overthinking the idiot box

May 2, 2005

Much like the shark in JAWS, you don't know where someone's been until you dig through their stomach and see what's been digesting. How do favorite programs affect the week's routine? How does a TV connoisseur balance the low brow with the high falutin'? If you are what you watch, then who are you? No one's answer is the same, and that's why everyone gets a shot at explaining...

What I'm Watching

by Justin Winters

If the saying "you are what you watch" is true, that must mean that I am option-limited, kinda fuzzy, and half Spanish. Yes, it's true. I live in Hollywood and I don't have cable TV. And yes, I would most likely smother a small puppy to not hear the phrase "Why the hell don't you have cable television" every damn day of my life.

I've got it people. I'm behind on the technology curve. But you know what? It's not hurting anyone not named "Justin's Girlfriend" in any way. I haven't had trouble lately with peeps banging down my door to watch Gastineau Girls or Project Greenlight (In a perfect world, maybe?). That's why you pay $80 a month for cable and I adjust Mr. Rabbit Ears so he points at the optimal angle through my window blinds.

Call me loco, but it just seems like cable TV is another commitment I can't fit into my life right now. I have a set number of TV shows that I do like, and I watch them semi-religiously LIVE, because what good is TiVo when you don't even have cable? I usually can't even record them because I still haven't figured out that particular function on my VCR. Damn you, universal remotes! See, you're totally picturing me as the Fred Flintstone of technology. And there's a little bird working a crank in my VCR that hates me. It's the truth. Cold and hard.

But it's not because I don't love television. Hell, I work in the TV industry. It's just that I'm extremely regimented in the way that I watch. Military-like and precise. I believe, in a sort of Disney-cartoon fairy-tale type of way, that TV is better when I watch it live. Call me 1950s that way, but if I don't catch the Jack Bauer Power Hour every Monday night, from 9 to 10, I feel like I've let Jack down. I need to watch and be with him every ticking minute. "He wouldn't tape me if I was saving the Earth on a TV show," I say to myself in a pep talk, "and neither will I."

I think it mainly stems from my upbringing. I remember getting up at the ass-crack of dawn every Saturday morning and watching Muppet Babies as a small tot. No fail. I was there, in underwear, rain or shine, pledging my preschool love to Fozzie, Kermie, and the rest. Similarly, I remember watching The Cosby Show in later years with my dad on Thursday nights and America's Funniest Home Videos (circa Danny Tanner) with my mom on Sundays. It made me you feel kinda warm inside. You were there in front of the tube, watching a show you loved with the ones you loved. How could you ask for more? I think I might have cried had I come to the living room one Friday night, expecting Family Matters, to find a note from Mom saying, "Sorry, I'm taping this episode so we can watch it at a future date that is more acceptable to my schedule."

Back to the present day. The good thing about having only 8 channels to choose from is that the commitment to the shows I do watch is steadfast. Every TV season, there are only a handful of shows that I can possibly let into my TV Trust Circle. Reality shows really don't factor into this decision because I don't associate them with Big Event TV. They're more like, Hey, There's a Pretty Bird So I'll Watch It Momentarily While I'm Brushing My Hair TV.

If I had cable television, I think the commitment to my favorite shows would probably wane. And that's the last thing in the world I need! WANING, of any kind! This year, for those who have somehow read this far down, the list of shows to which I am dedicated includes: 24, Scrubs, Lost, Alias, the O.C., The Simpsons, Desperate Housewives, (the newly awesome) Grey's Anatomy, and Arrested Development. Oh, Arrested Development. If you really are gone, why oh why? That's the worst. It's like breaking up with a girlfriend after just a few weeks. I've let you into my life. I've made the commitment. And yet, we just couldn't make it work. Now I have to let you go, like a dove into the gloomy sky of cancellation. WHY GOD, WHY?! I'll probably be sad for the whole summer. Then, fall TV season rolls around and it's like the NBA draft. Who will it be, filling my empty committed viewership slot? It's an exciting time, I tell ya.

Am I going to pass this frightening TV malady on to my children? Maybe, maybe not. The only thing I do know is that I will be the very last person on the face of the Earth to get TVs on the backs of my minivan seats. Unless they also function as airbags in some way. Because that would be simultaneously thinking safe and kinda cool.

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