Classic TV comes to the rescue for pandemic-weary Americans

Danette, Layla and Alana Nicoloff watch a rerun of Archie Bunker's Place on Wednesday, July 29, in their north Fargo home. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — Experts have given us a lot of advice about how to get through this pandemic. We’re told to wear masks, practice social distancing and to use proper hand-washing hygiene.

But the experts are forgetting one easy, feel-good remedy average Americans are doing more these days to feel better — escaping 2020 and COVID-19, for a trip down TV's memory lane. Relief — just a commercial break away on the prairie with Laura Ingalls or in the cheesecake-filled kitchen with the Golden Girls. Make no mistake about it, the pandemic has spawned a classic TV comeback.

According to a recent Nielsen study about entertainment choices during the pandemic, more than half of consumers today are seeking comfort in familiar music and television shows. More than half of all respondents said they had recently re-watched episodes of an old favorite TV show. Viewing of modern television shows has remained relatively steady.

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Don Knotts, left and Jim Nabors from a 1964 episode of "The Andy Griffith Show." The show has been a popular choice for people craving nostalgia during the pandemic. Photo/Wikimedia Commons


In a world full of conflict on never-ceasing 24-hour news networks and social media platforms, viewers are craving simpler times — the days when our boxy, remoteless TV sets only got three or four stations — and only then, if aluminum foil was added to the rabbit ears. If someone talked about ‘‘streaming" we didn't think "digital", we'd think Opie and Andy at the fishing hole. All day long, we live in 2020, but for a few hours a day, a click on our device can bring us the nostalgia and normalcy of happier times.

According to a recent study, people with anxiety are more likely to watch television shows they’ve seen repeated times. Knowing how something ends makes us feel at ease. Marcia Brady getting hit in the nose with a football has the same outcome today as it did when that Brady Bunch episode first aired in 1973. (Spoiler alert: She ditches “big man on campus” Doug Simpson for nice guy Charley). The level of uncertainty on old TV shows is pretty low, and during these unpredictable, always changing times, we like it that way.

The Forum wanted to find out what old-time shows you've been watching for a little escapism and comfort during the pandemic, so we asked you on Facebook. The list of shows you told us about read like a “Best of Television of the 20th Century” with everything from “I Love Lucy” to favorite, old westerns.

“I am watching “Gunsmoke” to a fault. I guess I like to see the good guys win,” said Beth Bouley of Grand Forks.

Beth Bouley likes "Gunsmoke" so much, her friend wanted to buy her a commemorative t-shirt. Submitted photo

A few shows kept popping up again and again. They include: “The Andy Griffith Show”, which was the choice of Char Skaff of Moorhead.

“Going through all this has made me want to go to simpler days,” Skaff said. “Aunt Bee baking pies for the social, sitting outside visiting with neighbors, peace and tranquility.”


Another popular choice is “Little House on the Prairie”, which has seen a spike in rerun ratings since this all began.

Lori Grueneich of Fargo almost stumbled across it by accident and is now hooked.

“I’ve been watching 'Little House on the Prairie'. I didn’t really mean to. I clicked on it for fun. Now I’m already on season one, episode 18.

Lori Grueneich of Fargo has gotten a hooked on watching "Little House on the Prairie" reruns during the pandemic. Submitted photo.

One of the stars of “Little House on the Prairie”, Melissa Gilbert, recently spoke to Mo Rocca on "CBS Sunday Morning" about the popularity of the prairie during the pandemic. She says it has as much to do with the time period the story was set (1870-1880) as when the show aired (in the tumultuous 1970’s during the oil crisis, recession and Watergate scandal.)

“Little House on the Prairie” then provided people with a reminder of what people went through when we started this country and how difficult that was, and I think we’re at that place again. If we could do what we did in the 1800’s and in the 1970’s, we can do it again,” Gilbert said.


Tim Flakoll of Fargo says he's been enjoying a few old-time shows, as evidenced by his growing DVD collection.

"Shows with a good message and no shows where hosts and interviewers are yelling over the top of each other," he said.

Fargoan Tim Flakoll stocked up on DVDs. "I bought complete sets of TV shows from my younger days. Think it was something like seven years worth of "Hogan's Heroes," lots of "Sherlock Holmes," four years of the "Wild Wild West" and the brief run of "The Cat," and "MASH" too. Submitted photo.

Some people are using the increased time spent at home to educate their children about the good old days of TV. The results have been mixed.

“I tried to get my kids to watch 'Gilligan’s Island'," said Fargo native Mary Fercho Morton. “They watched the very first episode. I lost them after that.”

Fargo's Danette Nicoloff says she’s enjoying watching cutting edge favorites from her childhood with her teenagers.


“I have fallen in love again with 'All in the Family', 'Archie Bunker's Place' and 'Alice.' It has started many a conversation between myself and my feminist daughters about why these show are not only funny but relevant today."

Danette, Layla and Alana Nicoloff watch a rerun of Archie Bunker's Place on Wednesday, July 29, in their north Fargo home. David Samson / The Forum

Not all of the shows local people are watching are oldies. Our informal survey included more recent choices like “Schitt’s Creek,”The Gilmore Girls,” “Friends,” “The Sopranos,” Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Downton Abbey.”

“Downton Abbey takes us far, far away,” said Lane Pereboom of Moorhead.

No matter if you're going far away to England in the '20s, Star Trek's 'final frontier' of the 60's or a Boston bar 'where everybody knows your name' in the '80s, it's all about escapism, pure and simple.

Sometimes we could all use a prescription for that.


Tracy Briggs is an Emmy-nominated News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 35 years of experience, in broadcast, print and digital journalism.
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