Academic Writing

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Case for Sunday Mornings

There’s a show that I DVR every week that I love.  I hate missing an episode and while I'm watching I'm totally enthralled with what's being transmitted onto my TV screen.  I’m not anywhere close to the target demographic which means that none of the advertising is geared towards me nor is it on during a time-slot I would ever choose to be up at (hence the DVRing).  However, this show has provided me with more knowledge than almost any endeavor I’ve ever undertaken and definitely more than any other TV show.  I frequently reference the information I’ve garnered from it and impress my friends with my plethora of facts.  So, what show could possibly live up to this?  I’m talking about CBS’s Sunday Morning and it’s on (you guessed it) Sunday mornings from 9-10:30am.  If you’ve never heard of it, it’s that show with the iconic sun logo – sound familiar?  If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, ask your parents or grandparents about it, I’m sure they know it.  There’s no frills, no competition, no built in drama or conflict, no flashy graphics, but there’s a lot of heart to it and it's a quietly offers more honesty than anything else on television.

As a kid, nearly every Sunday morning I would wake up, wander into my parents room, climb into bed with my mom and dad, sometimes a sibling would join too, and we’d watch as Charles Kuralt took us through the segments of Sunday Morning.  My dad and I are both known in our circles as being the keepers of random information.  We love and absorb trivia – both trivial and significant - so this show is perfect for us.  We’d get a thorough insight into what was happening in America that week, but we’d also learn about interesting stories about celebrities, politicians, artists, and every day people that are making differences in their communities (like the woman who has sent out over 7,000 care packages to the troops overseas and the retired man who decided to start painting the houses in his poor, run down town to lift his neighbor’s spirits about where they live).  Additionally, Sunday Morning covers stories that the weekday news does not bother with, such as music, theater, and interesting architecture.  Occasionally they’ll even have entire shows around one specific theme.  For instance the money and design episodes have come to be annual events.  Now Sunday Morning is hosted by radio personality, Charles Osgood, and is just as engrossing. 

Conceived in 1979, Sunday Morning aimed to emulate the Sunday newspaper magazine section and, as opposed to the morning news shows, was meant to only focus on feature stories.  The show starts with a quick rundown of the week’s top stories, a national weather report and then goes into what is basically a table of contents for the rest of the show.  Admittedly, I fast forward through all of that so I can get to the good stuff.  Between the segments there’s weekly standards that punctuate the show every week they have the Sunday Morning Almanac, which is essentially a “today in history” segment which offers interesting milestones – for instance, did you know that earlier this month Silly Putty celebrated its 60th birthday?  Do you know how it was invented?  I do.  Fast Draw features two guys drawing pictures on a white board to inform audiences about a certain topic – recently why rain doesn’t actually “break” humidity (even though that’s what everyone thinks it does) it actually makes it worse. 

Each week there’s the Sunday Morning Cover Story which is usually the longest and most in-depth feature often about a timely issue and Sunday Morning Profiles offers a glimpse into the life of a celebrity or other public personality in an intimate interview.  Every couple of weeks Ben Stein offers his curmudgeonly advice on the economy, Mo Rocca and Bill Geist track down the random oddities in our country (like people who still build log cabins, the National Goldfish Competition or the Annual Betty Convention) which makes us unique.  Nancy Giles shows up every now and again to talk about her life, whether it’s anecdotes from when she was a struggling actress and how Nora Ephron inspired her to keep pursuing her dream.  And David Edelstein offers his reviews on that week’s movies with his wry and honest commentary.  Then, of course, there's the "Moment of Nature" which closes every episode.  Again, I admit to fast forwarding this part too, but before I do, I always wait to find out where they went this week to find that clip as it often amazes me just how diverse and beautiful the American landscape can be.

What’s special about the segments that Sunday Morning provides is that it often offers a different perspective on something which we thought we knew about.  Be it the smaller pieces or the bigger, central features, Sunday Morning offers a unique view into the world that I haven't seen offered in another context.  For instance, a couple of weeks ago there was a segment about a woman who, after six weeks of marriage, her husband was shipped off to fight in World War I.  Soon after he left he was reported missing and was never heard from again.  She called and wrote letters to the state department, congressmen, her local government officials, and nothing.  Recently her brother-in-law discovered some new information about him and finally found that not only had he been killed, identified and buried in a town in France, he was considered a hero by the locals as he gave his own life to save the entire town.  This man is a hero overseas and his widow only recently discovered this.  Now she makes a pilgrimage once a year to visit his grave, the town and it’s citizens, and the street that’s named after him.  It was a wonderful human interest story about resilience and heroism.  It also exposed a major failing of a government which is supposed to be supporting our war heroes.  In a television landscape that’s fraught with shouting it was a quiet tale that without Sunday Morning would have never been brought to the public.

These days, I no longer watch the show with my parents on snuggly Sunday mornings.  But I do watch the show every week and so does my dad.  While we don’t have a standing “recap” conversation after the show, we’ll often times find ourselves chatting about the random bits of information we’ve learned from the show.  In that sense it’s a special way that my dad and I connect with one another and always giving us something to talk about outside the normal parent-child conversations.  

The show continues to plod along, quietly and modestly, without fancy advertising or making much noise to beat out the rest of the clutter that’s out there.  But for those of us who do watch it (and don’t get me wrong, I know there’s a significant amount of us out there, I’m just a generation or two younger than them) it’s a gem of class and consistency in an otherwise bombastic and cacophonous television landscape.  So, even if it's outside of your normal viewing habits, give this show a chance - you won't be disappointed and you'll definitely learn something.

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