The Art of Cooperative TV Watching

Scholarly, government-subsidized research has shown that the one 20th century invention that could very well be held most responsible for destroying a majority of failed American marriages is the remote control.Much has been written on this subject, so I need not wax eloquent about it to any great extent here. However, suffice it to say that when a husband and wife are at odds, a remote control no doubt has something to do with their discord."I said, 'Suddenly Susan'!""And I said, 'Wrestlemania'!"Fortunately, my wife and I haven't had any great arguments over who has proprietary rights to the "bipper," as we refer to our handy-dandy channel changer. That's because she has almost dictatorial control of the blasted thing.Which suits me just fine.Stereotypically, men are identified as the gender most likely to spend no more than 1.4 seconds watching a particular show before flipping to the next channel, while their exasperated wives futilely cry, "Wait! Back up! Wasn't that To Sir, With Love?" However, that convention takes a back seat in the Bradley household -- and may, in fact, be cause for my fellow males to question my assertiveness as master of my picture-in-picture domain.1,001 Uses for Indoor-Outdoor CarpetingTruth is, my wife has the attention span of a gnat when it comes to watching television. It's at those times when she channel surfs at a breakneck pace that I often find myself futilely crying, "Wait! Back up! Wasn't that The Guns of Navarone?" However, her rapid parade through the vast wasteland of cable channels invariably ends at HGTV -- Home and Garden Television.Don't get me wrong, there actually are some shows on this orgy of landscaping and interior decorating that capture my attention. For instance, "21st Century Home" showcases all manner of electronic doodads conceived to make life easier for us slobs who already rely heavily on computers and other myriad push-button devices to do everything but pick lint from our navels. And another one of mild interest is "Surprise Gardener," where a crew of folks clad in green T-shirts and white overalls transforms some lucky couple's back yard from a pile of rocks and dirt into an oasis of rocks, dirt, sod and flowers. It really doesn't matter if the end result isn't what the beneficiaries would have planned had they been given a choice; the producers are paying for it, so what the heck?(Lest we forget, there are reruns of the former PBS staple "This Old House," now dubbed "This Old House Classics." Sort of a "Nick at Night" for nostalgic contractors.)However, the majority of shows on HGTV are like listening to the songs of '70s rock group Boston on an 8-track -- after a while, you can't tell one from the next. On these shows, everybody is either transforming a drab kitchen dining area into a bright, cozy breakfast nook; installing antique crown moulding above their windows instead of drapery valances; or stenciling butt-ugly Victorian floral designs on their bathroom walls. Besides, there exists evidence that these shows, with their ideas for doing creative things with ground cover, are part of a conspiracy among wives across the country to prevent guys from spending their Saturdays watching college football.Nonetheless, I let my wife bip, bip, bip till she gets to HGTV and all its artsy-fartsy crafts and wallpapering shows. At least I know that's where the bipping ends.As for me, I have no need to channel surf. I simply aim the bipper straight at the Valhalla of televised athleticism: ESPN.24-Hour Sports...and Not a Paint Roller in SightAs with most sports fans, athletes, coaches and oddsmakers, I'm addicted to "SportsCenter," ESPN's flagship show. In one hour, a pair of hip, funny, well-dressed anchors tell you every score of every game in every sport in every state, providing enough highlights and statistical minutiae that you can regurgitate to win countless beer bets from your sports fan wannabe friends.Fact is, when I get up in the morning I go downstairs and, before I even make my coffee, I turn on "SportsCenter." My wife fails to understand the importance of this ritual on getting my day off to a proper start. Indeed, as she watches the chatty anchors of a typical local morning newscast on our upstairs TV, she asks, "I don't know how YOU can complain about these people. Those guys you watch talk just as much.""Yeah, but the guys on ESPN are a lot funnier. And if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't know who won the Belgian Grand Prix."My wife also can't comprehend why IÊwatch three straight hours of "SportsCenter" each morning. That's because I haven't had the heart to tell her these are not different editions of "SportsCenter," but instead are all reruns of the same show from the previous night. But she has to understand, it's like watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the umpteenth time -- with each viewing, I see something I missed the first time. So when IÊgo to work, I can speak intelligently with my coworkers about Sunday's Saints-Colts game and not feel embarrassed for missing replays of Peyton Manning's record-setting nine interceptions because I was in the shower. Or something like that.And if it wasn't for "SportsCenter," I never would have used such quotes as "He's like butter, he's on a roll," or, "Cool as the other side of the pillow," or, "You can't stop (insert teammate's name here), you can only hope to contain him" during softball games.Besides, it's not just "SportsCenter" and live football and baseball games that keep me hooked on ESPN. No, my viewing habits are as well rounded as my wife's from watching HGTV. Those clever NASCAR Ride-Along Program spots, "The WorId's Strongest Man" competition, the hockey analysts' Canadian accents -- everything about ESPN is mine for the watching. Except for the WNBA.She has "Interiors By Design," I have "Outside the Lines." She has "Gardening Down Under," I have "Australian Rules Football."Certainly there is an element of symmetry to our seemingly disparate viewing habits. Thanks to HGTV, my wife learned some neat painting tips that helped her to do a great sponge technique on our master bathroom, and I delighted in seeing Bob Vila nearly drop an entire truckload of Sheetrock on some guy's foot.Meanwhile, ESPN and "SportsCenter" allowed my wife to observe and take heart in the sportsmanship between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. And it has enabled me to see -- for the third time in one morning -- the throwing error that led my Baltimore Orioles to lose yet again.Oh, one more thing: I seem to remember one of those gardening shows describing how to transform our yard into a putting green. (That's one my wife slept through...and she doesn't have to know, now, does she?)

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