The Brave Little Television

The Brave Little Television

First in a series

Once there was a little television that lived with an American family after the second great war.

The truth is that the great wars were not great. They were horrors, as all wars are. But the peace was great. America was young again and vibrant, and making babies and buying houses and working jobs.

1947 Dumont "Revere" television

Into all this greatness was born the brave little television. She was little because she was so young, but then so was the family that adopted her. She loved her little family — Mother, Father, Sister, Brother — and they loved her. They all spent hours together every day, sitting close in the living room, for she was small and her one gray eye was hard for them to see.

But she could see them. Her eye watched them as they watched her. Brother and Sister watched cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats. When the children had gone to bed, Mother and Father watched what grownups watched: us-or-them news of the space race and the Cold War and the Red Scare and wars in faraway Asia. Even shows like “Twilight Zone” showed a world beyond their control.

‘We must do better’

The little television could see how the black-and-white, us-and-them world was making her family sad and angry, but what could she do? She could only offer them shows from a handful of networks, and even that caused splits in the family and in their neighborhood. Do they watch CBS or ABC or NBC tonight? Sometimes, everyone agreed on a show — featuring someone like Ed Sullivan or Milton Berle or Lucille Ball — and America came together for a night. More often, though, the brave little television saw her sisters and brothers driving people apart.

“We must do better,” the brave little television told her brothers and sisters. Together they reached out into the American mind and found a place for shades of gray that brought people together. Some were pure entertainment, more variety shows. Some were children’s programming, like Captain Kangaroo. And some was educational, like National Educational Television.

For years, as Brother and Sister began to grow up, they felt safe and cocooned in the world they saw through the brave little television, which brought them together in a world of black and white and gray. Then, suddenly, the grays changed to a melancholy tone. The brave little television could not help it, but she was showing scenes of another great war and the funerals of great men. Her family was sad.

“We must do better,” the brave little television said to her brothers and sisters. But what could they do to make America happy again?

Pursuit of happiness

But the brave little television was old and tired now, and her great gray eye was growing dim. One evening, she slowly opened her eye — it took more effort and time now — and saw her family, eager and excited, and thought for a moment that they were happy. She had almost forgotten what happy looked like.

But they weren’t happy, not really. They were saying goodbye to an old friend. There, next to her in the living room, was her younger brother, a “little” brother who was bigger and brighter and brasher — and best of all, full of the colors of life. Surely he could make them happy.

“It’s your turn,” she told him as they removed her antenna and hooked it up to him. “You must do better.”

And she closed her great gray eye and went to sleep.

Tune in tomorrow…

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