When I was a kid in Catholic school (nothing happened) there were four TV channels, ABC, CBS, NBC, and the Public Television channel. I watched teevee from the moment I opened my eyes to Popeye cartoons and the Three Stooges in the morning until “sign-off,” when stations would play the national anthem and then end their broadcast Day by cutting to static: “Now, WTEN, Channel 10, ends its Broadcast Day”—PTSHHHHHHHHHH.
If something even remotely interesting to my tiny TV-conditioned brain was going to be on television, I knew about it, because every Saturday I pored over the television listings for the week, which were printed in the Schenectady Gazette‘s weekly TV Section supplement, along with the Tiny Gazette, featuring the gentle adventures of Tiny Turtle, a proto-ZIGGY for kids.
When I say proto-ZIGGY, I don’t just mean the appearance of the character, I mean that the Tiny Gazette was sort of an exercise in lowkey depression for children. Look at this shit:
Fun! Anyway, I didn’t spend a lot of time on the downer Tiny Gazette, I was busy every Saturday morning plopped down on the floor in front of the television carefully absorbing the week’s viewing information. Any given week, I could tell you the entire primetime schedule, 7-10 p.m., across all three networks.
Holidays were huge for me in terms of novel TV content. Christmas meant the Grinch, Peanuts, and Rudolph, Halloween was Peanuts again, with the Great Pumpkin, and Easter meant The Ten Commandments.
Yes, I know, The Ten Commandments has nothing to do with Jesus the Christ, it’s all about Moses and the Israelites fleeing bondage in Egypt, but when you’re eight years old and Passover and Easter are around the same time, The Ten Commandments becomes an Easter classic.
It didn’t help that my Roman Catholic school education taught me that Judaism was a subset of Catholicism, like a step toward the ultimate religion. We would do a thing around Passover with grape juice and crackers, and it mapped perfectly with Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956), which was usually on ABC on a weekend night around Easter.
Why is tonight different from other nights? Because The Ten Commandments is on! My childhood friend John and I would get on the telephone, the landline, and just leave the connection open all night as we watched the movie, which was like three-plus hours long, and talk about it. Mostly we goofed on Edward G. Robinson, because he was in so many of the old black-and-white gangster flicks that ran on TV. “We will make a golden calf, see? Myeaahh, we will worship a new god of gold, see?”
The only other Easter movie was this boring flick called King of Kings (coincidentally, a remake of a Cecil B. DeMille movie), starring Jeffrey Hunter, who was the original captain in Star Trek, and who died in a car accident in 1969, because you don’t go and make a movie being Jesus and not get killed for it, man. The actors in educational Jesus movies we watched in school never turned their face toward the camera, I’m not kidding. You don’t fuck with the Jesus, man.
But King of Kings was a snoozefest compared to The Ten Commandments, man, none of this talk-talk-talk Jesus dude, it was Old Testament God! Blood on the lintel! A baldheaded Pharaoh! Plagues! Action!
The Ten Commandments airs Saturday, April 20 (consult your local listings) on ABC television, the kind you can get for free with an antenna, but also it’s on cable, or you can watch it on Amazon, but it’s not on Prime, so it’ll cost you.