This month’s title is a quote from Being There, one of my favorite movies of the last three decades. In it, Peter Sellers plays Chance—a man with the mind of a child who knows virtually nothing outside what he has learned from television. Which, by the way, he spends nearly every waking moment watching.
It’s an endearingly biting comedy in which Chance’s simple-minded comments are invariably mistaken for profundities—and it seemed like as good a reference point as any to publicly disclose something I’ve said privately, without shame, for years: I like television. In fact, all things considered, more than the movies. Here’s why:
First, I rarely have the time, or the patience, to watch an entire movie on a Friday or Saturday—much less on a weeknight. On the DVR, an hour-long show on basic cable is 50 minutes, tops. AND there’s always the possibility that I’ll catch a really good commercial among all the lame ones I fast-forward past.
Second, TV is a writer’s medium. TV producers don’t have budgets for the special effects that dominate most Hollywood films these days, so they’re actually forced to focus on the stories. And there are plenty of shows that tell stories I like.
Third, a month of cable TV—most of which is available in HD—is less than the cost to take the family to a single movie (particularly if you buy Coke and popcorn). Because of that, I’m a lot more easily satisfied by TV than movies.
Not that my overall standards have dropped, but I just don’t bring the same (often unreasonable) expectations to TV that I do to movies. At the same time, on a strictly objective level, I can list any number of TV shows which have genuinely impressed me over the past couple years—but very few movies. And yeah, I know that’s partly my fault—because I’m not willing to invest the necessary effort to find movies I’ll really like; but even if I was, I still don’t have the time to watch them.
Fourth, a lot more people watch TV—so it offers me many more opportunities to enjoy reasonably meaningful small talk with others, day in and out.
All that said, my love of television has its limits. For starters, I’d almost rather do heroin than daytime TV, not to mention the vast majority of Scum Culture reality shows (the noted exception among the latter being—and yes, I’m not even embarrassed to admit it—Survivor. But then, that’s as much for the pretty girls in bikinis, and the often-breathtaking tropical landscape-scenery shots, as it is for the storylines and weekly mini-dramas).
Then there’s the ongoing epidemic of single-camera comedies, like The Office (a show I used to love)—wherein the vast majority of “laughs” are generated from painfully uncomfortable moments, and the reason we’re allegedly laughing is because we know, hee-hee-hee, that we really shouldn’t be.
Here’s what really irritates me about that genre: In order to pass as a “good” single-cam comedy, all writers have to do is create comical situations in which the characters say funny things. Whereas writers of traditional multi-cam comedies have to create comical situations in which the characters say funny things. And then they have to actually WRITE JOKES. There’s an entire layer of craftsmanship that’s simply not required in single-cam comedy—and if you asked me, that’s lazy.
At the same time, while I’m no fan of Big Brother government regulation, my first official act as imaginary President will be to ban television in any public place that isn’t a sports bar or chain restaurant. This includes airport boarding areas—where I was recently forced to sit through a gruesome quote-unquote News Segment entitled “Missing Ohio Mother Found Dead”. An experience that inspired my second official act as imaginary President: Limiting broadcasts of those stories, and every “Who Made The Corpse In Scene One” detective show (like CSI, etc.) to a single 24-7-365 network.
Call it The Murder Channel, or maybe something short and catchy, like GORE. Then give viewers everywhere the option of filtering it from their channel lineups altogether. I know I would. After all, there’s nothing I can do, except feel sick and sad, about Dead Moms In Ohio. As for detective dramas, I don’t care who made the corpse in Scene One—and I’m not interested in spending time with actors who do; even the ones who wear bikinis on shows featuring often-breathtaking tropical landscape-scenery shots. You won’t find them in my house.
All of which leads, in a roundabout way, to my favorite thing about TV: It’s in my house. And at my age, that’s pretty much where I want to be, with the phone unplugged, after work. Which is why it’s best to call me at the office, during the day, whenever there’s something important you need to discuss. Like, for instance, what you watched on TV last night.
This column was originally published in the May, 2011 issue of B-Metro Magazine.