The last regular network television show that I deliberately watched was the series finale of Smallville. With that, it seemed, my television watching ground to a halt. Indeed, it has been more than 10 months since I watched TV in anything other than a most trivial way.
While I have often complained about television shows today, this wasn’t one of those deliberate decisions like I have made in the past. Other activities have filled the time that television once occupied and what is currently offered on television simply can’t compete with those other activities. Even shows that I enjoyed watching (like The Big Bang Theory, and Dexter) I gave up. And you know the strange thing? I’ve had no regrets and no desire to return to them.
The other activities of which I speak are things like: hanging out with the family, reading and writing. Given a fixed amount of time in the day, the competition is fierce for what gets my attention. It is pretty clear to me that I enjoy these other things more than I enjoy television, but as someone who used to watch quite a bit of television, I’ve recently wondered if there were specific ways in which I’ve been turned off to television. After some consideration, I can think of several:
- It is too passive for me. You sit in front of the television and content is poured into you without your having to take any action. Even for relaxing, I prefer something a little more active, which is why I prefer reading, or writing or playing with the kids. When I truly want to relax, I’ll put on my noise-cancelling headset and play game after game of Solitaire on my iPad, just letting my mind wander.
- Television programming is no longer designed for a viewer just looking for 30- to 60- minutes of relaxation. Most dramas out there are no longer “series” but are instead “serials.” The difference: a series is a show that has a related set of characters and background, but in which each episode is self-contained. You can come to the show knowing nothing about it, watch the episode and go on your way. Serials require all of the back story from the first episode going forward. Think of it like this: you can jump into pretty much any episode of Magnum, P.I. or M*A*S*H and understand what is going on without having watched another episode. But try doing that for, say, Lost. I don’t want to have to understand all of the back story. I want a self-contained story that can be told in 30 or 60 minutes. House started out this way in its first season, but quickly diverted onto the serial track.
- Television plots have become both outrageous and predictable. In order to keep audiences hooked, serials have to keep getting wilder in wilder in their plot twists, making them more and more outrageous and unbelievable. And yet at the same time, they are predictable. At least I find them to be. If a show involves a surrogate mother, for instance, you can pretty much guess that when the baby comes along, the surrogate mother is not going to want to give it up.
- Shows are getting shorter and shorter and the commercials are getting longer and longer. And I just can’t take that. Sure, we can DVR the shows and skip the commercials, but even that takes time and I can’t even afford the time to skip the commercials.
As of this writing, there is only one show that I am looking forward to watching, and that is HBO’s second season of Game of Thrones which comes out in April, I believe. But even that I will likely not watch in real time, but rather via HBOGO, well after the episode has aired.
Now, I’ll have science fiction friends out there who will point out all of the great science fiction shows that are worth watching, but that is a nonstarter for me. As I’ve said here and elsewhere, I am not really a fan of sci-fi television or movies. I love science fiction as a literature and given the choice of investing my small supply of time in one or the other, why would I even consider investing it in sci-fi on the screen, knowing I rarely enjoy it, when I can invest it in reading, which I almost always love?
And I’m sure I’ll have other friends out there claiming that this show or that show is particularly good. And maybe it is. But whatever enjoyment I used to get from watching television has withered within me. Can it be revived? Perhaps but I can’t imagine what it would be that would get me back to the screen, so to speak. It would have to be something worth watching more than reading, writing, or hanging out with the kids and there is nothing I can imagine on TV now or in the future that would do that.