Steven Den Beste sometimes posts essays on his blog that began as comments on other people’s blogs, but got out of control. This occasionally happens to me, too. I realize that I’ve written a thousand words and still have more to say. At some point you have to admit that you’re writing an essay, and you should be posting it on your own blog.
This piece originated in that fashion. The GNO bulletin board site currently has a discussion thread about this fall’s crop of new TV shows (and who likes which ones). I initially posted a laconic response that just said I don’t have time to watch TV anymore. But then Ben posted his take on some History Channel shows (including Conquest) and I felt that I needed to amend my previous statement. Before I knew it, I was writing an essay. So here it is.
Like Ben, I’ve become addicted to Conquest. Fortunately for me, new episodes don’t seem to come out very often.
I should clarify my previous comments. It’s not that I don’t watch TV any more; it’s that I really don’t have time for much TV and I try not to watch very much, but I often succumb to temptation and watch when I really should be doing other things. For me, TV shows fall into four categories:
- Shows that I officially watch and that I’m keeping up with. I have Season Passes for these and I watch each new episode as soon as possible. Conquest and Teen Titans are in this category. (So is Futurama even though I don’t think many new episodes are being shown these days. I either managed to miss a number of episodes when they were new or have forgotten them, so I’m recording and watching most reruns of it because they are new to me.) All of these are half-hour shows, enabling me to watch them while eating and pretend I’m not really spending any time on TV.
- Shows that I officially watch, but have fallen behind on. I have Season Passes for these and I transfer them to videotape for later viewing, creating a horrific VHS backlog that I’ll probably never entirely deal with. Star Trek Voyager used to be in this category, but I finally made a herculean effort and finished watching all the episodes about a year and a half after the show ended. Several other shows that have ended their run are in this category for me: Dark Angel, Firefly, Buffy, Tremors: The Series. Enterprise is also one of these — I’m over a year behind on it. From time to time I recognize that some particular show is so far down my list of things to watch, and has such a large backlog, that I will never catch up with it. When this happens, I admit defeat and recycle the videotapes. Sliders, JAG, Andromeda, and Odyssey 5 all fell by the wayside in this fashion.
- Shows that I don’t officially watch, but I like them and sometimes end up sitting down to watch if someone else has them on. Guilty pleasures, in other words. State of Grace was one of these until we ran out of new episodes, and Gilmore Girls still is. So are Trading Spaces and several of its imitations. And yes, Ben, Mail Call is in this category.
- Shows that I officially don’t watch, have no interest in watching even furtively, and will actually leave the room to get away from if someone else turns them on. All “reality” shows fall into this category, including American Idol in all its forms (sorry, Jen). Sports, news, and game shows (except for Jeopardy, of course) are also in this category.
I am old enough to remember a time when there were only three or four TV channels — and no VCRs, so if you missed something when it was on, you had to wait for a rerun or just didn’t see it at all. Now we have hundreds of channels, and VCRs and TiVo to make sure than we never miss anything we really want to see. I cannot recall a time after about 1975 when there weren’t more good shows on TV than I had time to watch. (I still don’t know the ending of The Captains and the Kings. I watched most of it in 1976, but had to give it up because my high school homework didn’t leave me enough free time to watch a miniseries. Now that it’s available on home video, I could theoretically buy it and watch the whole thing at last. But I have even less spare time now than I did in high school.)
It’s a popular affectation in our society to exclaim that there’s nothing worth watching on TV. But when someone says that in my presence, I can’t help responding with an incredulous stare. Do these people have that much spare time? Are their standards so high that nothing satisfies them? Or are they just saying that in order to pretend that they’re that discriminating?
Sure, there’s a lot of worthless dreck on TV. So what? Theodore Sturgeon once observed that 90% of science fiction is crud. But, he added, 90% of everything is crud.