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Adventures in Trying to Watch Theatrical Movies on Network Television

This may be hard to believe in the age of streaming and digital media, but there was a time when you pretty much had to watch movies in the theater. They would occasionally show them on television. Then cable t.v. and home video changed the whole game. My family was poor, so even though home video and cable were both around when I was a young kid, we didn't have either. This led to some frustrations on my part in trying to see movies. I already wrote some about going to the home of some friends of the family to watch movies on HBO. But of course we couldn't be there every night. So there were times when I would have to wait for a movie to get broadcast on network television.

This may seem strange now, but the 3 networks used to have movie nights, where they would show a movie that had finished it's theatrical run a year or two earlier. Sometimes they would show made for t.v. movies as well. Those were fun, but the ones that usually generated excitement were the big blockbusters. One of the earliest movies I remember waiting with great anticipation for was The Empire Strikes Back. Now the problem with watching a movie on network television is that not only do you have to sit through commercials, but you have no control over the movie starting and you can't pause it.  The night Empire came on I had a Christmas play at school. I begged my mom to just let me stay home and watch the movie, but she insisted I go and sing in the play for all the bored parents instead. By the time I got home the attack on Hoth was over and Luke had already met Yoda. I had no idea what was going on, but I was still entranced. I was allowed to stay up late to finish the movie.

The next big movie I could not wait to see was The Road Warrior. I had never seen or even heard of Mad Max, but the commercials looked so cool. I was so excited to see that movie, and this time there was no school program to interfere. Unfortunately fate still conspired against me. My dad was a little unstable sometimes, and he had this cockatiel that he was absolutely in love with. He had taught it a few tricks (biting on command, which he thought was hilarious) and a few words, and he was more proud of that bird than I had ever seen. As much as Dad loved that bird, I hated it. I mentioned the biting, Dad thought it was the height of hilarity when he would tell the bird to bite me and it would nip my ear. I would get yelled at for using the record player, but when the bird stood on a spinning record and scratched it to oblivion that was cute. And the night of The Road Warrior, about 20 minutes into the movie, the bird suddenly got very sick. Dad freaked out and insisted this an all hands on deck situation. As a pre-teen kid I'm not sure what I was supposed to do exactly. Dad crushed up Tylenol and tried to feed it to the bird. He found an emergency vet, something that wasn't common back then, and we prepared to load up and go. I protested loudly, and got yelled at for not caring about the bird. The bird died before we left and we ended up holding an impromptu funeral for it, causing me to miss the rest of the movie. I didn't get to see it until a few years later when we got a vcr.

Sunday nights were great, because that was the night The Wonderful World of Disney aired. Sometimes they would play nature documentaries, which were fun but not what I hoped for. Usually they would play one of the live action Disney movies, which I always enjoyed. Over the course of many Sundays I enjoyed The Shaggy Dog movies, the Herbie the Love Bug movies, Treasure Island or the Kurt Russell movies like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. The jackpot nights though were the nights they would show one of the animated movies. It always felt like a huge deal if they showed Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. There was no way to see these movies at the time unless they re-released them into theaters, so the rare opportunity to see them on television was a huge deal. The one that felt like the biggest deal, and is still one of my favorites, is Fantasia. I also got to feed my burgeoning love of horror and sci-fi when they would show things like Something Wicked This Way Comes and Escape to Witch Mountain. That feeling of excitement when you finally got to see a movie you had heard or read about is something that was mortally wounded by cable and home video, and completely put to rest by streaming.  


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