My family is lower middle class(Sri Lankan sense).Nobody spoke English at home.I was 9 when they had TV outside Colombo.The lower middle class (clerks,teachers,policemen,small businessmen) could somehow afford a TV set in 80's.
Our Generation grew up watching TV all night and discussing them at school.Most of the shows were in English and they didn't have subtitles.i.e.I was listening to English 2-3 hours a day .Without TV that could have been 0.5 hours which was the English period at school.
I learned this only when I moved to US and try to dig up history of the TV shows I watched.We were watching latest hits in US and Britain!For insatnce I remember Cosby show in 1985 in Sri Lanka.When I checked ,the first season was in 1984!Same goes to other guys and quality.From Science fiction (Star Trek,Battles star Gallactica,Blake seven,V etc..) to shows like Knight Rider (or Hawai Five O,Starsky and Hutch,A team ) and to Soaps likes Dynasty (or Dallas) to Sit-coms (Sosby show,Silver spoons,Different strokes ,Jefferesons).I can also remember McGuyver,Street Hawk,LA law,Incredible hulk ,six million dollar man etc..We were watching latest pop culture at the time.They also had some criticlly acclaimed series like roots,kung -fu,north and south .Also great movies in weekend.(mostly from 60's).Also they had ABC wide world of sports every week and quality documentaries.Gamini Weragama used to introduce classic movies in Sinhala on Friday(or Satuday night) which were shown without sub titltes.
As I remeber everybody my age used to watch TV and discuss it in school since that was the only entertainment we had .Rupavahini was the only channel for kids outside Colombo.
Another thing was going on at the time ,too.No (or minimum ) Hindi .To save Sinhala film industry , only two Hindi film were allowed per year(from 1970s I think).That means unlike our previous generation, the main component of pop culture came from West instead of India.(Sinhala commercial service had a 1 hour hindi song program in the afternoon.Thats it.).
Then came libererilization of the media in 1992-93.MTV(Maharaja ) and TNL started.ITN went Island wide.What they showed was second or third rate programs from west and lots of Hindi movies to fill the gaps and get ratings.Multiple radio stations started blasting hindi songs.Era of sub-titled or voice dubbed English programmed began.
Only noticeable English program I could remember from 90's was Beverly Hills 90210,X -Files ,Melrose Place and Baywatch .The English sitcoms dropped out(NO friends,NO Seinfeld and NO Everybody loves Raymond) .Hindi movies replaced English ones.The average middle class kid's English time might have come down again to 0.5 hours .
I remember reading an interview with the famous threater director and writer Sugathapala De Silva .He was angry with the subtitles because they were wrong most of the time and also because it distract the viewer from original dialog.
Now when I visit once a year I notice that still Hindi rules(Teenagers started going to Hindi tuition classes just to understand movies) .The cable TV is limited to a minority in Colombo suburbs.
Since we have a handful of TV stations it is not impossible to reverse the trend.Don't get me wrong .I love some of the Hindi movies.As nation probably we have to decide whether we are going to be first rate imitatators or second rate imitators.Most of the Hindi movies and TV shows are obvious imitations of Hollywood stuff.Are we going going to get the real thing or the second hand version of western shows?
The best example for the TV has on Language ability is the Scandinavian people.The older generation who were not exposed to that much of US program are not that good in English and the younger generation is fluent in English.
Before resting my case I have to thank M.J. Perera the first director general of Rupavahini for keeping my childhood interesting.Specially for the quality programs he inserted to the line up . He took a lot of flak from left and right for "destroying the culture".Aththa ,Divaina and the rest of the Sinhala news media blasted him.