have a set schedule of what gets shown when, so every day it's a surprise of vintage newsclips, forgotten films and talk shows and sitcoms and drama series all tossed together to celebrate an anniversary of an event or birthday of a notable person.

Weekends are a bit different because they do what's called "The Decades Binge," showing dozens of episodes of one series, all in a row and mostly in chronological order of original telecast date. Not to be overtly obvious, they chose to run a marathon of episodes from the series "Love, American Style" this Valentines' weekend.

An anthology series that originally ran on the ABC television network from the fall of 1969 through the winter of 1974, it also went into syndicated reruns on many local channels for many years after that.

The actor appearances on the show are quite notable, as some pretty big names did episodes throughout the run of the program, and many of the familiar names of actors from other long time popular sitcoms made multiple guest shots here, like Bill Bixby, Judy Carne, Larry Storch and Stefanie Powers, among a roll call of stars of that era. But perhaps the most notable and consistent element of the series was an unusual Brass Bed that found its way into the majority of episodes and "blackout" sketches throughout the run.

I decided to watch a few episodes of this show, as I remember being quite taken with it as a kid. The first thing I noted was the scoring of the show. Yes, the iconic theme song (originally performed by The Cowsills, but in the syndicated version only the "Charles Fox Singers") was there, but the incidental music used throughout the episodes really sounded like they wanted to be Burt Bacharach compositions. As an unabashed Bacharach fan, I'm sure part of my attraction to this program was based on this element, that I probably didn't even notice when I viewed it as a kid.

But more importantly, I realized a couple of very disturbing things. The first being that for a show from the era of "Women's Liberation," it was still highly sexist, almost to a disgusting level. Yes, it was a comedy, but for a series that actually could have made a statement about love in a way that gave a positive message, along with some laughs, an opportunity was clearly missed. ABC did a skosh better in that area with their similar anthology series, "The Love Boat," several years after this.

But on a personal note, I realize now that a lot of what I thought about love, how to get it, what it was about, how to behave around someone I was interested in and what it all really meant was, to some degree, shaped by this series. It might have been okay if I actually had a social life to counteract the false messages I was getting from a program like this one, or even if I had some other "relationship" program to watch that might have put it in a better perspective.

There were some clearly "stalking" type behaviors, played for comic effect, some "joke divorce" elements throughout and other really weird material, even for the late 60s and early 70s, when it first aired. I look at this program now and realize just how odd it is to me today, compared to how the me of my grade and junior high school years viewed it.

There is a whole "garbage in - garbage out" quality to some of this stuff that really makes me feel like I never should have heard of this show, let alone watched it after school while doing homework, as this was a terrible socialization method for learning about love, and it wasn't even that good as a sitcom.

If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing, I could have done much worse than telling me to never watch "Love, American Style," and really, that probably goes for this weekend, too.

That's the state of the love, this year.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 15th, 2016 05:32 am (UTC)
I have had this same adult reaction to some of he sit coms and even one soap opera that I LOVED as a young person. Love American style was one, as was love boat. Dark shadows was the biggest disappointment as an adult, as I would rush home from school to see it, and it is as you say garbage. I have never thought about how those shows screwed up my thinking and decision making.
Feb. 15th, 2016 11:04 am (UTC)
It seems like that particular era of television was filled with hack writers who were cranking out material but had no agenda, aside from getting their paychecks and their names in the credits.

Interestingly, Decades ran a "Dark Shadows" binge on Halloween weekend this past year. I watched a few episodes of that and found it to be far superior to "Love American Style!" Though, obviously, it was a 1960s soap opera, so nothing could make it anything other than that... I'm guessing it was originally performed live, too, based on my impression of what I saw.

For me, other programs I loved as a kid but can't stand to see now included "Lost in Space," (another program where the music used to score the show was a draw for me) any military based sitcom ("I Dream of Jeannie" being the exception) and EVERYTHING by Hanna-Barbera that was produced for television. I'll give them credit for the Tom and Jerry cartoons that were originally theatrical releases. But the rest? What complete crap!

TV had a powerful and insidious way of working its messages into your brain - especially during the "Big 3 Networks" era, and while I don't think it was completely intentional, (commercial producers clearly WERE intentional) the show producers of the day were simply focused on getting people to watch, and not too concerned about what the messages they were sending out were doing to the minds of their viewers. I'm fairly certain that wasn't even a concept, back then.

I don't know if "stalking" behavior was *invented* by a show like "Love American Style," or if their programming encouraged abusive behavior in men towards women, but it definitely could have nudged some people towards a mindset to do it, in its way, and producers should have examined the psychology of the behavioral patterns their shows were promoting. It's not something that I think anyone would cite directly as a causal relationship, but I could see how it might lead towards it, and that's both sick and sad.

I'm sure some viewers would be interested in looking at episodes of this program, just for the sake of the guest appearances of the stars, many of whom were getting a start in the business, and it is surprising and amusing to see some of the more established dramatic actors doing romantic and comedy bits in it. For that reason, "Love American Style" will likely remain a program that retains some element of interest. But I'd almost want to put a ban on this show. It's not quite "Amos n' Andy," but it really doesn't need to be seen, except by television archaeologists doing research on particular actors or on low end quality writing!
Feb. 16th, 2016 12:32 am (UTC)
If only there was a group that researched low end writing, that the television industry would pay attention to. Lost in Space was on my love it then, hate it now list too.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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