When I wrote a few months ago about my affection for Gene Barry and Burke’s Law, my friend Ed wrote that he had the same fond affection for What's My Line. He said he used to fall asleep listening to it as his parents watched it downstairs.
I can well understand his affection because I do that now — fall asleep listening to old television shows. I used to take Excedrin PM to help me sleep, but it eventually stopped having much effect. Sometimes when I can't sleep, I just pop in an old TV show DVD. I have no memories of being sung to sleep, or being read to, but when I hear the familiar shows, the familiar cadences, sometimes even the familiar lines, they're just like a lullaby.
I suppose that if most people wanted something hauntingly familiar to lull them to sleep, they'd turn on classic music. I prefer a different kind of classic. The characters' soothing voices, whether Perry Mason's gruff bluffs or Lt. Columbo's humble grumbles, imbue a sense of comfort and safety as I get swept off into the darkness. It's as soothing as a mother singing a lullaby — except, in this case, my mother is played by either Mary Richards or Ethel Mertz.
I wish I'd known I was always going to be able to hear these voices. I am embarrassed at the times when I cut short outdoor adventures and even dates to get home in time to see a Twilight Zone rerun on Saturday afternoon. Today the entire collection sits on my shelf, including episodes that were never released into syndication, along with the entire collection of I Love Lucy, Columbo, M*A*S*H, Friends, among others.
Of course, it doesn't have to be a television DVD. It’s equally easy to pop a classic like An American in Paris or The Wizard of Oz in and have Gene Kelly or Ray Bolger serenade me. Slipping off to sleep is like slipping surreptitiously back to post-war Paris or the Emerald City.
There's nothing like having a little time machine in the bedroom, one that lets me wander back to adolescence, childhood, and beyond.