As a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, I watched a lot of TV. I mean a lot of TV. "The Bionic Woman." “The Six Million Dollar Man." Wonder Woman.” “Charlie’s Angels.” “Fantasy Island.” “Little House on the Prairie.” “Starsky and Hutch.” “Scooby Doo.” …I could go on.
As you can imagine, all of these TV plot lines made for some interesting imaginative role-playing when my friends and cousins came over to my house. One day, we could be sneaking into a beauty pageant boss’ office, looking for criminal evidence in the form of microfiche or a critical manila file folder. Or roughing up a street dealer for intel. And on another day, we could be solving a mystery, involving a small town mayor who was creating ghosts with a projector at an abandoned silver mine because he wanted to divert attention away from a black market business of stolen art he was running there. Greedy bastard.
Since I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s, including every day after school, I watched a lot of TV at her house, too. She loved John Wayne, Elvis and MASH reruns, which means I’ve watched a $&%# load of old Westerns, crazy jukebox musicals and all of the 256 episodes of the eleven seasons of MASH, at least twice, probably more.
Now that’s a lot of TV.
When I get worried about my kids on their iPads, I need only think back to my gazillion hours of television, which my parents warned would rot my brain, that is, if it didn’t make me go blind from sitting too close to the actual giant TV console itself. Ours was clad in wood by the way, and probably weighed about 200 pounds.
My realization: TV has influenced me. For better or for worse, it has shaped my reality. And as I reflect about it, I’ve come up with only a short list of what are likely endless ways it’s affected my subconscious.
1. TV made me move to LA. It’s possible that it was my destiny to move out West like so many writers end up doing, but TV certainly solidified that idea. It’s funny that I always knew I would move to LA. Even from a very young age when only a few things were certain. The first was that I would be a writer. The second was that I would live in California, likely in a converted barn like the one in which Jamie Sommers, the Bionic Woman herself, resided.
2. TV made me want to live in a barn. It’s true. Being a devotee of Lindsay Wagner’s uber-cool portrayal of the Bionic Woman, I wanted to live in a cool house like she did. And she lived in a barn with a huge open floor plan that was bad-ass for the 70s. While my house was never a barn, I asked my husband to make it look like one. That’s right. We spent a good deal of money and took our 1930s bungalow, ripped out its walls, ceiling, and eventually even its roof, to make it look like a barn. Where did I get this idea? The Bionic Woman. When I was a kid and you left the door open, an older adult might say, “What were you, born in a barn?” If someone asks my kids this same question, they will answer yes. And it will be true.
3. TV made me think that Los Angeles (and California) was where I belonged.
When I first came to Los Angeles, which was during my last semester of college for an entertainment industry internship program, I remember driving North on the 405 Freeway in my rental car—a Chrysler New Yorker because they ran out of economy cars—feeling that I had been here before, and was “coming home” because everything looked so darn familiar. Of course, it did! I had seen it all on television. The palm trees. The streets. Those hills. Even the freeway itself I had seen before. Many times.
I would only later learn that MASH was filmed on a ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, which explains why those hills that I passed on the 405 for the very first time seemed to be greeting me like an old friend. Remember the helicopters arriving with the “incoming” wounded in the title sequence of MASH? That wasn’t Korea. It was Malibu!
At the time, I remember having this other-worldly experience of “coming home,” like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, and my destiny was unfolding all around me. This may have been true. But, just as likely: I felt like I’d been here before because that’s what happens when you watch a gazillion hours of TV shot in LA. Thanks, CHiPS! Who knew that when I was watching Erik Estrada chasing down bad guys on the freeway, I would one day be stuck in traffic at many of the exact same locations.
4. TV made me love storytelling. OK. To be fair, I probably came into this life loving stories. It’s part of who I am. My raison d’etre. My purpose. I love great stories. And as a writer, I not only love writing them down, but also thinking about them, day-dreaming about them, and talking about them. Ad nauseum really. My husband surely tires of my incessant brainstorming, which is why I was so lucky to find fellow-GG Courtney. She and I once spit-balled the entire season of a TV show over the phone, and we didn’t get off until three in the morning! Later, we tacked up all of our notes on index cards on a wall in my garage with the crazed maniacal sketching not unlike that schizophrenic, mathematical genius played by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. (Spoiler alert: Those index cards in the photo above represent a big moment at the end of season one of one of our shows. For now, imagine Tom Cruise and John Krasinski in the woods crying, that's all we can say...it's intense.)
Unfortunately, I also love horror stories, which, too bad for my younger sister, Chris, and junior high kids riding with me in the back of the bus to school, I’ve always loved telling them. I would tell the kids on the bus (episodically every morning) about the creature that lived in the woods at the end of the dead end street behind my house (the bus was never so quiet!). And I would tell my sister about the disembodied hands that lived under her bed. It was a good tale, to be sure, but not one my parents appreciated. While I can’t blame TV entirely for my love of scary tales, I still enjoy not only watching them (thank you, Matt and Ross Duffer, for “Stranger Things”), but also writing them. Stay tuned for the storyline Court and I tacked up in the garage, which we fondly call “Underfoot.”
5. TV made me think I could do anything. While there are certainly plenty of negative things we can say about TV and its effects on us (some of which we may not be fully aware), there's one thing I will always love about it: its imaginative stories. As a 9-year-old girl who grew up on a steady diet of "Wonder Woman" and "Charlie's Angels," I felt like I could be anything, do anything, because I watched a lot of cool women doing really cool stuff that I wanted to do, too. I guess you could say TV inspired me to go after my own dreams, every last one of them. And that's really the beauty of stories, no matter where you find them. As Joseph Campbell taught, stories are a metaphor for our soul's journey, reminding us why we're here, challenging us to derive sacred meaning from our experiences. That's why we love them so much. We're each the hero of our own story, and discovering the hidden script that's already written for us requires that we each go on a journey, begin our quest, get out of our comfort zones, again and again and again.
TV fed my imagination in some amazing ways, as it still does today. It inspires me to keep asking "what if?" Because if we don't ask, we'll never know the answer. And not asking would be like watching a cliff hanger on LOST and never getting to watch the next episode! And, well, what's the fun in that?!