Madison Avenue and Memory Lane

1950s kids watching TV television AP

Why do we watch cheesy reunions of mediocre sitcoms? Who cares. In his latest Against the Grain commentary, CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer wonders if cash-strapped news organizations should join the fun.
Viewers beware.

May is the time when the people who program television networks try to capture your brain. The technical term for it is "sweeps" month.

This year, Big 3 Groupthink (including our beloved mother-ship, CBS) is planning a frontal assault on the national nostalgia lobe. Prepare to be swept away in a marketing tsunami of reunions, tributes, "best of's" and bloopers.

There are about two dozen rewind events on the May schedule, excavating everything from Mary Tyler Moore to American Bandstand, L.A. Law to LaVerne and Shirley, The Cosby Show and The Honeymooners. There's even a special for That's Incredible, a show I don't think I've ever heard of before. The Baretta comeback was put on hold.

And, Spiderman opens in theaters this week.

In service to CBSNews.com's loyal users, I took the tough assignment and watched an early entry, this week's Frasier, which united the radio shrink with Cliff, Carla and the S.S. Norm from Cheers. Sam and Diane were wise to stay away.

In-depth critical analysis aside, this nostalgia thing is a genuine phenomenon. The average American watches four hours of TV a day. The television is on in American homes for an average of seven hours and forty minutes a day. Forty percent of Americans watch TV during dinner.

Given those stats, one could argue that the single thing Americans will have most in common in the month of May 2002 is viewing nostalgia television.

We could call in the sociologists to tell us what this means. Is it that we have deep yearning for a kinder, gentler time? Or has cultural literacy eroded so far that the only collective myths we share come from primetime in decades past?

What I want to know is, considering the notoriously precarious financial position of broadcast and Internet news, why isn't there nostalgia news programming this month? We could use some help with the ratings, too.

I pitched my bosses a News Names of Yesteryear Hollywood Squares show. Walter Cronkite could host. Can't you see it? "Charles Manson to block, please, Walter." "Amy Carter to win." "Kurt Waldheim in the corner." Henry Kissinger would be a natural for the center square.

They turned me down.

How about a Watergate reunion pool party and Guess Who Deep Throat Is contest? John Dean is making a comeback after all.

The bosses passed.

Maybe something more contemporary would be better. Survivor V: The Newsmakers. Fanne Foxxe, Sun Myung Moon, George McGovern, Ivan Boesky, Robert Vesco, Angela Davis, Neal Armstrong, T. Boone Pickens, Leopoldo Galtieri, Patty Hearst, Lech Walesa and Charo vote each other off the island.

Again they passed.

Nostalgia and news don't seem to mix real well. Most news, I guess, is bad news and who wants to be reminded? And people in the news tend not to have the multiple facelifts that give actors that creepy, waxy look that is so fun to stare at on the reunion shows.

Still, it would be nice to get a piece of the action.

I know! We can make war on Iraq again.


Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is Editorial Director of CBSNews.com based in Washington.

E-mail your questions and comments to
Against the Grain


By Dick Meyer (c) MMII, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved
  • Dick Meyer

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