How a forgotten classic TV show has sparked an emotional trip down memory lane

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I caught up with a friend on Monday night and the question that inevitably gets raised, given we’re both pretty big TV followers, is: So, what are you watching?

Usually, our lists are pretty similar. The latest show ‘everyone is talking about’, perhaps one we’re late to the party on, or a gem discovered somewhere in the streaming world.

This week, I safely declared: “I bet you’re not watching this”.

And so, let me tell you a little story for no other reason than I think it’s pretty interesting and may provide a little trip down memory lane for you.

When I was a kid, while most of my school mates were watching cartoons or falling in love with superheroes, I developed a fascination for old TV shows.

I’d watch them with my Dad. A real farrago of shows, from ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ to ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and ‘Lost In Space’.

I reckon I could still recite every single word of Maxwell Smart and 99’s antics as they battled Chaos in ‘Get Smart’.

One show stuck with me in particular.

‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’ would air for the first time on October 3, 1952. Ironically, October 3 is my Dad’s birthday, though he wouldn’t enter the world until two years later.

Harriet and Ozzie Nelson.

‘Ozzie and Harriet’ would go on for 14 seasons and become, until recently, the longest running sitcom in American television history.

Along the way it would launch the career of pop superstar Ricky Nelson, and establish the Nelsons as the poster family of 1950s America.

The show was unique in many ways. Ozzie and Harriet Nelson starred as themselves, though in scripted situations, and their real-life sons David and Ricky played their children.

When they grew up on the show and got married, their real life wives became cast members. In many ways, it was a frontrunner to reality TV long before anyone had heard of the genre.

My Dad grew up watching this show and then, through the magic of VHS and later DVD, so did I.

Through my 20s and 30s, I would still occasionally take a break from the drug showdowns of ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Ozark’ to go back to a time when life seemed simpler, and throw on an episode of ‘Ozzie and Harriet’.

The ultimate comfort show.

For all its innocence, ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ is definitely firmly a show of its time. Sexism is rampant, although only through modern eyes. Stereotypes are there in spades, but again, only when applying today’s standards.

Not surprisingly, ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ became lost through the generations. Not to be found on even the most obscure of streaming services and YouTube and sporadic DVD releases providing the only platform for a flashback.

Until recently, that is.

In total, 435 episodes of ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ were made. A couple of hundred are easily found online, or are the ones that pop up on those DVD releases time and time again.

But many more were considered lost, or if not lost, unwanted.

About a decade ago, Sam Nelson – Ricky’s son – started a passion project, determined to somehow get all 435 episodes together for the first time in a complete collection.

The Nelson family.

He didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

Nelson would soon discover reels in storage facilities across the country.
Episodes here, seasons here. Some in good condition, some almost destroyed.

As much as his grandfather Ozzie, who had managed the show with a fine tooth comb, was organised and ahead of his time, he could never have imagined the technology that would follow the early days of television.

Sam Nelson with the box set.

Against what he calls insurmountable odds, Nelson finished his project just before Christmas. All 435 episodes are now together in one box set, remastered and complete. The missing episodes have been found.

And let me tell you, this is an extraordinary collection. I can not tell you what a ride down memory lane watching this show from the start again has been.

The magic when an episode comes on that I’ve never seen.

The sadness in imagining how much my Dad would have loved this.

The joy in being able to completely remove yourself from the world and be taken back in time to a place where none of the modern world’s problems existed.

The Nelsons weren’t quite the all-American family they portrayed on the show, but they did a mighty good job of playing pretend.

And to see it all over again is magical.

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