Tales from the Chief: The many games of life
It's easy, as a parent, to struggle with the concept of how much screen time is too much. With a son who alternates effortlessly between multiple YouTubers and TikTok — not to mention prolonged sessions of Fortnite and Rocket League — and a daughter who switches back and forth between multiple home design apps and a remarkably determined attempt to watch every episode in the seemingly three thousand seasons of "Grey's Anatomy," our struggle is all too real. Plus, it should be noted that the kids are also online for school during the day now.
While I can't help but wonder about the potential ill effects of the hours in front of TVs, laptops, iPads, IPhones and gaming systems, I usually try to convince myself that they'll turn out OK. They know, for instance, that schoolwork is a priority, and realize (usually resignedly) that they must help around the house. For the most part, they understand what's good for them to eat and drink. Perhaps most importantly, they are shown love by their parents — or at least we try to.
I can also say without hesitation that when thinking back to my own childhood, my screen time was in abundance, too, Despite this, I can avow with a certain degree of confidence that I turned out "normal," though this may be disputed in a few forthcoming letters to the editor.
By the time I was in the fourth grade, as I remember it, I had my own TV in my bedroom. It may have been only a 12-inch black-and-white model, but to me it was a proverbial window unto the world. I'd also used Christmas money to purchase my own basic cable subscription, which as I recall only cost between $7 and $8 a month (compared to the comparatively jaw-dropping Direct TV fees we pay today). The addition of three New York City and one Boston stations allowed for plenty of Major League Baseball, uncountable hours of old sitcoms and cartoons, and — arguably the creme de la creme — game shows aplenty.
It may be hard to believe that, once upon a time, game shows filled a substantial amount of airtime around the dial (there's an antiquated term Grace and Zach wouldn't know). One could turn on the tube in the morning and get such fare as "Card Sharks," "Press Your Luck," "High Rollers," "Let's Make a Deal," and "Make Me Laugh," not to mention the classic "The Hollywood Squares" and the still-going-strong "The Price is Right." "Family Feud," I believe, came on in the afternoon, after what was either "The $10,000 Pyramid" or the "$20,000 Pyramid," but was later moved to the morning. "The Newlywed Game" was also on in afternoons, and I know that Bob Eubanks was a favorite host (though, thankfully, most of the subject matter was beyond me). Then there was Chuck Barris and "The Gong Show," which upon watching today seems like an unintended ode to the most mind-altering drugs of the era. And lest we not forget the double-entendre-filled gem "Match Game," with host Gene Rayburn and the ever-bizarre Charles Nelson Reilly.
The amount of copy I could generate about my game show fascination would likely bore most readers, but suffice it to say that it's hard to imagine my life without this programming. I had a "Beat The Clock" home game, for crying out loud, not to mention one of "Concentration" where you literally scrolled a paper behind the 30-square board to switch from puzzle to puzzle. We had "Password," too, which had those little sleeves with tiny windows for the clues and answers. And how could I write a column about this remarkable genre of TV without mentioning "Tic Tac Dough," the superbly named Wink Martindale, "The Joker's Wild" and — at the game show pinnacle — the venerable "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!"
I have to admit this column was inspired by a recent piece in The New Yorker about one man's appearance on "Wheel of Fortune" that delivered a flood of my own TV-watching memories. Of course, it also begged to question: What game show would I most like to be on? The quick answer, naturally, would be an opportunity to show off intelligence on "Jeopardy!" But would I be smart enough AND able to handle the pressure? Highly doubtful, indeed.
Then again, I also know I couldn't handle the relentlessly rapid maneuvering required in some of Zach's online games, nor create a home interior nearly as attractive as Grace does in her design apps. I suppose one could easily make the argument that the kids' games are teaching them at least some life skills. And what did all my screen time teach me?
I'll take Game Show History for $1,000, please.