‘A Big Thank You’ to the American Television Industry of Bygone Days

July 4, 2021 Updated: July 8, 2021


I have fond memories of television programming in the 1950s and early ’60s. Although the stern stoic uncle who raised me habitually referred to TV as “the idiot box,” to this day I give it credit for being a positive force in my upbringing. I’m not referring here to news and sports, but to the pre-recorded television shows produced as entertainment.

The programs I remember most vividly are ones that wove sound values into their storylines. The shows that I liked promoted such virtues as decency, fairness, kindness, respect for all races, patriotism, etc.

As I let my mind wander down Memory Lane, I feel deep, genuine gratitude for more shows than I have space to mention. I will share a few from three different genres.

The Western

First, my childhood was either the Golden Age or the Last Act for that noted American genre, the western. My favorites were “The Lone Ranger,” “Rin Tin Tin,” and “The Rifleman.” Set in the Old West, they shared a strong moral center. Their stories were moral parables, good versus evil, with no ambiguity about what was right and what was wrong. And, of course, good always prevailed. Don’t underestimate the impact of that on impressionable young viewers. You’d better believe that millions of young Americans like yours truly looked up to our heroes in those shows and wanted to abide by their moral code.

The Lone Ranger never, ever killed anyone. He fired his gun either to give warnings or to disarm the bad guys. In a number of episodes, Clayton Moore, in that inimitable husky voice, would deliver an eloquent sermonette to drive home the wrongness of racial discrimination or deceptive business practices. The rights of life, liberty, and property were every bit as important to The Lone Ranger as to Thomas Jefferson and America’s Founding Fathers.

“Rin Tin Tin” was the perfect show for a dog-loving boy like me. The young orphan Rusty, who had been informally adopted by the troops stationed at Fort Apache, and his faithful, intelligent, loyal canine friend—the title character—were always on the side of right. My favorite episode was “The White Buffalo,” which preached good will and acceptance between white and native Americans and contained a bit of mysticism. (You might be able to watch it on dailymotion.com.)

“The Rifleman” was a bit more adult. The quintessential American hero, widowed rancher Lucas McCain preferred to live in peace, but was prepared to fight to defend his son and their ranch from whatever lowlifes threatened them. Trivia: Actor Chuck Connors—TV’s “The Rifleman”—is one of only 13 men who have competed in both Major League Baseball and in the National Basketball Association. (Another one is Mark Hendrickson—a different Mark Hendrickson from yours truly.)

The Family Sitcom

The second genre that resonated deeply with me was the family sitcom—shows like “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “Leave It to Beaver,” and “My Three Sons.”

I don’t know how much my female contemporaries enjoyed those shows, because there were seven sons spread among those three shows and not a single daughter, but I (shamelessly?) enjoyed them tremendously. They were low-key and affable. The boys would get into trouble sometimes, but it was never anything serious, and the wise father would always rein them in and reaffirm their sons’ basic goodness. The boys were all squeaky clean and polite (“Yes, sir”; “No, sir”) and there are critics who complain that the Nelsons, Cleavers, and Douglases presented unrealistic portrayals of American families. I’ll concede that the stories were contrived and the overall portrait was probably too good to be true for the average family, but those shows all depicted the ideal of the American family that most Americans hoped for—unfractured families united in trust, kindness, respect, and love.

The Adventure Series

The third genre of TV show I liked back then was adventure series that hinted at the potential universality of American ideals. My two favorites were the English series “Robin Hood” and “Adventures of Superman.”

Robin Hood—played by the handsome and charismatic Richard Greene—could have been an honorary American, fighting bravely against the predations of political oppressors. And Superman, “strange visitor from another planet” fought “a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way”—words in the weekly introduction to the show that still inspire me today. (You can see and hear it by going to “’50s Adventures of Superman – Intro” on YouTube.)

The stirring words of the anonymous Superman announcer are as timely today as they ever were. The Bible tells us, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Yes, truth is the great liberator, which is why all leftist ideologies use aggressive propaganda techniques in the attempt to obliterate or twist the truth. Today’s Americans need to strive for truth, whether it be about how accurate and above-board last year’s ballot tabulations were, or the truth about the various narratives about COVID-19, or the limits of “climate science” in terms of predicting future terrestrial conditions.

We need justice that protects every American’s rights, not a counterfeit “social justice” that takes from some to give to others. We need to remember and honor those stalwarts of justice throughout American history for the considerable progress they have achieved in attaining that foundational American value, refusing to get sidetracked or fooled by present-day racists who advocate policies that discriminate on the basis of race and color.

Most emphatically, as we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, let us take up Superman’s credo by reaffirming our American heritage and proudly recommitting ourselves to “the American way.”

The American Way

What is that American way? Among other things, the American way is based on the immutable principle that each one of us is endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights, and so individual rights are primary and government power is subservient to those rights.

The American way espouses the rule of law, not the corrupt system of politicized privileges so rampant today.

The American way holds that government should be an impartial umpire in the marketplace, not a shameless crony that picks winners and losers. Further, the American way holds that law is negative in the sense that it’s confined to telling Americans what they cannot do (kill, steal, etc.) and not positive in the sense of dictating to people what they must do, which is the hallmark of tyrannical governments.

The American way of free enterprise means that the proper, legitimate way to prosper is to find a way to deliver value to others in the competitive marketplaces of products, services, and skills.

The American way stands for strict protection of property rights and upholds voluntary economic exchange as a fundamental human right.

The American way is to be grateful for our wealth producers—society’s economic benefactors—and not to envy or resent them. In short, the American way is the way of liberty, of peaceful social cooperation, and of collective greatness in resisting alien ideologies that infringe on the God-given rights of humans.

From what I’ve written, I think you can understand why I appreciate the TV programming of my childhood so deeply. Countless people in the TV industry inculcated timeless virtues and solid values through shows that entertained. In doing so, they made a lasting impact.

Admittedly, I’m not current on the state of TV programming for today’s American children. Certainly, after more than a half-century of massive societal changes and technological advances, entertainment TV will never return to what it was back in the ’50s and ’60s. That’s both good and possibly not so good. Some changes have been positive. For example, back then, the special effects were hokey and primitive, much of the acting wasn’t particularly sophisticated, and scripts and dialog often had a slap-dash quality to them. Also, there weren’t any shows about racial minorities. The TV programs available for me to watch were as lily-white as the Detroit suburb I lived in as a boy. It wasn’t until my daughter was growing up that the superb “Cosby Show” portrayed life in a happy, cohesive black family (and which successfully reflected 1980s’ social mores the way that “Leave It to Beaver” et al. embodied 1950s mores).

One final thought: The immense popularity of The Hallmark Channel today shows that TV programming based on decency, kindness, and people learning how to love each other better is still commercially viable, even if some of the bigshots in the entertainment industry insist on producing gloomier and more disturbing programs. I just hope there are TV producers and writers today who will serve today’s kids as well as their predecessors served my generation. On the chance that children or grandchildren of those who created the great TV shows of my childhood read this, please know that your loved ones are greatly appreciated, admired, and remembered.

Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Mark Hendrickson
Mark Hendrickson
Mark Hendrickson is an economist, who retired from the faculty of Grove City College in Pennsylvania where he remains fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom. He is the author of several books on topics as varied as American economic history, anonymous characters in the Bible, the wealth inequality issue, and climate change, among others.