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Life Without the One-Eyed Monster

Ask people to stop watching TV and the replies are expressed in words that could easily be those of a drug addict.

September 10, 2000|STEVE SMITH | Steve Smith writes from Costa Mesa

"Did you see George W. last night?" asked my colleague. "No," I replied, "I don't--" I cut my sentence short. For the consequences of telling him that my wife and I have not watched television for 4 1/2 years are far greater than the benefits of beating my chest about our accomplishment.

Telling this man that I did not watch a moment of either political party convention, that I have not seen and will not see Dennis Miller on "Monday Night Football," or that the only Olympic coverage I'll see is in this newspaper, would only get me stares and snickers around the water cooler.

If challenged, most Americans would have great difficulty quitting television cold turkey, as my wife and I did in January 1996. Two years later, our kids, then 6 and 9, also quit. Ask even a few to stop watching TV--I've urged thousands--and the replies are honest, expressed in words that could easily be those of a crack or heroin addict. "I don't know if I can quit," said one. Another excused her addiction in more socially acceptable terms: "It relaxes me."

These people are not welfare queens or unemployed dot-commers; they're working folks, just like us. But at home, life revolves around the tube. There are two problems with the content of television.

One is the commercials. Insulting and base is what we get for allowing Madison Avenue to pack a sales pitch into a 10-second sound bite.

In an age when kids fear boredom, it is fascinating to watch them turn their attention to the tube, the ultimate boredom device. So while programmers scurry about trying to find this year's "Friends," or other such time-wasters, they have no control over the unimaginative commercials that now make up close to 25% of each hour of prime-time network television.

The other problem with television is the people in charge. With so much at stake and with so much competition for viewers, producers and programmers are forced into the same formula year after year. The stakes are too high to inspire any creativity, so television has been reduced from its original exciting, cutting-edge potential to one of endless repetition and stupidity.

The problem with the people in television is that they watch too much television.

So come November, don't ask me if I saw the presidential debates or watched the election returns. I won't need to watch either because even if you don't tell me all about them, I can recite the shows to you before they begin: boring speeches, images of a unified party and country, more boring speeches, confetti and balloons and a lot of clasped hands raised in the air.

And commercials. We must not forget the commercials.

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