I think I could handle the concept of aging if I were allowed to do it on my own terms.
I realize that growing old is inevitable, and I do believe in the adage, "You are only as old as you feel." Trouble is, there are days when I feel like a teenager, and there are days when, instead of springing to life, I require inordinate amounts of caffeine to function and I hear cracks in my bones that sound louder than Rice Krispies with club soda.
I can deal with it, though. By the time I leave the house, I'm well-oiled and no one needs to know about my withering behind closed doors. It is the constant reminders that come from outside sources that are really starting to get to me.
As part of my maturity, I've come to accept that the television brain trusts are void of any good ideas. In my wisdom, I also embrace the reality that when they do manage to muster up a show concept they think is good (The Bachelor, Fear Factor) it is not their fault that they are wrong, but merely the fault of overindulging on Bacardi Silver and shots of Jagermeister. If they were sober, they wouldn't really believe that the viewing public lacks intellect, would they? If I didn't know better, I'd think they swam in the gene pool that lies below the underbelly of a catfish.
Silver, Puffy and Decrepit
Just when I think they've hit rock bottom, they go and wax nostalgic on us. In an effort that is far short of genius and actually closer to sheer laziness, they decided to dip into the archives. With the shows currently on the air becoming increasingly stale, these network braniacs figured they'd pull out old material with old stars and mix 'em up with the new ones. It is this little trick that is precisely what's making me feel my age.
NBC's Third Watch ran a show featuring the cast of Hill Street Blues. I, for one, was a big fan of HSB. It was an amazing show in its day, thanks to Stephen Bochco, who has also graced us with L.A. Law and NYPD Blue, among others. It was just that seeing Veronica Hamel, Ed Marinaro and Bruce Weitz a little puffy, going silver and clearly not in the physical condition to fight crime was a wee bit sad.
I didn't feel badly because they've aged; everyone does. It was more because I realized just how much television stinks now and how much better it was, and they were, then.
Not to be outdone, ABC coughed up the Laverne & Shirley Reunion. I say "coughed up," because the network's recent programs seem more like unplanned sputum than well thought-out programming. L & S was once a great show because it was about two plain-looking gals, their friendship and dating. It was mindless and littered with slapstick and physical comedy. Lenny and Squiggy were complete nightmares for neighbors, and in my unencumbered adolescence, it seemed hilarious. THEN! (Plus, it followed Happy Days and there was no point in changing the channel, especially since you actually had to GET UP and change the channel back in the '70s.)
So, when Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams appeared onstage in front of a studio audience to discuss the good old days of Laverne & Shirley, I thought, "Please don't show me endless clips because it's not gonna be very funny NOW." Needless to say, the hour was riddled with 'em. This made me feel decrepit, since nothing they did three decades ago is even mildly amusing today.
If that's not agonizing enough, Penny and Cindy further enhanced my aching by reviving their characters for a ridiculous skit in which they played contestants trying out for a Survivor-esque show. Watching these two 50-something women, who have had their share of visible and mediocre plastic surgery, trying to do physical comedy like they did at 20-something caused my pain to become so intense, I thought my appendix was going to burst. From Hottie to Captain Bible
I didn't even have time to recover before they aired Your Favorite Stars Then & Now. At this point I fell to my knees and pleaded with (insert your favorite deity here) not to show any of the hunks I used to drool over when I was a teen. My prayers were ignored, for no sooner did I say my "amen," then a hefty Willie Aames appeared on screen. The curly-topped hottie from Eight Is Enough is now a short-haired, semi-flabby guy who still considers himself an actor. He plays the interactive star Captain Bible.
It didn't stop there. Christopher Atkins, the mop-topped, pooka bead-wearing hunk who had his way with Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon is now a crop-topped father of teenagers. Make it stop, I begged.
They showed the cast of Fame. Skinny, soulful Irene Cara is now rather voluptuous and struggling to front an unknown female band. Steve Urkel, the high-water pants oddball from Family Matters, today is known as the actor Jaleel White, in his late 20s and handsome. Tina Yothers of Family Ties is a dark-haired rock star and — gasp — Robbie Benson is gray! Oh, the humanity!
To make matters worse, showing all that not only drove home the point that I am I far, far away from my early teens and the mid-'70s, but also that I'm more than a stone's throw from the '80s. NBC is featuring the L.A. Law reunion. Former philanderer Arnie (Corbin Bernsen) is now salvaging hairs to comb over the top of his head. Harry Hamlin and Susan Dey, once television's most seductive couple, are now reuniting as lovers in middle age. Their steamy French kisses have turned to noise-making smooches.
And as one more reminder that I'm decades away from my college days — when we all gathered to watch the Huxtables on The Cosby Show — that cast will reunite in the coming weeks as well. We'll see little Rudy as a college graduate, and smart-alec Theo, played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner, as a grown man sporting dreadlocks with numerous directing and producing credits to his name. Phylicia Rashad has gone from fertile Claire to menopausal ex-Mrs. Rashad.
Certainly I must glean something good from this walk down memory lane, but I'm not sure what. I suppose I could be happy that these talented actors of yore are getting work again. Instead, though, I have an overwhelming feeling that I need to start thinking about taking a supplement to achieve regularity.
It's awfully selfish, I know, but if I had my druthers, I'd like them to have reunion shows of The Golden Girls and Murder, She Wrote. From what I can remember, they were already old to begin with.
Heidi Oringer is director of entertainment programming at ABCNEWS Radio.