Ah, television. It's a constant presence in most of our lives, a comforting voice in the background, a familiar friend that does our thinking and feeling for us at the end of a long day. But ever since the very first cathode ray flickered to life more than half a century ago, TV has faced harsh censure, taking the blame at one time or another for every societal ill, from low high-school graduation rates to obesity to the electricity crisis. TV is bad, its critics say. TV is stupid. TV is crap masquerading as art. TV makes us fat. TV makes us dumb.
Television Without Pity doesn't disagree. And we've watched enough TV to know.
We've watched much more than TV's detractors have — yes, even more than you, Focus on the Family — which is why we appreciate all the good things about TV. Of course there are good things about it; if there weren't, would so many of us own TVs? And here in North America, we don't just own TVs; we're a little addicted to them. We keep them close by in case we need a fix, which is why we have them in the living room, and the den, and the kitchen, and the bedroom, and on the boat, and in the cottage, and in our cars, and cleverly tucked away in a hidden panel built into the hot tub.
We tell ourselves it's because we want to watch the news... but then how much of CNN is real news and how much is just telling us about the fortieth anniversary of some candy factory? We pretend we really don't even watch that much TV — just PBS! — but then we find ourselves mesmerized by the soothing voice and calmly static illustrations of Reading Rainbow. We act like reality TV is beneath us, but if the subject of Survivor comes up at a cocktail party, we end up in a vigorous debate with a stranger over whether there's been a really satisfying winner since Richard Hatch.
Television asks so little of us and gives us so much in return. It's a world of possibilities in a compact little box, offering instant access to crime-scene investigations, sassy robots, standup comics, dance-offs, and game shows older than we are. It can teach you things you never thought you wanted to know, or present you with programming so resolutely unchallenging that it actually does make you a little bit dumber. If you want to exercise, there are shows about that. If you want to eat chocolate, there's a channel where they show you what it looks like and tell you how awesome it is, and you can call them up, buy the chocolate, and someone brings it to your house. And if that doesn't work for you, turn your TV on at any hour of the day and you can probably watch Law & Order.
TV isn't always good for us, which is why we sometimes hate to love it: It seems like we shouldn't get that excited about, say, a Small Wonder marathon, but we do, and that's embarrassing. But TV isn't always bad for us, either, which is why it can be hard to admit that we're watching a show we know is awful because most of the fun comes from ripping on it — loving to hate it.
Our relationship with TV is complicated... and so is yours. That's where this book comes in. Let's try to work through it together.
From Television Without Pity: 752 Things We Love to Hate (and Hate to Love) About TV by Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting, © 2007. Quirk Books. Excerpted by permission.