Thursday, July 14, 2011

Welcome to the TV Guide Time Machine

Hello. About two years ago I suddenly became very interested in old TV Guide magazines. While I've always liked TV Guide (at least the "real" TV Guide, not the new version that's more of a celebrity gossip rag than anything resembling what TV Guide used to be), but was never really a "collector"--at least not beyond keeping a few issues that had covers related to stuff like "Star Trek" and "The Simpsons".

My recent interest has a lot to do with the old Boston-area Saturday afternoon show Creature Double Feature. It was produced by WLVI channel 56 in Boston and featured tons of old monster/horror/science-fiction movies. While a lot of these kinds of movies were aired on Boston-area TV back in the 1970s and 80s, the stuff on Creature Double Feature really made an impression on my impressionable young mind and were a big influence on me. I didn't realize how big an influence the show was until a few years ago when I discovered a website and message board dedicated to the memory of Creature Double Feature. It was the first time I realized just how many people beside myself were big fans of the show. It also brought back a lot of memories and a strong feeling of nostalgia for the show. I started doing research on old TV listings from my local newspaper (via microfilm) to try to figure out specific details about the show and its history.

Another member of that message board mentioned above was doing similar research, but using TV Guides rather than old newspaper TV listings. He found a number of print ads for Creature Double Feature that WLVI put in TV Guide. A few years later I decided I wanted to try to pick up where this individual left off. He wasn't able to track down all the issues of TV Guide (on microfilm) that might have had ads on them. I suddenly had a mission to find these old issues of the magazine and create a complete record. While it started slowly, eventually I began to amass a pretty sizable collection of TV Guides from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s (the basic timeline of Creature Double Feature.

There were both good and bad aspects to this new "hobby" of mine. I wasn't interested in the "collectible" aspect of TV Guides. Rather than being all concerned with the condition and who was on the cover I was specifically interested in the actual listings themselves. This meant I could look for lesser-condition issues to save money. It didn't matter if the cover was beat up (or even if the cover was missing for that matter), if it had water stains or some other condition issue, if it had an address label, if the crossword puzzle was done, if it had random notations among the listings... Unfortunately, I also needed Boston or "Eastern New England" editions of the magazine. Different editions were printed for markets all over the country (and even Canada I believe). While the covers and features were the same in all the various editions, the listings were different (obviously). It's pretty easy to find TV Guides (at flea markets, on eBay, Craigslist or other online sources...), but many of the ones I was finding (especially online) came from different markets--which were interesting, but pretty much useless for my research.

I soon discovered that WLVI 56 only put print ads in the TV Guide for a short period of time from September 1975 until about the spring of 1976. While this was a bit disappointing, it also gave me reason to look more deeply into those TV Guides than just at what was playing on Saturday afternoons. By looking through them more thoroughly I discovered those old TV Guides had a lot of useful and interesting information beyond Creature Double Feature. It was eye-opening to see all the great programming that was on Boston-area TV back in those days of my youth--both stuff I remember watching and stuff I had no idea was on. While it was only specific to what was on TV, it really did feel just a bit like climbing into a time machine when I'd read those old magazines and the listings therein. Plus, sometimes I'd recall other events that occurred either before of after a show that was on at certain time or on a certain day. Along with all the listings themselves I also found a greater appreciation for the other articles and information in the old issues of TV Guide. While many of them seem severely outdated now, they really give a nice look into a little piece of what was going on in the world (at least the world of TV) at a specific time in the past. The overall experience of holding and reading an old TV guide thus became about the closest thing to what it might be like to be in a time machine that I have ever felt. I have a great nostalgia for those days of my childhood when I'd be likely to be sitting in front of the TV on a Saturday afternoon watching Creature Double Feature, and reading an old TV Guide from that era seems to be the nearest thing there is to a way to re-live those old days. If they're not true time machines, I think it's pretty safe to think of old TV Guides as neat little weekly time capsules from those days.

This blog will give examples of TV Guides time-traveling possibilities. Most of the stories will come from my collection from the 1970s and 80s. If you remember this period, or grew up during it, some of this random stuff might just be of interest to you. If not, it will probably be pretty boring. I'm sorry if that's the case, but I will continue to write...even if it's only for myself.

I've actually already written a couple stories on my other blog--Monster Dad--which would fit in perfectly here. Long before deciding to start a whole blog on the subject I wrote an entry called "TV Guide Time Machine" on that other blog. I also did some research in TV Guides and newspaper listings to confirm an old, hazy memory I had from a family New Year's Eve party when I was very young. I'd always had these memories, but couldn't be sure if my mind was combining different memory snippets together in some random way or if they were as accurate as they seemed in my head. Strange as it may seem, looking at TV listings for a number of years in the mid-1970s gave me the information I needed to figure out not only that those memories were indeed accurate, but also to inform me as to exactly when those memories came from. See "Happy New Year 1976" to read about this little successful time travel excursion.

I've got a lot of stuff to write about here, but it will take some time to put it all together in a coherent way. There's a lot of research and scanning of old TV Guides that needs to be done. Hopefully the time travel will begin in earnest soon. Meanwhile I figured I'd do this little introduction to explain what to expect from the TV Guide Time Machine.

Stay Tuned...


  1. My family would not buy TV guide generally because it cost too much money and the tv listings were in the local paper which they did buy. I always scanned through an issue at the supermarket to find out what Saturday night's Chiller theater movie was going to be on WPIX channel 11.

  2. I wish my family would have kept all of the old tv guides instead of throwing them away