Nov 9, 2020

Daytime TV Can Make (or Keep) You Sick

Game shows and gabfests galore await you

By Ed Goldman

Growing up, I always associated daytime television with being ill. Yet in spite of some drawbacks—my feeling rotten, my mom’s insistence on vacuuming my bedroom floor at what seemed like two-hour intervals, the TV shows, and even old movies—staying home from school was pretty sweet. 

I was propped up by about five pillows to take my meals, which were served on metallic bed trays with little feet that dug into the covers at my hips. The meals were planned and executed by my mom to restore my strength—which meant, to a Jewish mom in the 1950-60s, a maximin of calories, fat, salt and sugar.

Hell Toupee on Daytime TV

For breakfast: oatmeal and sugar and half-and-half with raisins; toast with butter and jam; soft-boiled eggs; canned orange juice; and a slightly heated glass of milk. I have no idea why I was allowed to have cold half-and-half on my oatmeal but only tepid milk to drink. It’s something I keep meaning to ask my therapist but then have to remind myself I don’t have one. I don’t even have a former one with whom I can re-up. I’m not saying I’ve never had a need for one, including now, just that I haven’t availed myself of one’s services. I also have the gnawing sense that any of them reading this are currently de-listing themselves from any online directories. 

To get back: Lunch consisted of Lipton’s chicken-noodle soup with Saltine crackers; a grilled American-cheese sandwich cut into fourths; apple slices with cinnamon sugar; and another slightly heated glass of milk.

When my dad came home from work, he and my mom would then have an intense discussion about whether I was up to joining my brothers and them at the dinner table that evening. After taking my temperature to ensure it had either gone down or was holding steady, they usually let me do so. This was also sweet: I got to eat while wearing my slippers, pajamas and bathrobe. 

Being home sick was the first time in my life I felt that if I ever became rich, I knew how I’d want to live—minus feeling rotten and having maids vacuum my room every few hours. And daytime TV. 

Has the pandemic shutdown made you succumb to watching soap operas, game shows, cable reruns of game shows, programs with “morning” or “day” in their titles (often preceded by the adjective “good” or “new”), irritated-female afternoon talk shows or anything involving small claims court (with the exception of the delightfully irritated Judge Judy, who reminds me of my always-irritated great-aunt Sophie, may she rest in aggravation).

When I was sick as a kid, there were a number of afternoon-movie shows to sample. But since this was before cable—and Turner Classic Movies, which only runs commercials about its own wonderfulness but never interrupts a film to do so—what I watched were fifth-generation prints in increments of about 12 minutes at a time before there were spots for the Jack Bailey Carpet Company, various used-car dealerships and, of course, supplemental insurance coverage and pre-paid funeral plans for seniors, the target audience. 

My favorite movie host was Ben Hunter, a kind-eyed man with a receding hairline. Then a toupee manufacturer became a sponsor and Ben showed up on-air one afternoon sporting a lush pompadour or dozing ferret. It got me so hysterical my temperature spiked, making me afraid I wouldn’t be joining the family for dinner that night.

The only time I enjoyed daytime television was when I was a high school senior and contracted mononucleosis from kissing a girl named Paula. I met her during a Spring Break visit to Laguna Beach—during an unexpected spring breakup from my beloved Kim, who returned to me when I was in the hospital doing my best to look uncomfortable. (She broke up with me again less than a year later but we started seeing each other again a year ago September, about 50 years hence. Kim, graciously, has never asked me about how I got sick in high school and is reading about Paula, whom I never saw again after that Spring Break, for the first time. I hope I’m wrong but I sense trouble.)

Anyway, I enjoyed daytime TV back then because the fashionably aloof Dick Cavett had a doomed-to-die 11 a.m. talk show whose wit and guests were brilliant and funny. This may explain why the show was doomed to die. Cavett went on to become a darling of late-night TV on ABC then PBS.

I met him when he visited Sacramento on a speaking tour and am pleased to report that in person he was just as funny, fashionably aloof and wearing his own hair.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).