I see a lot of TV, my TV is on all the time… and yet I watch almost nothing. I have no idea what’s on any of the big networks or what reality show everyone is buzzing about right now. Names go by in blog posts like Snooki and Taylor Momsen and it’s hard for me to know what makes them famous. But it wasn’t always this way. When I was a kid, I watched all the big primetime shows and the reruns of ones which had been on before I was born. Even now I can tell you the plots of almost every episode of The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, The Flintstones, Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, Fantasy Island, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Friends, Law & Order, and lots more. But somehow, by the time I got my first DVR in 2002, I wasn’t really watching episodic TV. I know this because I never once used the function (you who have TiVos may know it as Season Pass but there’s no particular name for it on the ReplayTV) which records an entire season of something. I suppose the closest I ever came was Lost, which I started watching because I have a thing about plane crashes. Anyone who has watched Lost knows it had about as much to do with aviation as Gilligan’s Island had to do with boating, but I felt good having something to talk about in the office kitchenette and on the Internet. Frankly, as I’ve said many times, I never had any idea what was going on at any time in that show.
I actually watched the very first reality show of the new generation, Survivor. In fact, on the ultimate show where the winner was decided, I had a guest visiting from Israel where Survivor was unknown and he could not believe that I wouldn’t go out until the show was over. “Don’t you have a VCR?” he asked (this was in, I think, 2000, remember). But I was too afraid of hearing it somewhere else. By the second season, it was devoid of any interest for me because everyone in it had seen the first season and knew how to play it. Of course, there were other reality shows and I have tried to like them. I liked Trading Spaces and Queer Eye For the Straight Guy but after a couple of seasons (or sooner) you realize it’s always the same show. I watched some of Flavor of Love, because I happened to flip past it one day and was stunned by its over-the-topness. I tried Biggest Loser and Wife Swap because they seemed like interesting concepts but in the end I just cringed and felt embarrassed for everyone on them. When I watch most reality TV, I feel like a voyeur, and maybe a little dirty. So I stopped watching most of them except sometimes Cake Boss, because, well, I like cake, and it’s often the only thing on in the middle of the night.
Nowadays, I mainly watch these things: local news (Pat Kiernan on NY1 specifically), magazine shows like 60 Minutes, sports, movies I have already seen, and reruns of shows I watched in the 80′s and 90′s. Again, I am not sure how this happened, even as I just traced the history of my waning interest in the last two paragraphs. And somehow, I, who was the person at the school lunch table who could skillfully dissect the plot of the previous evening’s Mork & Mindy, have become some sort of freak. And I am aware of this. It happened twice just this weekend. First, I had a Twitter conversation with Noshowmo were I felt like I was from Mars because I did not realize a comment about housewives in Beverly Hills was about a TV show. If you could tweet, “I am a moron, explain your tweet like I am a moron,” and not humiliate yourself, I probably would have done so.
Later, I had this conversation with my sister.
She: Have you watched Teach? I bet you’d love it.
Me: Oh, I saw a billboard at the US Open for that. Oh hey, does Tony Danza have the name Tony on the show?
(I then proceed to laugh uproriously at my own joke while my sister looks utterly blank)
She: Uh… yes… his name is Tony Danza
Me: But on the show! Is his name Tony?
She: Yes, it’s Tony Danza.
Me: Really? They just gave up and gave him his full real name?
She: It’s a reality show! He’s himself.
Me: Oh. Yes. Right.
I may actually find this show on the Internet. But this is part of the problem. You have to know what’s going to be good or big if you want to join in the global conversation. Somehow, by the time you find out it’s 30 Rock or The Office, it’s too late. I don’t have Netflix or the time to watch DVDs of five years of a show. And let’s face it, half the fun is being able to discuss the show with other people. When I had HBO, it was easy. A show would come on, it would be made clear to you that This Is A Big Show! Watch This Show! And there would be a manageable season of eight or ten episodes that you could handle. This is why, aside from Lost, the last series (serieses?) with which I kept up were Big Love, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Six Feet Under. So now I am that freak. That freak who understands no cultural reference and doesn’t even get the joke because she doesn’t know the name of a hugely popular (apparently) TV show.
Speaking of TV news, last week I watched a lot of Chilean miner coverage, but I watched it on the Internet. In fact, I got into a tussle with a technology writer I very much admire, Farhad Manjoo, who writes for Slate. I’ll have to put words in his mouth because it was on Twitter and all statements were 140 characters or less, but he seemed to be saying that I was only getting meaning out of what I was seeing because it had been so hyped. Even when I explained that I was seeing an unedited raw feed from the mine with no voiceover, he claimed that my emotional response was manipulated because I had already seen “a month of commentary.” I didn’t know how to say in 140 characters, “are you kidding? Did you notice that no one watches the news or reads the newspaper anymore? I read technology blogs and Gawker. And it wasn’t big on NY1 this month either; they’re more concerned with bedbugs.” It’s claimed that most people get their news from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert but I don’t even watch them unless someone posts an interesting clip online.
But, you see, it wasn’t until I had this conversation on Twitter that I realized I no longer watch CNN or MSNBC or even Fox, which is comforting to watch when something’s happening in Israel. I only get the weekend NY Times and I skim it. While I am cooking or baking, I listen to 1010 WINS in the kitchen, but that’s mostly local news, as well. So wow, I am that person. I get my news from blogs. And Twitter. I’m following a trial, the one for the murder of the Petit family in Cheshire, Connecticut, almost exclusively on Twitter. I have a list of all the reporters I could find who are tweeting from the courtroom (it is here) and I have that page open all day. Every now and then I will check back and see what is happening and if it’s a big moment, I stay for a bit. Back in the day, I watched the OJ trial on TV, just like everyone else. I was working at my first label and my boss had a TV. When she was out, which was often, my co-worker and I would eat lunch in her office and watch the trial. But somehow, this is better, because frankly, it’s a gruesome trial and I don’t need to hear every detail, I am just curious about the case and the way it is built and tried (you may remember I like Law & Order as well). But it’s like instantaneous reporting from ten different people and it’s an amazing thing. So much so, that the NY Times covered it. Sometimes I look at the Times app on my iPod, so I get some news there, too. In this case, I saw on my iPod that the NY Times had recognized that people are getting their news from Twitter.
Yesterday, I laughed at someone on Twitter for not getting a visual joke that’s been going around about the Gap logo redesign. And that’s when it hit me: I know every Internet meme and I can tell you what happened at the Windows Smartphone press conference, but I didn’t really know much about the Chilean miners until I happened upon a discussion of it on a forum, whereupon, I flipped to cnn.com and watched a streaming video. I have replaced almost every form of media in my home with something viewable on a device with software and memory.
I haven’t yet decided if this is a good thing, but as soon as I do, I’ll be sure to let you know here, on Twitter, or on Facebook.
Elton John – (Hold me Closer) Tiny Dancer