As a Generation-X kid born in 1965, I spent my formative years watching some amazing TV shows. I count the 1970s as the golden years of television. Not so much for the shows that were new during that decade, though there were some great ones then, too. All In The Family, M.A.S.H., Mary Tyler Moore, Taxi, to name a few. No, I speak more of the shows from the 1960s that were on as reruns when I was in my preteen years.
These are the shows I grew up watching over and over again, and I still enjoy today, 50 years later. I will list the dates they originally aired, but know that I was binge watching them in syndication, 5-10 years later. Here we go.
The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71, CBS). Of all of the situation comedies that were popular in the 1960s, this show had the longest run. This is probably because it had a creative premise and it was really funny. Max Baer Jr.’s Jethro character stole the show, but he had a great cast around him. The show also had a memorable theme song, sung by bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. One of the most interesting notes about The Beverly Hillbillies is how it shared a connection with two other sitcoms of that time, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. Known as the Hooterville Trio, these three shows shared a common destination: Drucker’s General Store in Hooterville, run by Sam Drucker. Granny from TBH often travelled “home” to Hooterville, which is where PJ was located. Oliver Douglas from GA was also a frequent visitor to Drucker’s, as his farm was situated just on the outskirts of Hooterville. What a cool premise to link three shows together this way.
Hogan’s Heroes (1965-71, CBS). This was probably the first show I started watching religiously, and it helped turn me into a bit of a World War Ii buff in my youth. I remember watching this with my grandfather, who was Ukrainian and spoke very little English. He would laugh hysterically as the Germans acted like utter buffoons, which he seemed to understand. It’s interesting to me that all of the main German characters were played by Jewish actors. Apparently, they only agreed to portray Nazis if they could make them appear as idiots. Mission accomplished. On another note, the character of French POW Louie LeBeau was played by Robert Clary, who himself was a Holocaust survivor. The anger he summoned up towards his German captors on screen was very real, as I heard firsthand when he came to give a speech on the Holocaust at Drexel University while I was a student there.
Batman (1966-68, ABC). This was the first depiction of the Caped Crusader, big screen or small, that I can remember. Though it seems a bit campy compared to the dark movies that followed, the 1960s Batman series is now considered a classic. What made this show great was the never-ending cast of guest stars who portrayed Batman’s villains. Caesar Romero as the Joker. Burgess Meredith as the Penguin. Frank Gorshen (and John Astin) as the Riddler. Julie Newmar (and Lee Meriwether/Eartha Kitt) as Catwoman. Oh my, Julie Newmar, meow! What a stunning picture of womanhood she cast upon the screen. I believe she was my first crush, and probably my first hard-on, as a young boy. An interesting side note to this show were the cameo appearances made out a window as Batman and Robin climbed up the side of a building. Among many others, I remember Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink from Hogan’s Heroes) popping in during one episode. One of the stranger instances of worlds colliding.
Ultraman (1966-67, Tokyo Broadcast System). From the Land of The Rising Sun came the first great science fiction superhero on television. I was so addicted to this show as a kid! Ultraman set the standard for story-telling and special effects in the 1960s, and was one of the first Japanese shows to gain traction in America. The English dubbed version aired on ABC at around the same time as the Japanese version played in its homeland. I grew up with the English version, but recently have gone back and started watching the original, with English subtitles. Looking back, the special effects seem primitive. However, there’s something about grown men in alien monster suits, rolling around and destroying miniature models of Tokyo’s landscape, that makes me happy. With the rise in popularity of Asian programming today (see Cowboy Bebop, Squid Game), it’s fun to return to the show that started it all. P.S. – there’s a modern, anime version of Ultraman on Netflix, which focuses on Shin Hayata’s son, Shinjiro. I’ve just started watching it and it’s pretty cool.
Speed Racer (1967-68, Fuji TV). Speaking of anime, here is a show that some consider the first anime series to make it in America. Talk about great storytelling – Speed Racer had it all. Action, adventure, heroes and villains, and a really cool car. The Mach 5 could do lots of crazy stuff, like jump great distances, mow down a forest of trees while driving with retractable circular saws, even drive underwater. All thanks to the ingenuity of Pops Racer, a car designer who created this car for his young son, Speed. There was also an older brother, Rex, who disappeared and became Racer X, a shadowy character who devoted his life to protect his younger brother. He was my favorite, and I still have my purple Racer X t-shirt that I bought over 30 years ago! Probably the most consistent (and funniest) plot line of this show was the youngest son Spritle and his pet monkey Chim-Chim stowing away in the trunk of the Mach 5 to join Speed on his many adventures. Good times. Go Speed Racer go!
Rankin & Bass Christmas Specials (1964-74, CBS). These weren’t television series, but rather TV movies that played only once a year. However, they were as ubiquitous to many children growing up in the 1970s as the shows above. Of particular delight to me were the stop-motion animation classics that I still watch to this day. The three best, in my opinion, are Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (1970), and The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974). This is the holy trinity of R&B specials, and outside of A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), these are the most memorable Christmas specials to me. Who can forget such classic characters as Yukon Cornelius, Burgermeister Meisterburger, and the Miser Brothers? And the music in these shows was fantastic. Admit it, you just started singing “I’m Mr. White Christmas, I’m Mr. Snow” in your head, didn’t you?