In the 50s
through the 60s
we were treated to movies and TV sitcoms
which portrayed “white picket fence
” families who reflected the ethnos of the times. Starting in the 50s we had Leave It to Beaver
, Ozzie and Harriet
, The Donna Reed Show
, The Danny Thomas (father to Marlo
) Show, the Petries on the Dick Van Dyke Show
with their separate beds. We were treated to responsible and loving widowers—The Andy Griffith Show
, the Rifleman
, A Family Affair
. My recollection of the first depiction of a single mother (widow of course) was the Lucy Show—I Love Lucy
sans Ricky and Fred. In the late 60s there was Julia, starring Dianne Carrol, a breakaway comedic drama about an African-American (Negro
then) widowed nurse raising her son. Even the most unrealistic TV families—the Beverly Hillbillies
for example—demonstrated “family values
In the late 60s and early 70s, the changing social sensibilities of the Vietnam War era brought liberal producer Norman Lear to the forefront. He almost single-handedly created a cottage industry of dysfunctional family TV fare. We had All in the Family and it’s spin-offs—Maude and The Jeffersons. There was Bonnie Franklin in One Day at a Time. White widowers began to adopt smart-mouthed ghetto-bred black orphans (the incredibly annoying Different Strokes).
The two-parent functional TV family was deconstructed as cynical liberalism became the ethnos of the day—or at least in the major media. To multiply our appreciation of the dysfunctional, we saw the creation of the ensemble drama/sitcom—Hill Street Blues, Cheers, Night Court, L.A. Law, Dallas—which allowed for an even more varied view of dysfunctional intimate relationships. Children began to disappear from prime time unless they were Bart Simpson-styled smart asses who made fools of adults. The Cosby Show was an attempt to hold back the tide of dysfunctional TV families, but was eventually run over. More recently we are more likely to see sitcoms sporting groups of dysfunctional dim-witted, dating single losers with no visible means of support (see Three is Company, Friends, Jerry Seinfeld). In the new sitcom a basic plot line is the visiting idiotic, clueless, whining parent who comes to visit and has to be shipped off before they upset the usual dysfunction present in the ungrateful child’s home.
Do you think maybe I watched too much TV when I was growing up?
Now, the children of divorce, the illegitimate children of the artistic elite and the trailer park, have to do an awful lot of channel surfing to find any white picket fence models. So naturally our attention moves to real life icons of family bliss who themselves are being overshadowed by new crops of single actors and actresses, who when they are not in rehab, are adopting children so that they will not have to be bothered with actual intimacy or the physical distortions caused by pregnancy.
So, Tom and Nicole, as strange as it may seem, was as close to a “normal” family in the media with high visibility. They were an “everyday” couple who just happened to be beautiful, who happened to be in the movies, who happened to have more money than they could spend in a lifetime. In our desire to see one functional family in the major media we looked with hope to Tom and Nicole. Alas.