Commercial Break



Remember the NBC Sunday Night at the Movies? Way back in the 70s and 80s, NBC had a running Sunday night schedule featuring made for TV movies and miniseries. Advertisements played for days ahead with teaser trailers that promised a “family event” that just could not be missed. They were sometimes sappy and dramatic, often over the top, but usually boasted a stellar cast.

I remember hurrying home from church service, fixing a plate of leftovers from our huge Sunday lunch, and racing to my spot in front of the huge console television that took up half the living room. The familiar notes that opened every NBC Sunday Night would play while the iconic peacock would spread its wings across the screen, and the narrator (whose name I never knew, but whose voice I can still hear to this day) would say just enough words to get us hooked and make it impossible to turn the channel.

My favorites were North and South, Winds of War, Roots and Fatal Vision. Then there was the yearly showing of two of my favorite classics: The Sound of Music and The Ten Commandments. I may not be able to remember what I had for dinner last night or my driver’s license number, but there are some scenes from all of these that I can recite verbatim. Maybe that makes me some kind of cinematic idiot savant – like Rain Man? If so, I’m okay with that.

Now here we are well into the 21st century, and the NBC Sunday Night at the Movies isn’t something the typical teenager can even imagine. Movie night now involves using a jailbroke firestick on a smart TV to access just about any movie, TV series, documentary or YouTube video that you can think of. My best friend and I will settle on the couch with his daughters and my daughter, choose a film or series, turn subtitles on or off and stop or start it at will. Meanwhile every girl in the room has a phone that is playing yet another video or movie or game simultaneously. They have taken multitasking to a phenomenal level.

My best friend and I shake our heads and laugh. We still need help with the remote.

I miss those Sunday nights in front of the TV finally getting to see the movie you’ve waited so long for – planning our whole night around it, eating on a TV tray (this was the only time that was allowed in my home) staring at the screen.

And the commercials – I even miss the commercials. Not just for the nostalgic value, though I could watch commercials from the 70s and 80s for hours. I know this because there actually is an entire “movie” compiled of nothing more than vintage commercials that I found while perusing the ten zillion options available on Netflix, Hulu and all the other “channels” whose names I can’t even pronounce. Watching them brings back memories of Cabbage Patch Dolls and Easy Bake Ovens, jelly shoes and pleated jeans, Lite Brite and Viewmaster, Pac-Man cereal and Hubba Bubba bubble gum … things I had long ago forgotten but are still as familiar to me as if I just got home from middle school band practice.

“You know what I really miss?” I asked my best friend just before we settled in for our latest movie night with the girls.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Commercial breaks,” was my answer.

I thought he would look at me with his head tilted to the side as he always does when he’s trying to determine what exactly is going on in my head. But he grinned and said, “I KNOW! Me too!”

We talked about how he’d race his brother and sister to the bathroom and how I’d rush to the kitchen to get a refill or another helping and how we’d listen the entire time straining to hear the familiar NBC refrain that meant the last commercial was over. He’d jump over a chair. I’d race around the La-Z-Boy. We lived many miles apart, but we had the same commercial break rituals – us and every other family we knew.

“Yeah, I’d forgotten how fun that was – the anticipation,” he said, still smiling.

“Exactly. Somehow we all felt more … together. The good old days …” I sigh.

“You want a commercial break?” he asks.

“I think I do,” I respond.

He picks up the remote and says, “Watch this.” He hits the Pause button, and the movie freezes. Four heads turn and look at us, four pairs of eyes squinting a bit, all of the daughters in the room wondering if we’ve mistakenly sat on the remote again or forgotten where the volume button is.

“Commercial break!” he says.

Blank expressions from all sides. “Um, what?” one of his asks. “Commercial?” my own daughter says.

My best friend pulls out his cell phone and opens the timer app. “You’ve all got 90 seconds to get refills on popcorn and drinks and go to the bathroom.”

This is met with silence. No one moves. All four of them blink rapidly at us as if we are speaking German.

“When this timer goes off, I will hit play. If you don’t want to miss what happens next, you better choppity chop. Ninety seconds starts now!”

With that, they rise from the couch, slowly at first. A couple of them go to the kitchen. One heads to the bathroom. The other stands in the living room as if she can’t quite decide if we’ve all lost our minds. And then the giggling starts. Ice tumbles into glasses. “Can you grab me a cookie?” one calls to another. Someone knocks on the bathroom door and says, “Hurry up!” Feet shuffle and the giggles get louder.

“Close your eyes,” my best friend says. And we both do. “Can you hear it?” he asks. “It’s Sunday Night at the Movies all over again.”

And it’s like music – his girls and mine – together on a commercial break.

Now if we can only find the Play button before the girls get back.


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