Dang, I Broke My TV Watcher

by James Wallace Harris, 11/5/22

I seem to be losing my ability to watch television. In the past year or two, when I try to watch TV by myself, I have the hardest time getting into a TV show or movie. If I’m watching television with Susan or a friend I have no trouble settling into the show, but if I’m alone, I often abandon a show after five or ten minutes. Because I’m a lifelong TV addict used to filling my evenings with the boob tube, this is disturbing.

I’ve got sixty-seven years of solid practice watching TV, so why am I losing this skill now? Some of my earliest memories are of watching TV when I was four. I started watching television with the 1955-1956 season, but sometime in 2021, I began noticing I had a problem, maybe even earlier, but it’s painfully obvious in 2022.

The TV watcher part of my brain has broken. And it’s not for trying. Every evening I try getting into several movies and TV shows. Every once in a while, I find one that my mind will latch onto, but it’s getting rarer. So I’m developing some theories about why my brain is broken.

The Gilligan Island Effect

I loved Gilligan’s Island back in 1964 when it first aired. But as I got older I could no longer watch it. My friend Connell and I use Gilligan Island as our example of being young and stupid. Whenever I catch it on TV now I cringe and wonder how could I ever been so easily amused. That feeling is also true for The Monkees. It embarrasses me to recall those were once among my favorite shows. Now I understand why my dad used to pitch a fit when they were on, telling me and my sister we were morons.

As we age we become more sophisticated in our pop culture consumption. I assumed that development stopped when I got into my twenties because I pretty much watched the same kind of shows for the next several decades. However, with The Sopranos, TV jumped a level in sophistication, and for most of the 21st century, I’ve been consuming ever more sophisticated TV content.

What if my TV-watching mind has gotten jaded with all TV? So everything now feels stupid like Gilligan’s Island did when I got a couple years past twelve?

The TV Buddy Effect

As I said, I can watch all kinds of TV shows and movies if I’m watching them with other people. And looking back over my life I realized I watched a lot of TV with other people. With my family growing up. With friends when I was single. With Susan for most of my married life. With my friend Janis when Susan was working out of town Mondays through Fridays.

When Susan retired and Janis moved to Mexico, things changed. Susan now wants to watch her favorite TV shows from the 20th century and I don’t. So she sits in the living room with her TV and cross-stitches while watching endless reruns of her favorite shows. She likes old shows because she doesn’t have to look at them while she sews. I sit in the den and try to find something to watch on my own. Over the last few years, I’ve had less and less luck until I’m starting to wonder if I can’t watch TV alone at all anymore.

Susan and I do watch some TV together. Around 5:30 we watch Jeopardy and the NBC Nightly News that we record. It’s a family habit and the cats sleep in our laps. On Wednesdays we watch Survivor.

This year I was able to binge-watch Game of Thrones. I had watched it as it came out, and when two of my friends living in other cities each expressed a desire to rewatch the entire series I joined them. I discussed each episode with Linda and Connell in separate phone calls.

The YouTube Effect

Let me clarify something. I can watch about an hour of YouTube a day, and I can channel surf trying to find something to watch for another hour. (By the way, that drives Susan crazy. Another reason she likes watching TV by herself.)

My dwindling ability to watch TV has coincided with my growing love of watching YouTube TV. I have to wonder if watching endless short videos and constantly clicking from one subject to another has broken the TV watcher in my brain, so I can’t stick with longer shows.

The Relevance Effect

Last week I binge-watched A Dance to the Music of Time, a four-part miniseries based on the twelve-novel series by Anthony Powell. I had seen it before, but because I was now reading the books I wanted to watch it again. That seems to suggest if I have a good reason to watch television that I have no problem sticking to a show. My mind isn’t completely defective. I’m now on the fourth book in the series, and I’ve bought a biography of Powell and a character concordance to supplement my reading. The series has over 300 characters.

Knowing the Magician’s Tricks Effect

Another theory I’ve developed deals with my studies in fiction. As I read and think about how fiction works, I’ve paid more attention to how movies and television shows are constructed too. I’ve noticed that I often quit a movie or TV show when I spot the puppeteer. I can hardly stand to watch a mystery or thriller nowadays because they seem so obviously manipulated.

Male Aging Effect

I remember now how my uncles as they got older stopped watching TV except for sports, and even then, still not often. My male friends stopped going to the movies years ago, and I’ve finally stopped myself. I’m now doing what Susan and I used to laugh about her father – going to sleep in his den chair after dinner. Since we bought Susan’s parent’s house when they died, I’m going to sleep in the very same den, around the very same time – 7:30.

Conclusion

Because I sometimes find shows that hook me, I figure my TV watcher isn’t completely broken. I do worry that it will conk out completely. Right now I spend my evenings listening to books or music, and I worry that those abilities might break if I overuse them. I’m thinking my TV watcher needs new kinds of TV content to watch, but I have no idea what that would be.

With so many premium channels cranking out so many kinds of quality shows for the last two decades, I worry that they’ve done everything to death. One reason my mind responded so well to YouTube is the content is very different from regular streaming TV content. But I feel like I’m about to reach the end of YouTube too. I’m starting to think TV shows and movies are like clickbait, that once you’re used to all the variety of bait, you become jaded and stop clicking.

JWH

p.s. I’m using DALL-E 2 to generate the art for my blog.

15 thoughts on “Dang, I Broke My TV Watcher”

  1. Hi James

    Just a thought. I know you’ve been interested in writing, so maybe if you start watching TV and movies to see how the writing (plot, character arcs, etc.) works, which you do with your SF short story reading, then you might find a different level of enjoyment. You might also hook into your latent creativity and start hatching your own short stories 🙂

    Cheers Earl Livings

    =============================== Earl Livings Poet-Writer-Editor-Teacher http://www.earl-livings.com http://www.earl-livings.com/ (Welcome to my latest newsletter – https://tinyurl.com/4d9sssc5 https://tinyurl.com/2qxdwpka) ===============================

    >

  2. Similar problem. That said, recently watched House of the Dragon, and am looking forward to The Crown on Wednesday.

  3. Also a similar problem. Corinne, who shares the house with me, basically monopolises the TV and, like Susan, she watches old 1990s stuff while doing her beadwork or crocheting. This means that she isn’t actually watching—she occasionally glances up at the screen, but that’s all. The current favourite is Murder, She Wrote, which is so silly and formulaic that I can’t understand why any adult would want to watch it. And speaking of the devil, she’s just reminded me that we were supposed to go to the deli, so I’ll finish my thoughts later.

  4. As I was saying, I don’t actually get to watch much TV, but I’m starting to wonder if it really matters. When you grow old enough, and you’ve seen enough television, the “seen it all” syndrome kicks in. You begin to see the patterns and templates according to which most TV, especially network TV, is written, and none of it seems new any more. But the other problem is that a great deal of stuff that I love is now available free on the internet. For example, I watched M.A.S.H. from start to finish, about two years ago. Plus lots of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, The Saint, and too many others to mention. And of course there are classic movies on the Internet Archive as well. You must remember that there was no TV in South Africa whatsoever until 1975, so many classic shows like I Love Lucy or The Andy Griffith Show (and yes, Gilligan’s Island) are just names to us. But thanks to YouTube I’ve sampled most of these. Like Jim, I can easily spend two hours just wasting time on YouTube—my guilty pleasure is reaction videos. But there are also top quality BBC shows such as Would I Lie To You, which is just about the funniest thing I know of. And on regular TV there are some rare shows that are actually really good, such as Better Call Saul … but it seems I really just prefer to waste time on YouTube these days.

    1. Susan has watched M.A.S.H. from start to finish many times. She does that for all her shows. I visit her in the living room sometimes, sit in there while she’s sewing, and catch portions of old shows.

      I’ve been meaning to try Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I have tried in the past, but it never hooked me, but I keep thinking it might eventually. Now that I’m old I tend to have better luck with old TV shows my parents loved.

  5. YouTube has hooked me as well. However, the best TV shows today are being made in Korea, in my opinion. Some are great, others strange, and some are no doubt bad. But they offer all sorts of stories in all sorts of genres – historical fiction, crime, SF, fantasy, romance & soap. My all time favorite is “Crash Landing on You” A stupid title, many of them are. If it doesn’t hook you by the end of the second episode, move on. (And if you try it, watch on beyond where they start showing stills from the episode, as there is a short “post credit” scene that fills in some background.)

  6. Ok I’m a bit different. I’m 75 and I do not like old shows or much American TV. For me, and this is just a personal thing…I like British and some foreign TV (Nordic in particular) and I tend to like drama or crime dramas best. I only watch BritBox, Acorn TV and PBS passport. I simply find the plots and acting superior. Again just my preference. I like some sci-fi, but not the newer stuff. My all time favorite sci-fi was the original Alien…and 2001 Space Oddessy.
    Also I can no longer read a book. Can’t focus long enough anymore…

    1. I prefer British shows too, especially miniseries based on classic books. I watched a fair amount of British crime series with Janis. Janis and I watched a lot of foreign movies and TV shows. Amazon Prime has a lot of those. And I have PBS Passport too. But I really need a TV buddy to watch all that now.

  7. I have the opposite tendency: I like to watch TV alone. When I watch TV, I always have the CLOSED CAPTIONS on–which annoys my wife. When I watch TV with my wife, I turn the CLOSED CAPTIONS off and often miss some dialogue because the actors are mumbling or the sound recording sucks.

    My wife and I also like to go to the movie theater on a weekday…as early as possible. Many times we’re the only ones in the theater so we don’t have to endure the distractions of having other people in the audience talking or playing with their phones constantly during the movie.

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