Guest Opinion

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Severing prime time ties

I used to watch two prime time television shows every week because their characters became real and believable to me. The women were strong, cranky and flawed. The scripts were well-written, intelligent, and didn't always have tidy endings. Even the men were multi-dimensional; they struggled to balance machismo with their feminine side.

Both "Judging Amy" and "JAG" were cancelled this summer because they appealed to "older audiences," a death sentence for a prime time series these days. Now I'm left to channel surf through a vast wasteland of weird chefs cooking food nobody eats; tarted-up live Barbie dolls selling junk none of us need; grainy World War II Nazis; bad old movies starring nobody I've ever heard of; over-wrought preachers telling me what an awful person I am; out-of-work waitresses nibbling worms for money; Donald Trump's platform comb-over, and top-heavy Pamela Anderson's "Stacked."

Even though 100-plus channels come into my house via a black box that costs $69 a month, I still can't find anything to watch. The tube is devoid of uplifting, funny, witty, intellectually compelling, beautiful programming, and because I control my own destiny, I'm pulling the plug.

Looking away from the static box, I found a world on the street this week that's more dramatic, tragic and wondrous than the one suggested by trite dialogue wedged in between hyperactive commercials.

As I was weeding the flowerbed recently, I heard a volley of seven shots. Somebody may shoot a crow or a raccoon in my neighborhood, but it shouldn't take more than two bullets to do the job. Later that night, I heard that a guy just out of jail had gone on a toot; one of the bullets lodged in a friend's barbeque next to his house.

A squeal of brakes and a loud thump sent me racing into the road where I found a neighbor's dog lying dead beside an idling car. The stunned driver was the same kid I'd repeatedly warned not to speed past my house.

Sitting on the porch as the full moon rose, I saw a fish leap out of the water and into the moon's silver path and tried to imagine what it must be like to be a creature free to roam.

Real life is a lot more interesting than "Law & Order" reruns and a "West Wing" repeat.

Not watching television will be like quitting smoking; initially I'll crave it, but once the addiction wears off I'll be repulsed by it. Television is a passive medium that subtracts creativity from my own life. If I am listening to someone else's story that means I'm not actively writing my own.

Unrelenting tabloid news beamed to us from every corner of the world also siphons time off our real lives. How can I focus on helping my neighbor with her problems or improving my own lot when there's a runaway bride update or a pop star bringing a cavalcade of celebrity witnesses to defend him?

It's liberating to know that I'll miss seeing Michael Jackson in his pajamas or hearing Regis and Kelly needle each other. I won't have to watch "Extreme Makeover" desecrate a perfectly good bedroom with black paint, and I can skip all prime time versions of "CSI."

Media buyers won't miss me when I'm gone because I'm not between the ages of 18 and 49, the group most coveted by television's advertisers who foot the bill. I belong to the Boomer crowd; after years of being wooed we've been replaced by 20-somethings and are being written off as an over-the-hill gang stuck in PBS-ville.

That's because the next car we buy conceivably might last us the rest of our lives. This is a terrifying thought to ad buyers courting young viewers who will trade up every two years and spend more on an SUV than this Boomer spent on her first house.

Fair enough. I won't miss TV's hyped crop of copycat crime shows, sexy housewives (an oxymoron), stereotyped ghosts, reality shows, slumming aliens, and working women always searching for Mr. Right.

With Archie Bunker, Mr. Rogers, Hawkeye, Mac and Harm, and Judge Amy Gray gone for good, it's time to turn off and tune out. I hope the silence is deafening.

* Tad Bartimus is a former Associated Press bureau chief who contributes an occasional column for Pilot-Tribune readers.