The new secret to family TV viewing? Turn the dial back 40 years


In the midst of a frigid January, our dining room table has been colonized by a low-tech sci-fi project: My husband and son are painstakingly building their own version of the command console of the Starship Enterprise using a piece of black foam-core board and various electrical switches and mini light bulbs they bought at the hardware store. As I skate around Toronto’s icy streets walking the family dog, they stay home carefully cutting out slots with a utility knife, securing their work with duct tape and printing out tidy labels that say things like Phaser and Deflector.
My nine-year-old is an incipient Trekkie, introduced to the original Star Trek television show from the late 1960s by his father in our ongoing quest to conquer new cultural universes – or at least find appropriate family viewing in this one. We have long since graduated from cartoons; we have done the Harry Potter movies; my son shows no interest in the tween shows on the kids’ channels. The only thing he watches on TV is football, which doesn’t provide us with Saturday night entertainment or a video to get us through a long car drive.
We began to go retro when we realized that the Sean Connery James Bond movies are filled with nifty gadgets and thrilling car chases, but go easy on the sex and violence. (By the time Roger Moore takes over in 1973, the films are including love scenes that make both the grownups and the nine-year-old squirm.) From there, after a few unsuccessful experiments with other old movies, we moved to TV shows: nobody is going to let their Grade 4 child catch the grisly forensics on CSI, follow the unsettling psychology of Criminal Minds or witness the overt sex on The Americans, but the weekly dramas of 40 years ago are safely repressed and satisfyingly formulaic.
One of our first brilliant ideas for the millennial boy, courtesy of a generation that will hand you a dish towel or a garbage bag with the words “Your mission, should you chose to accept it …”, was Mission: Impossible. Pay dirt! The nine-year-old spent hours devouring episode after episode of the 1960s spy series that features a team of American agents given impossible assignments via self-destructing audio tapes secreted in phone booths and freight elevators. He loved the undercover disguises and technical solutions to the missions and appreciated the well-defined characters with their special roles – Rollin was the master of disguise, Barney was the electronics whiz and Willy was the brawn, while Cinnamon distracted the enemy and Jim led the team. The adults, meanwhile, liked the tightly wound plots and got to analyze the Cold War subtext or debated the phony accents whenever they got bored. Cinnamon batted her eyelashes when necessary, but there was never any sex and nobody ever died, except the occasional anonymous enemy soldier. As long as we were watching Mission: Impossible, the whole family was happy.
Irony, however, will only take you so far. As my son moved on to Star Trek, I had to bail on the family viewing; I just can’t appreciate the cheesy sets, the phony aliens, the embarrassingly lush take on gender relations and the umpteenth iteration of Spock’s cool rationalism. On the other hand, my old favourite, Get Smart, a 1960s spoof of shows like Mission: Impossible that was in perpetual daytime reruns in my childhood, fell flat with the younger generation: turns out he doesn’t do irony either and wants his spy-fi served straight up.
No problem – we have more up our sleeves. My husband thinks we should try The Time Tunnel, the 1966-67 drama that put a pair of American scientists in a time machine and catapulted them back to various disastrous moments from the sinking of the Titanic to Custer’s Last Stand. I am anxious to get everyone hooked on The Avengers – not the animated superhero franchise but the 1960s British TV series that paired Patrick Macnee as the dapper and deadly John Steed with Diana Rigg as the unflappable lady in the cat suit, Emma Peel.
Of course, my secret agenda goes much further. It may take a year or two, but eventually I will turn my household into the next fan club dedicated to that Orwellian classic The Prisoner, and we can spend winter evenings interrogating each other and screaming “I am not a number. I am a free man.” In the meantime, a high-necked T-shirt and a pair of black yoga pants can double for a Starfleet uniform as a next generation’s Captain Kirk takes his place at the homemade helm of the USS Enterprise.

MLK discusses Kennedy in rediscovered 1960 tape


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As the nation reflects on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., an audiotape of an interview with the civil rights leader discovered in a Tennessee attic sheds new light on a famous phone call John F. Kennedy made to King's wife more than 50 years ago.
Historians generally agree that Kennedy's phone call to Coretta Scott King expressing concern over her husband's arrest in October 1960 — and Robert Kennedy's work behind the scenes to get King released — helped JFK win the White House that fall.
King himself, while appreciative, wasn't as quick to credit the Kennedys alone with getting him out of jail, according to a previously unreleased portion of the interview with the civil rights leader days after Kennedy's election.
"The Kennedy family did have some part ... in the release," King says in the recording, which was discovered in 2012. "But I must make it clear that many other forces worked to bring it about also."

A copy of the original recording will be played for visitors at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis for a "King Day" event on Jan. 20.
King was arrested a few weeks before the presidential election at an Atlanta sit-in. Charges were dropped, but King was held for allegedly violating probation for an earlier traffic offense and transferred to the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Ga.
The Kennedys intervened, and King was released. Their intervention won the support of black voters who helped give Kennedy the winning edge in several key states.
Despite their help, however, King was careful not to give them too much credit.
"I think Dr. King was aware in the tape that he probably did more for John F. Kennedy than perhaps John F. Kennedy did for him," said Keya Morgan, a New York-based collector and expert on historical artifacts. Morgan acquired the reel-to-reel audiotape from Chattanooga, Tenn., resident Stephon Tull, who discovered it while cleaning out his father's attic.
Raymond Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Maryland's Morgan State University, said Kennedy's call to King's wife was political in nature because the Kennedys had been slow to get involved in the civil rights movement.
He said John Kennedy didn't actually commit to the movement until a few months before his assassination when civil rights leader Medgar Evers was gunned down by a Klansman outside his Jackson, Miss., home just after midnight on June 12, 1963.
The slaying came hours after JFK's television speech in support of civil rights and helped propel the struggle for equality to national attention.
"There were a lot of black folks who ... weren't fully committed to his campaign," said Winbush, who is also a historian and psychologist. "That call he made to Coretta moved black folks."
He said King's comments on the tape were measured because he probably didn't want to offend black supporters, like the NAACP, that had also aided him.
"He kind of went in the middle," Winbush said.
Tull, the Chattanooga man who discovered the tape, said his father had planned to write a book about the racism he encountered growing up in Chattanooga and later as an adult. Tull said his dad, an insurance salesman, interviewed King when he visited the city, but never completed the book and just stored the recording with some other interviews he had done. Tull's father is now in his late 80s and under hospice care. Tull has asked that his father not be identified.
In the recording, King also discusses his definition of nonviolence, his visit to Africa and the impact of the civil rights movement.
"I am convinced that when the history books are written in future years, historians will have to record this movement as one of the greatest epochs of our heritage," he said.
After Morgan acquired the tape, he sold it to magician David Copperfield, who then donated it to the National Civil Rights Museum to promote King's message of nonviolence.
Copperfield said King inspired people to dream.
"That's too important for one person to possess," Copperfield said of the recording. "You have to share that with people to remind as many people as possible of the message."
Barbara Andrews, the museum's director of education, said she's pleased the museum's visitors will get a chance to hear the recording, which will be among the exhibits at the newly-renovated facility scheduled to fully open in April.
"It's so powerful for us to be able to hear Dr. King in his own words again so many years after his death," Andrews said. "And I think for our visitors to be able to hear him say these words again will resonate in ... a way that we could not convey third person."