Thursday, June 07, 2007

TV’s Heroes aren’t the first TV Heroes (MNA June07)

Associate Editor

One of my favorite television programs currently running is “Heroes.” For those of you who are unfamiliar, it is a drama on NBC that chronicles the lives of ordinary people who suddenly discover they possess extraordinary super powers.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, a lot of my heroes came from television. I watched TV when I got home from school, and after dark, I would come inside from whatever I was doing to watch my favorite shows. There weren’t VHS tapes or DVD’s or even cable companies offering fancy digital video recording devices back then, so we couldn’t afford to miss our weekly stories.
Many of those in my generation grew up watching the Fonz on “Happy Days,” and, before he jumped the shark, he was a role model for many — cool, tough, and loved by the ladies. Let’s face it: Who didn’t want to be Fonzie?
And who didn’t want to be astronaut Colonel Steve Austin: The Six Million Dollar Man? Many an hour on the playground was spent pretending to run and jump in slow motion while making that famous bionic “na na na na” sound. There was the bionic woman too, for my female grade school counterparts — with whom heated arguments ensued by the monkey bars over weather Steve’s bionic vision was a better ability than Jamie’s bionic hearing. (I still think I’d rather be able to see really far than hear through a wall.)
We had “Starsky and Hutch,” “Kojak,” and “Baretta” to look up to, as well. One program had a really cool car. Another had a cool bird. The third featured a fashionably bald detective who sucked on lollipops. They were all cool characters, and heroes to boot.
Not all the heroes were cops, though. Some were doctors. Hawkeye and the gang on “M*A*S*H” were idolized for several reasons. They were in a war, which to any elementary school kid is cool; they saved people’s lives, and they played lots of practical jokes on each other. Who said war is hell?
Then came “The Incredible Hulk.” Oh how we loved that green menace. I remember getting a rip in one of my shirts when I was younger, and re-enacting for my friends how my shirt would completely rip apart as I turned into the Hulk. The gang on the playground got a good laugh out of it — but mom wasn’t too happy when she saw my shirt.
Even as a kid, I wondered why the Hulk’s pants never ripped completely apart. And how he could keep himself in clothes when he ripped through a couple of outfits every week? All David Banner carried around was that little duffel bag full of his stuff. He’d have to have like twenty pairs of pants in there to keep up.
A new kind of hero came in 1978: the probationary former moon-shiners who cleaned up their acts to fight the evil establishment in Hazard County. Bo and Luke Duke graced our screens, forever making mom and dad wonder where those scratches on the hood of the family sedan came from. (We knew it was a good idea to practice sliding across the hood when they weren’t home, of course.) Someone very close to me, whom I won’t name, even wanted her parents to let her enter and exit the car via the window, just like the boys did in the General Lee.
Law enforcement was always a steady source of programming material, and a favorite with the kids. How could we not idolize Ponch and Jon, the motorcycle riding highway patrolmen in CHiPS? Their timing was always perfect — they pulled a guy out of a burning car almost every week and just as they made it to safety, BOOM! the car blew up. (And the car always blew up, regardless of how minor the accident was.)
Another California cop we enjoyed was the man with the perfect hair and the hot blonde partner — Heather Locklear no less — T.J. Hooker. What can we say about Hooker? He had the suave style of Captain Kirk and the chicks dug his machismo, devil may care antics while on the job.
For those of us who were tired of idolizing policemen, there was always the renegade stuntman who moonlighted as a bounty hunter we could turn to. At age 12, I didn’t have any idea what a bounty hunter was, but I knew they chased bad guys who had done something called “jumping bail,” and with the help of Howie, and yet another blonde goddess, Heather Thomas — they always got their man, and made it to the set on time to light themselves on fire and jump forty two busses for the latest action movie. This was one “Fall Guy” I could idolize.
Another pair of investigators who were always getting into trouble, but weren’t cops either, were “Simon and Simon.” These often quarreling, polar-opposite brothers weren’t exactly heroes, but they were certainly entertaining. And the king of 80’s private detectives, and hero to all of us kids who wanted to grow up, sponge off of a rich guy, live in Hawaii and have adventures on a weekly basis was of course “Magnum P.I.
The third in the line of cool TV private eye shows “Rip Tide.” With their cool pink helicopter, Mimi, Nick and Cody fought crime and made with the wisecracks, along with the help of their nerdy associate, Boz. This was towards the end of my television hero worship days, though.
I think I started growing out of TV character hero worship about the time “Knight Rider” came around, in 1984. Even then, I realized David Hasselhof was far too cheesy to count among my video idols. I just couldn’t get excited about a talking car. Maybe I was getting older, and my interests were changing, or maybe I began to realize that heroes existed in the real world.
The actual heroes were the everyday people that these TV characters borrowed their fame from — doctors, soldiers, police officers, detectives, astronauts, bounty hunters, scientists — and maybe even a real private investigator who lived in Hawaii on a palatial estate.
Who knows?
Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

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