It was 1979 when my parents first got cable television for the family… or what passed for cable television at the time. The nation had yet to be introduced to even the seedlings of the multi-channel services movie fans have piped into their living rooms today. Before everyone knew HBO, Z Channel, Showtime, Encore or Cinemax, they all knew ON-TV.
ON-TV was what was known as a “scrambled UHF” service, the height of broadcast sophistication at the time. During the day, the UHF station (channel 52 where I grew up) aired its regular programming grid of Hercules cartoons and William Bendix in Life of Riley reruns. But at 7 in the evening, ON-TV would begin transmitting recent motion pictures over the air to the station, and the image would immediately scramble on home televisions, the sound cutting out entirely. In order to watch the movies, a converter box with a single “on-off” knob had to be rented for a whopping nineteen dollars a month.
Nineteen dollars a month. I was ushered into puberty for the price of nineteen dollars a month.
ON-TV gave me the first opportunity to see movies which my yet-to-hit-double-digit age would have prevented me from seeing in an actual theatre. And unlike the networks, ON-TV played the films totally uncut and unedited, finally allowing me to obtain a meager grasp of understanding on the subject of sex. Smokey and the Bandit, Silver Streak, Animal House, The Deep… to this day I can’t watch any of them without still experiencing a faint twitch of pre-adolescent Catholic guilt.
It was one regular school night at home when my parents and sister came together in the living room to watch a movie called The Spy Who Loved Me, and my mother allowed me to watch with them. No one in my family was particularly fond of James Bond, so I had no idea what to expect. But this was the only movie playing on the only movie channel the family had, so it was automatically an event.
By the time the opening sequence – featuring not one, but two love-making scenes and a ski chase down the side of an Austrian mountain – gave way to Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” and the film’s titles, accompanied by a bevy of naked women, swollen in all the right places, trampolining through the air and doing cartwheels on the tops of semi-automatic pistols, I was pretty sure I was watching the greatest motion picture ever produced.
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