What Do the TV Shows I’m Addicted to Say About Me?

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Have you ever wondered what our lives would be like without television? Television is like the proverbial sixth that lets us see and hear across space and time. We could have used television technology to extend the reach of our eyes and ears to real-time events in reality. My wife spends endless hours watching an eagle’s nest in Florida, but few people watch live cams. Most of us watch recorded shows. Either fiction or nonfiction. And as much as I love documentaries and news programs, my real TV addiction has been to fictional shows.

When you think about it, isn’t it rather odd that we have this technology to spy on reality across the globe but we prefer inputting make-believe into our eyes and ears instead? I can only assume watching our favorite television shows is a rejection of reality.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not about to tell you to stop watching television. I’ve had a lifelong addiction to television and there’s little chance I’m going to give it up now. I do feel I’ve gotten my TV habit under control though. I only watch 2-3 hours a day, and one of those hours is my routine of watching the NBC Nightly News and Jeopardy with my wife Susan. For the first ten years of our marriage, we spent primetime together every night, but we’ve slowly drifted apart preferring other shows.

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s I remember watching television every evening with my family. I had my favorite shows I looked forward to each week, but I wasn’t obsessed with watching every episode. Beginning this century with complete seasons on DVD or streaming an entire series from the first episode to last, I’ve developed the habit of binge-watching completed series from the past. Now that feels like an addiction. Looking back I realize my TV viewing habits have changed many times since 1955. That’s when I remember watching my first TV show.

I’m realizing what I’ve been doing recently is going back over a lifetime of television watching and picking out certain shows to watch every episode in order. Here’s are the shows I’m currently working my way through:

Now, this does not cover any of the dozens of TV shows from the 21st-century that I’ve watched every episode as they came out.

I keep asking myself why I’m drawn to those old TV programs when we have the latest shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, CBS All-Access, The Great Courses, Curiosity Stream, and Acorn TV to watch.

I keep thinking I need to psychoanalyze myself. I accept TV watching as my addiction, but I keep wondering why I pick the stories that I do. Most nights I flip through all the new offerings and end up watching either Perry Mason or Route 66. These shows give me the most pleasure at the moment. And it’s not necessarily nostalgia because I didn’t watch them when they first ran. Oh, I saw a couple episodes back then, but I was too young to appreciate them. My ten-year-old head was into Dobie Gillis and The Flintstones back then.

While Susan is in the living watching her shows late at night, I’m watching old black and white TV shows from the late 1950s. There’s a certain surreal quality to that. I feel like I’m channeling my parents who would have been in their forties at the time. These were their favorite shows. Or maybe I’m channeling the whole era from when I was growing up.

If watching TV is rejecting reality, then watching old TV is rejecting modern reality and the alternate reality of modern TV shows. There’s a weirdness to that. Think about it, TV is how we turn off our senses to the present and provide an alternative input. Why am I feeding my brain 60-year-old TV shows? What does that say about myself? And if I also admit to focusing on reading science fiction short stories from the 1940s and 1950s, I’ve got to wonder about my connection to the present.

It’s telling we prefer fiction to reality, but isn’t it also revealing what kinds of fiction we prefer for our substitute of reality?

Last night Susan and I made a Spotify playlist to share where we only added songs we both loved. Most of them were from the 1960s and 1970s. Tomorrow night we’re going out on the coldest night of the year and pay for high-priced movie tickets to watch The Wizard of Oz from 1939 on the big screen, a movie I got addicted to as a kid from its yearly showing on TV.

(By the way, I’m not completely out of touch with modern pop culture. I’ve already seen 6 of the 8 Best Picture Oscar nominations for this year, and will probably see the other two before the Oscars are revealed. I’ve lost touch with modern music, but I’m going to be really worried about myself when I no longer keep up with movies too.)




8 thoughts on “What Do the TV Shows I’m Addicted to Say About Me?”

  1. Yes, I think what you watch could say a lot about you. Right now I am watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but it isn’t my favorite. Grace and Frankie, catching up on Big Bang Theory. I stopped watching TV shows when the commercials started taking up 10 of 30 minutes, but now that I have found a way to watch without commercial interruption, I’m watching a bit more. I love figure skating, but usually only end up watching during Olympic years. Old TV show favorites — Andy Griffith, Golden Girls, X-Files, Star Treck (esp next generation). I love movies, but almost never go out to see them. I plan to catch up on my cruise. I have seen only 2 of the Oscar nominees. Other shows I like — Dr. Who, Doc Martin, Call the Midwife, most of Masterpiece Theater. I was particularly into Inspector Lewis. Also Midsomer Murders. News — when I got it, I watched the PBS News Hour. I still watch it ocassionally on my computer, but usually only watch Politics Monday, and Shields and Brooks. All my watching now, probably amounts to 10-12 hours a week, which is up quite a bit, actually.

    1. I love The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I’ve watched each season twice because I’ve watched them with different friends. I’m also a big fan of Masterpiece Theater and I often love to rewatch its series. I’ve been hankering to have a third go at I, Claudius. I’ve seen all of The Big Bang Series. I watched them as they came out, and then watched them again on DVD. There’s just so much fun stuff to watch. The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon are two sitcoms I still share with Susan.

      Did you see the new Vanity Fair? The guy from Doc Martin was in it. Doc Martin feels like a British version of Northern Exposure. And my sister has gotten me to try a new show, 800 Words about a single dad and his two teenage children moving to New Zealand. It also has that fish-of-water feeling of people living in a small quirky town.

  2. I tell myself I will watch more documentaries and works to build my knowledge and insight. But it is easier to escape my own reality in something fiction. Even in fiction, I prefer easy watches like sitcoms and don’t take on shows too intense.

  3. I watched most of those TV programs you list. But, the only one I’m going to watch from start to finish is PERRY MASON. I bought the entire series on DVD and I hope to start working my way through each season in 2019. At the same time, I’m planning on reading any of the Erie Stanley Gardner novels that some of the PERRY MASON episodes are based on. Like you, I’m not finding much contemporary TV or music or movies that interest me.

    1. I wish I had bought the Complete Perry Mason before Christmas. It was just $98. Now it’s out of print I guess because I don’t see them on Amazon, just expensive used copies. I started reading the first Perry Mason book, The Case of the Velvet Claws after seeing that TV episode.

  4. Yes, I loved most of those old series as well. My worst (best?) addiction was Masterpiece Theater. Everyone in the household knew that my Sunday night viewing could not be delayed or disturbed. Those were the days of one TV per household, no DVRs, no way whatsoever to record and replay. If you missed the scheduled broadcast, you were out of luck. I remember feeling quite anxious about it.

    Perhaps you are like me – you watch the TV and movies you are drawn to for the same reason you read certain books – it’s entertainment, yes, but it’s more than that – if the literature, i.e., the book, the screenplay, the libretto, whatever, is true to the universal human experience, no matter the genre or form of delivery, then it allows us to vicariously tap into that experience, to achieve a sort of secular transcendence that is a consolation and a catharsis.

    Viewing and reading, I keep returning to the classics. Thank god for Eddie Muller and Noir Alley on TCM. I would pay to listen to his introductions alone.

    I find myself surfing Netflix and Amazon Prime every evening, but more often than not seeking out an old classic that I may have watched over and over because it stands up to the test of time. Netflix is the worst – churning out so much low-brow, lurid, contrived, predictable, intelligence-insulting crap that I’m truly tempted to cancel the subscription and sign up for the new Criterion Channel. But I’m afraid I just might miss one of the rare offerings worth watching – like the Cohen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

    We are what we consume, James, and your observations coincide with my own. Good luck navigating the murk.

  5. “My ten-year-old head was into Dobie Gillis”

    I used to watch that. Have you watched any of the “Daria” cartoon? Does that seem similar to Dobie Gillis?

    Real life is full of too many people that are not as smart as characters on TV and in books, hence the need to escape.

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