A free TV site that beats Hulu, Veoh

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The future has finally arrived for me: Watching old TV shows on my computer.

We all have our touchstones of what it means to be in the 21st century. For some, maybe it's locating a bathroom in New York City through iPhone. For others, maybe it's reading a book through the Kindle.

I'm sure others won't feel like it's the 21st century until we're riding jet packs like The Jetsons. For me, I think my epiphany came recently when I discovered that the Museum of Broadcast Communications has some of its collection online.

For those of you not familiar with the Museum of Broadcast Communications, it's a museum all about television and radio in Chicago. (It's currently closed; they're redeveloping their facility.)

I had never heard of them until the other night. I went looking for the Web site for the Museum of Television and Radio, which has two facilities in New York and Los Angeles.
I've been to the one in Los Angeles. I used to live there and spent an enjoyable afternoon watching old reruns of TV shows that I hadn't seen and aren't shown on TV any longer. (Please don't make fun of me in the comments section. You have your guilty pleasures; I have mine.)

Well, anyway, it's like 10 years later, and I'm sitting at my computer and suddenly this useless piece of trivia pops into my head: Robert Reed starred in a show before "The Brady Bunch." I wonder if I could find it online.

The show was called The Defenders, which aired from 1961 to 1965, and Robert Reed played a lawyer and the son of another attorney, who was played by E.G. Marshall. I had never seen the show -- it was in prime time several years before I was born in 1970 -- but as a kid I remember flipping through TV Guide, and whenever a particular Brady Bunch episode aired, it would point out that the guest star E.G. Marshall had starred in The Defenders with Reed.

So I look on Google and find nothing, but then suddenly I remember the day I spent at the Museum of Television and Radio, and I wonder if they might have The Defenders and a gazillion other shows on their Web site. Well, it turns out that they don't, but the Museum of Broadcast Communications does.

Just one episode of The Defenders, mind you, but a gripping 1964 episode with James Earl Jones as a guest star. And afterwards, I kept thinking, "Wow, no wonder Robert Reed griped about The Brady Bunch. He was on this drama that tackled race relations and other weighty issues of the 1960s, and then suddenly he's upstaged by six kids and a dog."

So, of course, after watching The Defenders, I started looking for other shows, and it's simply a gold mine of old classic and forgotten TV series.

Since I watched Robert Reed, I checked out another TV show with a Brady Bunch star in it: Ann B. Davis. Before she was Alice the maid, she was Charmaine Schultz in a 1950s TV sitcom called Love That Bob. The museum collection has two of those episodes online.

I looked for The Greatest American Hero, a childhood favorite of mine, about a teacher who is given a superhero suit by aliens -- oh, it's too hard to explain if you weren't around in the early 1980s. Suffice it to say; great show, and there are two episodes in the online digital collection.

If you loved Lucy, you can find some of her later 1960s comedy series as well as her classic 1950s show I Love Lucy. My dad used to talk about Captain Videoand His Video Rangers, a children's series that lasted from 1949-55 that he used to watch. Well, guess what, Dad? They have it.

And if that's a little before your time, there are two Captain Kangaroo episodes from the 1960s online. And I know I'm going to have to check out the 1969 pilot episode of Sesame Street. That's in their collection, too.

And, again, this is all free. You do have to register at the site to see these shows, just FYI, and it's not going to replace the television online site, Hulu, or one of Hulu's main competitors, Veoh, at least not any time soon.

While Hulu has, say, three entire seasons of older -- not to mention newer -- TV series, this online museum collection often has only one episode of a show. And what definitely separates Hulu apart from this museum's offerings -- the TV screen that appears on your computer is only three and a half inches wide. There's apparently no way to get one of the programs to take up your full computer screen.

But that's OK. The Museum of Broadcast Communications is a nonprofit organization and not out to compete with the likes of Hulu. In any case, I'm just grateful that they have much of their collection online. What I've seen so far has really been an interesting glimpse into the past.

And, no, you won't find every TV series ever made, but there are a lot. If you like old television series and want to see a glimpse of your forgotten past or just a program that you've heard about, this site is definitely must see TV.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist, an avid TV watcher and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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