Monday, September 24, 2007

It's TV Premiere Week (sort of)

Thank you, Alessandra Stanley, for writing an essay a lot of New York Times readers are probably going to flip right over with zero hesitation and a little laugh. Stanley’s piece, “You Are What You Watch”, brought to some what many of us have known for the last few years: Television is really, really good right now. It’s better than movies on a whole, and anyone who thinks that watching television is the same as turning your brain off and zoning out is not watching the right television. Ms. Stanley, you saucy minx, sing:

“What do you watch?”

It is no longer a lazy way to redirect a boring conversation. Questions about viewing preferences have become fraught; the topic is as intimate, revealing and potentially off-putting as discussing how much money you make.

It’s a rich television age and a demanding one. The selection is now so plentiful and fragmented and good. And deciding among hundreds of channels, on-demand options, DVR, Internet streaming and iPhones requires so much research, planning and commitment that viewers have become proprietary about their choices. Alliances are formed, and so are antipathies. Snobbery takes root. Preferences turn totemic. The mass audience splintered long ago; now viewers are divided into tribes with their own rituals and rites of passage.

Many people in the culture department of this newspaper never watch television unless it’s an adaptation of a George Eliot novel on Masterpiece Theater. But one of the smartest editors I know once admitted, after a few drinks, to going into his study when no one else was around and watching “Reba.” I am paid to watch television, and proudly keep one television set on at all times as a kind of eternal flame, a memorial to all the shows that were canceled. The critic’s code of honor is “no show left behind.”

Television used to be dismissed by elitists as the idiot box, a sea of mediocrity that drowns thought and intelligent debate. Now people who ignore its pools and eddies of excellence do so at their own peril. They are missing out on the main topic of conversation at their own table.

That’s what I’m talking about, people, the Everything Bad Is Good For You way of thinking. People who assume television and video games can in no way increase the intelligence of a person are foolish, living in a draconian world unaware of the great choices available to them.

Of course, a lot of people that watch television do watch mind-numbingly stupid stuff, as David Cross will tell you. RIP, Arrested Development.

We’ll do a run through of the pilots once more of them have been digested, but this is going to be a busy, busy week with a couple of papers and a presentation due on Thursday. Early reaction is KidNation is looking decent and Gossip Girl might be the wonderful love child of Veronica Mars and The OC, only pretty accurate. So this is like Laguna Beach or The Hills, only real? (BONUS UPDATE: Apparently the girls who told the NY Times all those nasty things are now being ostracized in school. I told you television was great!) Chuck and Journeyman jump off tonight, with Reaper tomorrow. There’s no way all of these can stay on the Tivo list, so there will need to be some heavy winnowing as the weeks go on.

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