Friday, February 22, 2019

Memory, Blog - The Sunday Night Ritual


I've found myself turning more inward lately and my obsession with nostalgia has hit an all-time high. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older or... no, you know what? I'm not old, you're old! Whatever!

Ahem, excuse me.

Anyway, I find myself more interested with watching films on VHS than on Blu-ray, with playing the Nintendo Entertainment System than the Nintendo Switch, and eating kid's cereals over a nice steak dinner.

Okay, that last one might be a bit extreme... maybe.

I thought it might be fun to start writing about some of this nostalgia as a way of bottling it, so here goes!

In 1993 my favourite TV show aired for the first time on Friday, September 10th. You guessed it, it's The X-Files. I haven't hidden my love for this show, have I? It dominated the air waves on Friday nights for three years, but in 1996 Fox made the bold move to air it on Sundays and man, did it work!

You see, the 9 o'clock timeslot (10PM for me in Atlantic Canada) was previously known for the Sunday Night Movie on other networks, like CBS, ABC, and NBC. This is when many TV stations would fight for a hot "new to TV" film to air, so viewers could wind down their weekend and just veg in front of the TV. The ABC Sunday Night Movie actually aired from 1962 until 1998.

Viewership began to wain, however, and this is when you started to see a lot of big made-for-TV movie events, like NBC's The Beast, which aired in two parts on Sundays in April 1996, or ABC's Storm of the Century, which was broken into three installments starting on Sunday, February 14th, 1999.


NBC promo for Peter Benchley's The Beast from April 28th, 1996 courtesy of Dinosaur Dracula

Fox decided to waste no time in finding a viable alternative to steal your attention during those precious couch potato hours before the school/work week began anew, so they moved their most popular drama into that timeslot, where it lived until its (not so) final episode in 2002.

At the time, even series creator Chris Carter didn't like the move. Fox executives were putting a lot of stock in Carter's next big thing, Millenium, which took the coveted Friday night space from The X-Files, but with a feature film in the works and more and more accolades rolling in, The X-Files was no worse for the wear.

Promo for The X-Files move to Sundays, circa October 1996 (sorry for the suggestive thumbnail)

Now, Fox already had my attention on Sunday nights with The Simpsons. What a great foothold to launch The X-Files new timeslot on? You already had millions of viewers watching the station anyway, so if you slap TVs hottest show after it, you've got people locked for hours.

The only thing that Fox varied was the meat in this delicious TV sandwich. The 8:30 ET slot had a variety of content over the years and there were several delicious fillers, but for one reason or another none of the shows stayed on the menu (I'll stop now with the sandwich puns). There was King of the Hill, Futurama, and even Family Guy, all of which used this slot as a launching pad before moving to another day and time, but the show that finally stuck was the unlikely Malcolm in the Middle, which I believe (and don't quote me on this) stayed on Sunday nights even after the glory years were well and done with, in 2006.

Sunday nights were a very bittersweet time. It sounds crazy, because I didn't dislike school or anything like that. In fact I liked it for the most part. I just looked forward to and enjoyed my weekend so much, that I started lamenting their end starting on Saturday night, while I typically watched whatever late night movie aired on TV (which we'll talk about in the future, I'm sure). By the time Sunday night came,  I was in full despair!

In our house Sundays were for family. My folks and I would pilgrimage to both of my parents' sides to see relatives for dinner; one in the afternoon and the other in the evening. I didn't see much of my friends and there wasn't any time to play my video games, but it was always good to eat great food and see my cousins.

When the evening came, it was "me time" and I took full advantage of it.

I would rustle up a snack - provided I was still hungry after all the food we had that day - and cozy into my bed with all the lights off, save for the glow of the fuzzy old TV screen, complete with tin-foil encrusted rabbit ears to catch the over-the-air signal.

And there I'd stay until 11 o'clock. The opening acts of The Simpsons and whatever second comedy show that followed it were a nice way to relax before the creepfest of The X-Files hit the screen, but also not the best way to close out and get a good night's rest!

This time period was The Simpsons apex for me. The show was coming off the highs of the Conan O'Brien years (1991 to 1993), which is when I was cemented as a fan. Around 1998, however, my interest started to slip. I did continue to watch until 2002, but if I missed it for whatever reason, it wasn't the end of the world. For as many times as I've watched The X-Files, I've never really gone out of my way to revisit The Simpsons chronologically from this era (I have caught lots of classic episodes in syndication). If only that Simpsons World service would launch here in Canada!

I kept my little Sunday night tradition up starting in junior high right until my first year of university, which is crazy to think of looking back now. I remember I wasn't as into it after I left high school. The X-Files without Mulder and Scully didn't interest me as much and (as I mentioned) I wasn't getting the same laughs from The Simpsons anymore, but I can still recall how I felt watching the finale to The X-Files to this day. It was a somber moment - an end of an era - and I knew it.

Fox promo for The X-Files series finale from May 2002

I still reminisce about those Sunday nights (clearly). In my hectic lifestyle these days I almost never get a quiet relaxing two hours to myself and I have no real "rituals" that I can always bank on each week. And that's fine! I love my time with my wife and kids and things may be nuts right now, but I know I'll be looking back on these very days in 10 years wishing I could have them back, as well. Possibly I'll be reminiscing while I'm kicking back and watching some primetime television on a Sunday night... you know, if that sort of thing even exists anymore.

Hope you enjoyed,
R