For years now I have become an avid television watcher. However for the most part, not in the traditional sense. Like many good American consumers I turn to TV on DVD to get my fix on a regular basis and more recently I have been turning to Netflix’s streaming capabilities (through the TV set top box). A funny thing happened over the past year. A year ago, I always found myself telling people: “No, I don’t really watch TV.” Lately though, I realized that this was a boldfaced lie. In fact I was watching quite a few television shows (Arrested Development, Entourage, the Office, LOST… to name a few). Was it because I mentally blocked the reality that I was regularly plugged into the affectionately named “Idiot Box” or was it because I was subconsciously afraid of what people might think?
But that’s precisely the problem in this country at this point in time. Despite the fact that Home Box Office has led a revolutionary charge of epic proportions in the last decade, reclaiming the small screen for the educated and thinking man, people still refuse to accept the reality that there is some seriously excellent programming going on. This point hit home tonight when I had my father view an episode of Friday Night Lights I was watching. Having never seen it, I gave him the rundown of who was who, what their motives were, and why I thought it was a great show (like a good Newhouse grad). Lo and behold, it was 1 am and he was still awake! I can’t remember the last time that happened. And when it was over and I was crying like I usually am post-FNL viewing, he looked at me and said this: “Well… no one’s gonna watch that.”
From an outsider’s perspective this would probably seem like a dismissal at best. But from my father it couldn’t have been more of a compliment. And he’s right. The upcoming 3rd season of FNL will most likely be its last. The reason? It’s too smart, well written, acted, and produced for its own good. He was surprised when I told him it was on NBC every week. As well he should be. When was the last time (with a few glaring exceptions) that a prime time, network TV show captured the raw emotion and realistic scenarios of a young generation by writing smart dialogue and using unconventional TV production styles? [pause for TV Guide collectors to scratch heads]
But to many of my friends and I, television has become more than just filler between advertisements 24 hours a day. Granted many of my friends have media degrees, but should that change the fact that there is brilliance happening every week on TV and people don’t even know about it? An old friend of mine just finished a 500 page PhD dissertation on the social effects and impact of the television show the Wire. If that sounds crazy then you haven’t seen the show. Go watch it. Seriously.
I’d like to think in the near future people will begin to realize that shows like 30 Rock and LOST are more than just their one-liner, dialogue numbing predecessors. We’ve come a long way in this country. I think if we can elect a black president (yes we can, and yes we did!) then we can start treating television as something more than the noise you use to fool your parents when you’re trying to get laid in high school (god bless that laugh track in Everybody Loves Raymond). I think its high time and I think the masses of America are ready for it if only they’d give it a chance.