I used to squeeze myself into an easy chair hip-to-hip with my gramma on Friday nights. Together we would watch the
Good Ol' Boys - Bo and Luke Duke (and their sexy sister Daisy) - rassle with Boss Hog and that dimwitted sheriff Roscooooo P. Coltrane.
That was prime time viewing...The Dukes of Hazzard.
That was also 1979.
Bedtime time viewing back then consisted of Magnum P.I., Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere.
Even if I wandered out of my bedroom into the den, I don't remember my parents needing to change the channel. There was little risk I would be emotionally scarred by J.R.'s shooting or Charlie's Angels' boobs...even all six of them.
Watching these shows now in syndication I realize a) They didn't age well, and b) compared with today's programming, they're nuns on tricycles - slow-moving and harmless.
Even when Magnum entered its "stern and serious" phase (Genesis even provided the soundtrack!), no villain came close to approaching the 'hero' in HBO's Dexter.
Both my kids - my 7-year-old son especially - habitually wander out of their rooms fifteen minutes after bedtime. Instead of joining their parents on the couch for a harmless block Cheers or Frazier, they stare at a frozen PVR image of Nurse Jackie seducing the pharmacist in exchange for illicit drugs, or Bill Compton feeding on Sookie's bloody breast (certainly no Charlie's Angel!), or Dexter challenging the Glad Man's claims of "won't break or tear" by stuffing a serial killer into a hefty bag.
That is the image they see, as long as I've had time to press pause. If they linger silently on the staircase behind the couch...they see much worse.
My son's exposure to murder, extortion, assault and philandering actually began in infancy. He would often sleep on my chest while I watched The Sopranos.
Or was he sleeping?
Perhaps my chest was simply where he lurked during his first months while my attention was elsewhere. How does a two month old interpret a mobster related stories to his shrink about the asshole he just whacked?
I remember my parents occasionally letting me stay up an hour or two past my bedtime (as long as my pj's were on and my teeth were brushed!) to join the adults during prime-time viewing.
Then, we only had four or five channels to choose from, and all provided very sanitary programming.
When I capitulate and sit my kids next to me on the couch after 8pm, the choices are scarce. I avoid switching to children's programming; lest they become convinced leaving their bedroom is too worthwhile. We used to have the shopping channel, but that has this strange, hypnotic quality; I find myself
unable to turn away from it and end up not only being really tired the following morning but also noticing some weird charge on my MasterCard a month later.
I avoid the sports stations; the highlights surpass any violence dished out by Jackie or Dexter.
HGTV only inspires my wife to suggest more home renovations, like a new kitchen which would magically be four hundred square feet bigger than our existing one.
The Food Network is always a safe bet; worst case scenario the kids realize how little variety they actually get:
"Can you make us that,
"As soon as I build us our dream kitchen, sweetie."
Does my viewing taste make me more demented than the average parent?
Borgia was behaving like Borgia centuries before "The Borgias".
Henry the VIII behaved like Henry the VIII long before "The Tudors".
Bram Stoker was a father, and he conceived of "Dracula".
I think I'm doing OK. I don't murder, or suck blood, or pop pills; I am simply entertained watching others create mayhem.
I have a clear sense of right and wrong, evil and good, reality and fantasy. As long as I shield my children from the aggressive fiction which constitutes my prime-time viewing, they'll be just fine.
If, by chance, they catch a few minutes of True Blood, what real harm will it do?
I mean, look at Dexter; he has a son who's doing just fine.