Sunday, October 05, 2008

TV: Where's The Beef?

I’ve never written about TV. Maybe it's time. My family was one of the first in our neck of the Arkansas woods to get color TV. We watched it a couple of hours each night. In those days, parents decided on the channel, though we only had three to choose from. We watched the news, which I didn’t get at that age, and Lawrence Welk, which I hated, and Grand Old Opry, which I didn’t like, and sometimes the Porter Wagner show, which I hated. A little later Hee Haw came out, and that I liked. It had pretty girls and I was beginning to notice girls. And sometimes we’d watch Bonanza or Gunsmoke, both of which I liked a lot. I remember when Star Trek came out. In the first season it was on at 7:00 and some serious begging earned me the chance to watch it. The next year it was on at 9:00 and that was past my bedtime. No more Trek for me, and I didn’t see the 2nd and 3rd seasons until years later in reruns. I never watched The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits because those were deemed too scary for me.

By college, I had pretty much lost interest in TV. I’d watch Star Trek, and for a while got semi-hooked on Buck Rodgers. The only other shows I watched occasionally were the westerns, Big Valley and High Chaparral, and sometimes the detective series Mannix. I would catch episodes of things like Hart to Hart but didn’t watch them regularly. Unlike most of my friends, I never watched MASH, or WKRP in Cincinnati (although later I caught episodes of each in syndication.) I watched episodes here and there of some SF shows I really liked, such as The Invaders and Land of the Giants.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation came out, I made it a habit to watch it each week. That lasted most of a season. I just found it impossible to schedule time to devote to a weekly TV show. Plus, I often simply forgot a show was going to be on. Time and again I started watching a series and failed three to four episodes in. It happened with Space Above and Beyond, with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek Enterprise, Stargate SG1, and, more recently, the new Battlestar Galactica. Just this last month I decided I was going to watch Fringe. I managed two episodes and got bored.

The only TV shows I’ve seen every episode of are the original Star Trek, Star Trek: TNG, Frazier, and Nip/Tuck. In all cases I saw far more episodes during syndication (or rebroadcast) than when it first aired.

I guess, in part, I just don’t get what is so interesting about TV. I can read for hours, write for hours, play a video game for hours. But ten or fifteen minutes into most TV shows and I’m clicking channels. And this has gotten much worse as TV shows have introduced ambitious multi-year arcs. I don’t even try to watch shows like Lost, for example, because I know I’m never going to keep up.

Do I have a point? Not really. I like the characters on some shows and there are often interesting story lines and special effects. But most of the time they seem like more trouble than they're worth, or they interfere with a dozen other things I’d rather do. So what is it about particular TV shows that hooks you as a viewer? I’d like to know.

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44 comments:

the walking man said...

Charles I probably watch more TV than you do but I have the same problem. Itchy trigger finger. When I do watch an episode of something my mind always wanders to the technical aspect of writing the script; scene depiction and timing.

I suppose I could do without the TV but then I'd have to stir up some other form of mindless entertainment.

CrazyCath said...

Characters. I avoid soaps like the plague because they would take over my life! (For a while till they got too far fetched!) I get involved and care about the characters - much like a good book. I don't think I have ever seen SG1 or Star Trek episodes in order. I probably have seen them all, but jumbled up. I can last an episode, but the two parters kill me - I forget to tune in for part two! If it is back to back (as in reruns on Sky) then I stay for part 2.

I prefer to read, and I like a good movie (love the Star Trek movies - especially the later ones) but sometimes it is nice to sit and watch TV. The problem with it is the timing. I now have got to the stage that if there are 10 minutes to go and they are not wrapping it up, I know it is a 2 parter. That spoils it because it has not engaged me enough to not notice the time. Sometimes I am just fascinated to see exactly HOW they are going to (realistically) wrap this up in 5 minutes flat.

I do get bored, unless it is a good, gripping storyline. It has to be viable for me to stay tuned.

L.A. Mitchell said...

The more I write, the more I gravitate away from TV and opt for movies where I can spot arcs and plot points.

I'm hesitant to get involved anymore in TV shows because they don't have the longevity they used to and networks are so quick to ax them. I vowed Journeyman would be the last disappointment for me. I am a faithful follower of Lost, but that's about it.

David Cranmer said...

Growing up I was hooked on TV (we only had one channel) and then sometime after my five years in the military, I lost interest. My wife and I now go back and pick up shows on dvd to see what all the fuss is about. The biggest problem is that most shows tend to run themselves into the ground after the first season. But I'm right there with you: For the most part, it's still a vast wasteland.

Greg Schwartz said...

I agree. TV shows try to hard to reel you in. Especially with the trend now toward reality shows, I just can't get interested in anything. I watch "The Shield," "The Office," and a couple of other shows here and there, but it's hard to get into new shows. Plus, like you said, I'd rather read.

Miladysa said...

You mentioned quite few programmes from my childhood there, High Chaparral, Land of the Giants and Star Trek! Memories :-D

I think the majority of TV programmes are very poor these days. I like something different and I like eccentric characters.

My favourite at the moment is Torchwood - I can't get enough of Captain Jack! Life on Mars was another excellent series but these are the only two I can think of.

Travis Erwin said...

Other than sports I watch very little if any TV so I get what you are saying. I'd simply rather read or write.

BernardL said...

As crazycath mentioned, characters hook me. If there's chemistry between the lead players, I can get into the series. I usually don't have a chance to be bored with a TV show. If I start liking one, like 'Moonlight', it gets canceled. :)

Sidney said...

Man, I hated the Porter Wagoner show too back in the day. Makes you remember what the choices were back then.

Now it airs on one of the obscure channels, and I can enjoy it as a time capsule. I like seeing the shots of the audience, wherever they culled them from.

I can even enjoy a performance by Speck Rhodes, the one in the all-plaid suits and derby hats, from the same arc-type as Grandpa Jones, I guess.

writtenwyrdd said...

The only show I was a rabid fan of was X Files. But when TNG came on, I did watch it fairly religiously for a season. Then I got rid of the tv for a few years. Now I have satellite because I was working shift work (and what else do you do when you get home at 1 am or have to sleep during the day and need noise?). Also, mom likes to watch tv for the noise.

I find I generally prefer to avoid reality tv and to watch a few shows of a season and then forget about network tv in favor of History channel, HGTV, Nat Geo, Science and Discovery channel shows. I love the science related stuff.

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, I do find that TV fits my mood when I'm really tired or if I've been thinking hard all day. Plus, I watch football and would miss that.

Crazycath, I'm the same way with two-parters. Hate them because I never seem to catch the second part.

L.A., yeah, when I do feel like watching some TV I generally prefer a movie because I'll know exactly how much time I'm going to be spending there and that, good or bad, there'll be closure at end.

David Cranmer, I've told myself I should pick up Lost and some other kind of shows like that on DVDs but then I'd have to hook up my damn DVD player, wihch I got as a gift, and that sure seems like a pain. I'd probably enjoy the show more that way, though.

Greg Schwartz, the Shield was another one I tried to watch and I did pretty good through half the first season but then missed a bunch and had no idea what was going on so I don't watch it anymore.

Miladysa, I thought I'd probably like Torchwood but then I missed the opening episodes and decided I'd never catch up. I saw "Sanctuary" the other night, the first episode, and it looks pretty decent. I also caught an episode of Primeval and thought I'd start watching that, but I've missed everything since.

Travis Erwin, football is defintely a big TV draw for me.

Bernardl, the shows I have watched it's certainly been the characters. I just really enjoyed Frazier and Niles.

Sidney, I remember Grandpa Jones, and liked when they sang that song, "Gloom, despair, and agony on me." lOl. Brings back memories.

Writtenwyrd, Lana and I do watch quite a bit of the science channels, but even they run some real fluff and nonsense at times. But I liked that show about "after humans." I don't watch any reality shows except Hell's Kitchen, and I watch it largely because Lana is a big fan of it.

Lisa said...

I've never had the commitment to series television that it takes to follow a show on a regular basis either. When I was a teenager, I was much more interested in being out with my friends and then when I was in the Air Force, I was overseas and out of touch with American television for a long time.

I now confess to a certain affinity for some series because of DVD and cable "on demand". These days, the show I do try to watch when it's actually aired is "House" -- even though it follows exactly the same formula every episode, I just love the character. We also catch "Mad Men", the AMC original series on cable. But overall, I can't remember to watch anything when it's actually on. I've rented or bought DVDs to watch "The Office", "Nip/Tuck", "The X-Files", "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Lost".

Now my addiction seems to be CNN and I need a 12 stop program to break it!

Scott said...

I've had an on again, off again affair with TV. I'm pretty much in the off again phase at this point. The only shows I watch now are Heroes, Smallville, Metalpocalypse, and The Venture Brothers. I used to plunk down and watch whatever was on that night, but I'm a bit more selective of what I watch. If I'm watching the TV now, it's usually a DVD of a movie or something like that.

I used to watch a lot of realty TV shows, but I've gotten to where I can't stand them.

Shauna Roberts said...

I, too, prefer to read than to watch TV. I guess "Torchwood" (BBC) is my favorite series that hasn't been cancelled. Of the shows currently playing, the only ones I watch on purpose are "Sarah Connor Chronicles," "Coupling" (BBC), "Ugly Betty," and "True Blood" (HBO). We rarely go to the movies, so we watch movies when they reach TV.

laughingwolf said...

like you, love good westerns and used to watch star trek, all, regularly... recently, can't be bothered to turn the set on, last time was... dunno

on cbc-tv i liked 'the nature of things', with david suzuki, and also one called 'marketplace'....

Travis said...

I watch very little series tv these days. I used to watch much more than I do now.

TV for me these days is about sports and my dancing shows. I do watch Terminator and Heroes, but I catch them on the websites and it doesn't disappoint me if I forget to watch.

I like to read, and write, and cruise the bloggosphere, and listen to music, and I do like to watch tv. But these days most of my tv hours are spent with sports or with history or science programs on cable. The tv is often on, but I'm not always focused on it.

Angie Ledbetter said...

I watch in fits and spurts too. Would rather be in a book or on the computer.

ivan said...

I'd opine that most bright people liked Startrek, and if really bright, probably "Lost in Space".

Remember that impish robot and the menopausal Dr. Smith?

Robot: Danger, danger Will Robinson"... and his head would ratchet right up.

The reason Startrek was so good was because the very best science fiction writers were consultants, especially Arthur C. Clarke and, I think, Anthony Burgess.
It seemed to me the very best of T.V. science fiction, apart from the excellent Martian Chronicles of Ray Bradbury.
Startrek The Next Generation had its moment too, but once you got into Deep Space Nine and the same jug-eared aliens all the time, the spinoffs became a drag.

As for regular programming, who in my generation would not have liked The Ed Sullivan Show, which started just about everything around us in trends today.

But Lawrence Welk? It's still on PBS and it still blows so hard
you'd take it for a gay marriage advocate.

Today, pointed satire is the best, the most informative, with the likes of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, some episodes of MAD and SNL when it gets the wind up.
You're right on the drama. Not really good. Somebody always pulls out a gun when the action slows. Oh wow. How orignal.
Boston Legal does rock, but it's probably because of William Shatner.

And I couldn't stomach The Sopranos because it was about assholes, no matter how sympathetic or complex.
I guess I'm from the old school.

Klotu! Barrada. Nictou!

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm horrified to see how fast one can get sucked into TV viewing again, even after 10 years w/o one. That's some kind of powerful brainwashing!

Charles Gramlich said...

Lisa, the advertisments I've seen for House make me think I wouldn't like it but I've never watched an episode.

Scott, the only reality series I've ever watched was one year of the Surreal Life when Vince Neil was on it, and some of Hell's kitchen.

Shauna, I've seen a couple of episodes of the Sarah Conner Chronicles and enjoyed them.

Laughinwolf, I wish they'd bring back some good westerns.

Travis, I think I might have enjoyed heroes if I'd got in at the start but I've never been able to catch an episode.

Angie, definitly. Reading a good book now. Thanks for stopping by.

Ivan, I do remember seeing one or two Ed Sullivan shows. I never caught Lost in Space when it was orignally out and never really watched in reruns. Lana watches Jon Stewart and Colbert regularly and occassionally I catch an episode with her.

Lana, it's just so easy and mindless to do, I guess. But still I tend to get bored easily with it.

Rick said...

Nice to meet another person who has distanced himself from the tube. My friends call me "Starman" because I know so little of popular culture, but it's mostly because I avoid tv like the plague. If watched it I would scarcely have time to read and write. But Lana's right- it does hook us quickly again if we give it half a chance.

Barbara Martin said...

I don't watch TV unless I go to someone else's place. I read or I write, or I'm not home.

In my younger years I was a TV fanatic. My family was the first on our block to get a TV, and it was interesting to meet neighbours who never spoke to us before suddenly appeat at the door to see the TV.

Weekend mornings had opera on until noon before the regular programming began. I liked the creepy shows that I could sometimes see if my parents were out, and my brothers were there: The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and then there were the medical shows, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Medical Centre; Perry Mason, Route 66, The Untouchables and the westerns and Start Trek episodes you mentioned, Charles. Then the Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, I loved and Get Smart I didn't like.

Then I went overseas to work and stopped watching TV. I returned and didn't get back into it. Now I can't be bothered. From what I have seen, there isn't much that I sould want to watch.

Steve Malley said...

My tastes seem to run to half-hour animated comedy: Family Guy, South Park, King of the Hill.

lyzzydee said...

I don't watch much tv I prefer my pc or doing something. At the moment there are a couple of programs that snare me, Desparate housewifes is one, it just sort of captures you and before you know what has happened the episode is over and I am wanting more!!

Wil said...

I really don't watch much TV besides my baseball and hockey teams. We did watch The Sopranos religiously when it was on though.

The Trailer Of Love

Miladysa said...

Charles please give Torchwood another go! If it comes to it I will send you the DVDs LOL

Each episode is different - one or two are quite naff but the majority are brilliant. Well, if you like that sort of thing ;-D

The thing to remember is it is not about huge budget productions more about great storytelling.

Angie Ledbetter said...

PS. Glad to see another Cajun in the blogosphere!

laughingwolf said...

yeah... my alltime fave was: have gun, will travel [richard boone]

benjibopper said...

the series on DVD has made it easier to keep up on your own terms. i felt much like you until just recently, when we started renting Homicide by the season. we're on season 6 of 7. for me it's the characters that are addictive. it's the only cop show that i've seen that does a good job showing how shitty a job these folks have, the effect delving into the depths of depravity for a living has on their psyches, how it breaks them down over time, episode after episode, season after season. it's fascinating. the writing is also sharp, and as a writer i find it interesting to see how storytelling necessarily varies in different media.

Charles Gramlich said...

Rick, I know. My pop culture references are two decades or more out of touch. I still tell stories to my class from the original Star Trek.

Barbara Martin, I did watch some Get Smart, and my mom loved Marcus Welby MD and I watched that with her some. Even as a kid, though, I would rather read than see TV

Steve Malley, you have that in common with Lana. And those aren't so bad because they don't fill up a lot of time.

Lyzzydee, I've never caught a full episode of Desperate Housewives but it actually has some good actors on it.

Wil, I know a lot of folks who liked the Sopranos. I've never managed to catch an episode.

Miladysa, I'll keep my eye open for Torchwood. I know some other folks who really like it.

Angie, I take that as an honor but I'm afraid I'm only transplanted Cajun. I came here from Arkansas in 1986 so I've been around quite a long time.

Laughingwolf, I liked that one, although I didn't see it nearly as often as Bonanaza or Gunsmoke.

Benjibopper, I definitely think seeing a series that way would help me a lot toward keeping my interest.

cs harris said...

I watched a fair amount of TV as a child--mainly the westerns you mentioned, and many of those great old PBS miniseries. But I really don't have time for TV now. People will frequently tell me I ought to watch such-and-such, and my question is, When? I'm amazed at the hours we're told the average person spends watching TV. How do they find the time?

Scott said...

Charles, I watched The Surreal Life that season as well. It's scary how much Vince Neil and I resembled each other when we were both overweight.

Heff said...

I watched an episode of the original Star Trek Sunday. Hadn't done that in years. Man, did it bring back memories. Probably the only show I've seen ALL episodes of is Seinfeld, which is pretty impressive (or sad) considering it ran 9 seasons.

X. Dell said...

Funny, but you actually mentioned all the shows that hooked me as a viewer, with the exception of Jeopardy and Monday Night Football. I've watched Star Trek and descendants (with the exception of the last series), only the original not in its first run (Mr. Spock scared the hell out of me back then).

Otherwise, I've been rather cold on television. Up until 2006, I didn't have cable, and after 9/11, everyone's non-cable TV reception went kaput (the Twin Towers housed all the transmitters, except for the Home Shopping Network's). After that, I wouldn't even think of turning on the TV for literally months at a time.

I have to actually remind myself to watch now that I have cable because I hate the thought of wasting money. But they repeat so much that after an initial viewing, you quickly run out of new stuff to watch.

Then again, the Internet is engaging. I takes you places TV cannot, and at a speed that TV can't match. In fact, if there is a show on TV that I really need to watch I can just as easily find it online. I can imagine that there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when television will become obsolete.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I have a pretty small set of t.v. shows that I watch compared to the average American, I guess.

I do find myself, now though, considering that 'once is enough'. Even if it's a favorite show, when it goes into repeats - for the most part - I'd rather read a book than re-watch the show. At least, on the current run. I don't mind watching stuff on DVD again later.

I like quirky stuff or stuff that makes me laugh or both. I'm not real interested in straight here-and-now drama. I need drama set in SciFi or Fantasy.

My current list is mostly cartoons, The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, The Venture Brothers. Outside of those - Burn Notice and Doctor Who. And now, Z-Rock

We watch Jeopardy! every night.

That's really it - along with random pickings on Discovery or History Channel.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I'm not that into television. Most of my t.v. shows come in the form of dvd. "Six Feet Under," with technical advisor Thomas Lynch, was the last show I watched from beginning to end. I highly recommend it!

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

I'm not a huge television person, but I do love a show with great characters and a long story. I agree with Jim -- Six Feet Under was awesome. I LOVED that show. But the writing in my mind has to be as good as a novel for the show to really stick -- Sopranos for me or The Wire. Sometimes it's just that need for something easy to do -- the mindless part of it appeals to the exhausted part of me. And it helps distract me while cleaning house.

Barrie said...

I don't watch much tv. I think partly because I keep thinking of all the things I should be doing...

Sam said...

We got a color TV pretty late, so my TV memories are all black and white. I remember thinking how pretty the fireworks in the Disnet presentation were in color! My parents let us watch the Disney show, and I watched a lot of 'Lost In Space!', which I thought was funny. My sister, brother, and two cousins would play Lost in Space regularly. Our maple tree was the space-ship, and my father was furious with me when I hammered nails in the trunk to be spaceship control buttons.
I too thought Star Trek was terrific, but between the ages of 10 and 17 we moved to the Caribbean and didn't own a TV, so I didn't have any favorite shows as a teen.
Nowadays I watch all of Dr. Who, so I guess sci-fi will always be my first love!

laughingwolf said...

bonanza and gunsmoke were ok, as were steve mcqueen's, wanted: dead or alive; the rifleman; maverick; the virginian; wagon train; rawhide; law man; and even bat masterson, with gene barry ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

Candy, I remember a few pretty good miniseries. Shogun was great. and a great book.

Scott, say it ain't so.

Heff, I've actually only watched one episode of Seinfeld. I much preferred Frazier.

X-Dell, I do watch football. Used to always watch Monday night but I've gotten away from that in recent years. I watched Jeopardy on occassion but not regularly.

Paul, Lana likes the stuff like Family Guy so I'll watch it with her. Or the Simpsons. Although I never watch these when I'm alone.

JR, we don't get any of the movie pay channels. I've heard of good series on them but it would be a waste of money for me.

Michelle, I watch TV when I'm brain burned too, but generally then I sort of flip through the channels and watch snippets.

Barrie, I know that feeling.

Sam, that's a great story about hammering the nails into the tree. That reminded me, my parents would watch the Disney show and I remember all the colors.

Rawhide, I remember that and watched that. But I didn't really see Wanted Dead or Alive, Wagon Train, or The Rifleman until much later in life.

ARCHAVIST said...

I tend to watch my TV on DVD season box sets - for instance I recentlt watched ds9 season one in a week and the entire, there seasons, of Deadwood over a few weeks. I much prefer following story arcs in this way as one episode a week I'd never do it.

I tend to watch mostly old movies though but I am currently going through The Untouchables season one which was a far better show than I remember.

Erik Donald France said...

For whatever reason or lack of one, as a kid I did see the scary shows like Twilight Zone and they did probably darken my outlook on life from an early age.

Also, I came to expect sudden twists of fate.

I got to see a fair amount of Dark Shadows and Batman. It helped having older sisters paving the way.

Continuous narrative is cool if it's good a la Mad Men and Sopranos, and they also stand on their own as individual episodes. I also like the use of music, when it's done right.

Charles Gramlich said...

Archavist, I should do it that way too. Would save me some time.

Erik, I've watched some Mad Men episodes. An interesting show.