MAD DOG: Take My TV, Please

I get very curious about what people watch on TV. Considering that the average American watches more than four hours of TV a day, which is way more time than they spend doing other fun things like eating, having sex and wondering if Demi can keep a straight face when Ashton asks, "Who's your Daddy?", you have to wonder just what it is they're staring at all that time. Not to mention what's on the other three hours and 40 minutes a day when the set's turned on but no one's watching except the plants. Come to think of it though, if plants don't have a botanical right to veg out in front of the TV, who does?

The reason I can't figure out what people spend so much time staring at is that I don't watch a lot of TV. It's not that I'm one of those television snobs who has the set programmed to only receive the Discovery channel, National Geographic, Animal Planet, and Spice, each of which could teach me a thing or two. No, I enjoy ordinary shows. I don't mind admitting that I probably watch Blind Date more often than any other program. I figure if I can't get one I might as well live vicariously through some other loser's.

The truth is, I don't watch more TV partly because I'm busy working, reading, and pretending I have a social life, and partly because I know there are a lot of people out there who want to watch more than the average four hours a day and I can supplement my income by selling them some of my viewing time. Not only does this fill my bank account, it drives statisticians crazy. Nothing makes the average statistician more mean than this kind of nonstandard deviation.

Don't you just love statistics jokes?

Actually there's another reason I don't watch much TV -- I have a hard time finding anything interesting on there. I've been in friends' homes who have cable, digital cable, satellite, bigger satellite, and every-channel-in-the-known-universe-including-a-few-that-don't-originate-on-Earth, and one thing I've discovered is that the more channels that are available, the more my TV viewing time consists of scrolling through the program guide. That is after I figure out how to use the remote. Or in most cases, figure out which of the four remotes to use in what magic sequence so the TV turns on and the channels change without the garage door opening and closing twenty times. And wouldn't you know it, nine times out of 10 I end up watching a channel I can receive over the air with good old rabbit ears. For free. And it's usually showing Blind Date.

I'm obviously in a minority, because it's apparent that television is important to most people's lives. You can tell because 76 percent of American households have more than one TV set, 59 percent of Americans can name The Three Stooges while only 17 percent can name three Supreme Court Justices, and hardly anyone seems to have a clue where the "Off" button is on their remote. You can also tell because newspapers and magazines pay good money to television critics who write with the same pompous, serious demeanor as their officemates who cover much more highbrow topics such as literature, opera, theater and NASCAR races. I have to wonder, though, who's reading these TV reviews, since 80 percent of the people who read the newspaper spend less than a half hour with it. This is barely enough time to check out the horoscope, Dear Abby, and the page two corrections, better yet wonder for the 1,245th time why there hasn't been a new The Far Side in years. So when are they supposed to have time to read about which critically acclaimed TV show has been cancelled and which completely lame one was renewed for another season with the star being paid enough money per episode to pay off the federal deficit of your average country, Third World or otherwise?

We learn our television viewing habits early. A report by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that one-third of children under the age of three have a television set in their bedroom, while 59 percent of kids under two watch TV every day. Apparently Mozart is out and SpongeBob SquarePants is in. The next thing you know pregnant women will start holding their stomachs against a TV set so their children can get an early start. Is it any wonder a third of Americans under the age of 30 say Jay Leno and David Letterman are news sources? Or that 80 percent of fifth-graders say they can feel it when people stare at them? Okay, that's probably because they're afraid Mom is going to walk in any minute and tell them to turn off the TV and go outside to -- yuck! -- exercise. But they don't have to worry, if she does they can always turn her in to Child Protective Services or sue her for child abuse.

This early love of TV isn't just an American phenomenon. A recent study in England found that most children there say they can't live without television. Mum, Dad, the Queen and even Fish-n-Chips flavored Cheerios we can live without, but please don't mess with our BBC! Meanwhile in Iraq, a mother of four who finally got reliable electric power was quoted as saying, "Now the children will not leave the house. They just sit at home all day watching satellite TV." Hopefully not repeats of Me and The Chimp and Hello Larry. It kind of makes you want to sell some of your average daily TV viewing time, doesn't it?

More Mad Dog can be found online at: maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

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