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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 05.12.09
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

The mouldin' age of television

I've recently started watching a television show called "Dexter." The main character is a serial killer. But that's okay, he only kills bad people. This is entertainment in the twenty-first century.

It got me thinking about the television I grew up with. My, how things have changed.

For example, when I was a kid, I couldn't wait to watch "Fromage-A-Mataz!" on Saturday mornings. I'd get my bowl of cheese curds and sliced lime all ready and sit down on the "fromage-a-mat" that I got by mailing in box-tops from Bunches of Brie cereal. It was the highlight of my week.

As you'll recall, Fromage-A-Mataz was a puppet in the shape of a wheel of Gruyère. His sidekick was Wendell the Whisk. Wendell was always getting into trouble (usually with Immigration), and Fromage would have to save the day.

At the end of the show, they'd create art using dairy products. Kids could send in their own work, too. I always hoped they'd show mine but they never did. Remember poor Mr. Snoot? He never did get hold of Fromage's Magic Emulsifier.

Westerns were big back then. One of my favourites was "Horsebit," which centred around the town of Gulchwood Hollow, a stagecoach stop on the Amarillo-Ptomaine Line. The hero was Deputy Dex Hoolihan, a widower with three lively daughters who were always getting into trouble (usually with traveling salesmen).

The main villain of "Horsebit" was Garth Trammel III, who was constantly scheming to divert the stagecoach route to his neighbouring town of Cactus Rub. The series ended when the railroad went through up north, putting the stagecoaches out of business.

Everyone in both towns just up and left. It was a bummer ending to the series, to be honest. But still, those daughters -- woohoo!

Speaking of American history, remember "Apache Cop"? It was the first television show to feature a Native American protagonist, Detective Jim Sparrowfeather. A lot of people argued that it wasn't progressive at all but exploitive. Looking back, I guess it was a little racist. Take the tag line, for instance: "Him solve some heap-big mysteries!" Hmmm...

Still, it was a good show and pretty popular, until it was revealed that the actor who played Jim, William Tallboy, was actually a New York actor named Gerry Schwartz. The show was cancelled after that. Schwartz later died of a magnesium overdose. Sad.

This next program I don't think was that popular. In fact, it might have just been a regional program. Anyway, I liked it. It was called "The Smelt Hunter." It was about a mysterious stranger who went from frozen lake to frozen lake searching for the Smelt of Enlightenment.

In the process, the smelt hunter, whose real name we never learned, helped people in trouble (usually with Fish & Game) and offered inspirational words of wisdom. I particularly remember this one: "A hole without a bite ain't nothin' but a spot of water." Believe it or not, I incorporated that into my wedding vows.

Prime-time soaps were big in the early eighties. One of the more popular was "Duluth," which centred on the Pendergrast family, which owned a chain of costume rental shops. Who didn't love/hate nephew JP Pendergrast? He was always scheming and getting his relatives into trouble (usually with Internal Revenue).

For a while, there was a fad for the huge fake moustache that JP wore when he posed as fashion photographer Latulippe Pierre. No one ever recognized him! Oh, if only life were that simple.

Remember when JP got pied? What a cliffhanger! Even Time magazine wondered, "Who pied JP?" Of course, it turned out he pied himself. In a dream, no less.

So many great shows. "Jaundice Squad." "Petunia and The Kid." "Bikini Bartenders." Remember that catchphrase from "Say What!" -- "Give me some WHOA, Aunt Betty!"

Yup, when it comes to television, they just don't make them like that any more.

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