Channel 17

Throughout the weekend, I tossed Kleenex tissues on the floor beside my bed until a respectable mountain formed. Above the mountain blew a constant mist from the vaporizer, rendering my hair limp and lifeless, which went along nicely with the greasiness.

Convinced I was suffering consumption, I took on a very Victorian persona, saying things like, “Come here, children,” and “What’s your name?” to my own kids as they poked their heads through my doorway, looking a little scared. While the weekend is a blur, reports indicate that I acted as if I were in an Ingmar Bergman film.

I hate that I missed it.

But I do remember this: in my fugue state, brought on by high fever and a drug-induced malaise (a big shout-out to Theraflu!), I remembered a time, long, long ago, growing up in the Atlanta suburbs when TV networks numbered three. Atlanta residents enjoyed the bonus of TBS, long before the rest of the world joined in the fun, and long before it was known as TBS. It was Channel 17. Channel 17 was all about Braves games, homemade newscasts, Bill Tush’s quirky commercials, Dark Shadows reruns and an all-out salute to syndication. Ted Turner created a magical cathode ray tube wonderland that we fortunate suburbanites with UHF dials received for free. Until cable came along and blah, blah, blah, you know the rest of the story.

But the weird memory that wormed its way into my 101-degree, shrinking brain Sunday was my father (circa 1970something), sitting on the couch, watching Channel 17 ad nauseum one Saturday afternoon, and saying, “You know? If you were an invalid or had the flu or something, you’d be really glad to have this channel.” He went on to explain that if you were in the unfortunate position of being sick or bedridden and couldn’t get out of bed to change the channel (because remotes weren’t around then), you’d be all right. Because by the time you got tired of the Braves or Petticoat Junction, something entirely different would come on. And you wouldn’t have the added problem of growing bored. Or insane.

So, did his theory hold or collapse this weekend? Let’s just say I was glad somebody had invented the remote.

Where’s Ted Turner? This is not the same Channel 17 that a sick person once relied upon. Head of State, Deliver Us From Eva and The Honeymooners (with Cedric the Entertainer). On this day, variety was sorely absent. And the commitment level was way too high.

What we need, I thought, is a TV hybrid called The Flu Channel. The lineup would be chock full of The Beverly Hillbillies, Family Feud (the Richard Dawson years) and Little House on the Prairie. Maybe a little Matchgame PM and Mary Tyler Moore for good measure. It would be a lively mix of 30-minute and one-hour programming, relieving viewers of the pressure to commit to staying awake or staying out of the bathroom. Perfect for flu sufferers and post-op patients. If you doze off or wander away for a few minutes, you don’t miss much. You just roll back over, open your eyes, take in a little canned laughter, maybe a moving moment on Little House, and inch your way toward recovery.

Yep, I’d be really glad to have that channel.

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