Television doesn't bridge culture gap

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I am not your typical television viewer. Come to think of it, I can't even define what may be the typical television viewer any longer. Once I could because there were much fewer choices. But, alas, here comes cable and the choices explode.

I've actually always known I was far from typical in the viewing aspect but that point was driven home this week when I read that "The Simpsons" would soon become the longest running sitcom in television history.

I have never watched one single episode of "The Simpsons" though I cannot tell you why. For 20 years now, I have managed to scroll through the remote control of my life without ever once pausing on the Homer Simpson clan. I'm either too old or too out of touch with the culture of the times.

I can name dozens of long-running sitcoms through the years that have attracted my undying interest. You can too. And, thus, I am somewhat surprised that "The Simpsons" has surpassed some of those memorable sitcoms of the past.

At about the same time this record-setting news surfaced this week, a longtime friend sent me an e-mail - actually a chain e-mail - that urged each recipient to list a sitcom from the past that is no longer on television. I could have spent a full day listing show after show that engaged my interest for hours upon hours. I guess someday long into the future, a similar e-mail will surely include "The Simpsons" on that memorable list.

There's been ample discussion of late about the cultural divide in this country. Saggy pants comes to mind with the older generation universally appalled at the attire and the younger generation is aghast that anyone would even care.

I think there is a cultural divide in television viewing as well. It's strictly my warped taste but "CSI" is among the highest-rated programs on television and, alas, I have never seen an episode of this popular program either. Same goes for "Law and Order." Yet reruns of some shows from 20 years past still have my attention even though I have long ago memorized much of the dialogue. I'm stuck in the past in my entertainment taste and I see no need to change.

Television viewing perhaps is like life itself. Maybe we resist change and want something comfortable and familiar. That's probably why reruns in television syndication often pull as large an audience as the original.

And while we're on the subject, I was grazing through the channels this week and came upon two shows that made me scratch my head - "Celebrity Wrestling with Hulk Hogan" and "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew". I'm not even certain where to start in a discussion of these two shows. All I know is that if these two shows pass as entertainment then we've got some cultural issues that boggle my mind.

Television viewership is generally lower these days than in the past. Too many channels and too many choices for one thing. But there are two other important factors at work. First, news programs have always been the cash cow of the television industry and the American public no longer has trust in network news, thus the drop in audience. And secondly, virtually all of our television entertainment comes from the fine state of California and it's easy to argue that the left coast wackos are somewhat out of touch with the fruited plains and beyond.

Maybe I need to tune in to "The Simpsons" to find out exactly what is happening in modern culture. Or then again, maybe not!

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