The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 8, 2013

Old cop shows more arresting than today’s reality TV

Point blank

By John Blankenship

— For nearly a century, cops and detectives have been icons of American masculinity. Combining brain power and brute force, these gumshoes represent the myth of the lone hero who is forever faced with new challenges and puzzles, a man who must rub shoulders with the criminal element but maintain his integrity, a prototype of the old pioneer, courageously facing down fear to make the world safe for women and children.

Chris Mason, 39, of Daniels prefers the old cop TV programs of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s to today’s slick and glossy detective shows. He has a library of more than 2,000 episodes featuring the likes of Jim Rockford, Kojak and Barnaby Jones.

“I just don’t feel connected to the characters of 21st century TV,” Mason says. “The classics have grit and simplicity that I find appealing. When I need a dose of crime-fighting manliness, I just pull out an episode of ‘Starsky and Hutch,’ ‘Miami Vice,’ ‘Hardcastle and McCormick’ or ‘Kojak.’”

Mason even fancies himself as a one-man protest when it comes to reality TV, which he would like to see abolished.

“Reality TV is useless nonsense with the entertainment value of watching paint dry,” he says, adding, “I don’t understand why people would want to watch a TV show about someone profiting from someone else’s misfortune, like the repossession programs or the pawn shop shows.”

Mason, who holds a B.S. degree in criminal justice from Bluefield State College, admits that he has taken a radical perspective when it comes to his preferred TV programs.

That’s why he goes back decades for his daily viewing schedule that includes a non-stop variety of cop shows: “Rockford Files,” “Cannon,” “Baretta,” “Kolchak,” “Banacek,” “The Fall Guy,” “Miami Vice,” “Hardcastle and McCormick,” “Kojak,” “Streets of San Francisco,” “Barnaby Jones,” “Ellery Queen,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “Vega$,” “Man From UNCLE,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “It Takes a Thief,” “Six Million Dollar Man,” “Quincy M.E.” and “Mannix.”

Some of his favorite actors include Robert Wagner, James Garner, Jack Lord, Robert Blake, George Peppard, Jack Klugman, Michael Douglas, Telly Savalas, Robert Urich, Robert Vaugn, Buddy Ebson, William Conrad and Lee Majors.

He has collected DVDs from yard sales and flea markets, eBay and a number of online suppliers.

Mason says he puts in about four hours a day viewing shows from his stash. “I watch three or four episodes a day, one when I get up, one in the evening and one or two more before I go to bed.”

The police program enthusiast does not care much for what is currently being shown on TV. “I get satisfaction from knowing that I am not contributing to the popularity of reality shows on television,” he says.

At the same time, Mason admits he has an addiction to the cop shows of the past. “They have a story,” he says. “There is more realism in ‘Rockford Files’ than any of the reality shows. The shows I watch are entertaining, while reality shows are about somebody following you around with a camera, causing you to do something you wouldn’t normally do in real life. They want you to believe these people’s lives are like that when in reality they are not.”

Mason’s addiction to police shows began with “Miami Vice” in the 1980s. “Then I went back and found these other shows like ‘Rockford’ and ‘Baretta,’” he explains. “Eventually I was able to put together an entire library of vintage cop shows without commercial breaks.”

He adds, “If I go over to a friend’s house and a reality show is on TV, he will change the channel immediately so he won’t have to hear me complain about it.”

In the winter months Mason watches TV more than usual, he says. “I can’t get outside to do much of anything else so I mainly watch cop shows from the time I get up until the time I go to bed.”

Mason has previewed an entire season of shows on a single weekend. “I watch them back to back for as long as I can,” he says. “It might take me three or four days to do it, because some of the seasons had 22 to 24 shows. I have occasionally watched them for at least eight hours a day. I might take a break and cook but I take my meals right in front of the TV.”

His favorite character is Jim Rockford from the “Rockford Files.” “He was really smart. If he needed information, he went about it in a witty kind of way. He came up with things that most people would never have thought of. He was never at a loss.”


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— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald.

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