I rarely talk back to the television. Having worked in the business for several decades now, I know it’s just a machine that doesn’t know or care whether I’m in the room or even paying attention.
There’ve been times when I’ve felt some of the people making television also don’t know who’s watching or care about what makes them pay attention. But I’ve learned that’s far from true.
Those guys have reams of demographic and ratings information documenting exactly who’s watching.
And somehow that appears to have convinced them we’re complete idiots.
Last week, I came down with the flu and spent a few days watching the tube, taking it easy until I no longer felt brain dead.
Then I realized I wasn’t actually brain dead. I just thought I was because the TV kept treating me like some kinda moron.
It wasn’t shows like “Mad Men” or “Game of Thrones”. You know, the ones that demand our interest and attention.
Nope. I’m talking about the filler that makes up so much of the rest of the schedule. Shows about pawn shops and storage units and guys who want you to believe they’re at the top of some profession you never knew was even a part time job.
The ones who call themselves”Pickers” and “Diggers” or have dedicated their lives to “Ink” or “Pimping” something.
Two days of them and I was screaming at the television at the top of my lungs. Livid that anyone in an executive office or ad agency could think viewers were that stupid, without realizing if they were they’d be too stupid to buy or use their products.
Most of these reality/lifestyle/craftsman/unemployable-genius shows continually remind us what they are doing and why they’re doing it every 15 seconds while repeating visuals you either just saw or are about to see (repeatedly).
How many times does one of the original Dukes of Hazard have to tell me Billy Bob must roll up to his next drywall job in a pick up “pimped” to truly reflect his profession?
Okay. I got nothing better to do. I’ll buy the premise. Let’s make that truck.
But they don’t.
Instead, I get endless reminders of Billy Bob’s need and how the guys pimping his ride don’t know if they can deliver.
Hey, I’ve hired guys to put up drywall. I don’t remember what any of them drove. I was just overjoyed when they finally showed up.
So I know all the “faux drama” and “putting a clock on it” is just there to make me think what’s being done is difficult and Billy Bob’s ability to keep up the payments on his double-wide depend on it.
When what’s really going on is somebody has figured out a way to do a 42 minute show with 18 minutes of Video while making sure Bo Duke only has to be paid to be on set for half an afternoon.
But what’s worse is so many of these shows also pretend to teach their audience a little about history or science while at the same time suggesting the real point is making a few extra bucks.
The series that finally had me bellowing at the Sony flat screen was called “American Diggers”, which, if you haven’t seen it, thank your lucky stars you’ve had something better to do.
The basic premise is some kind of anthropologist who digs stuff up (literally) and hollers “Boom, Baby!” when he finds something of value.
That’s the first half of every episode. The second half is him selling what was unearthed, haggling over the price with an “expert” buyer, to cover the cost of the digging and pay the guys who did the spade work their fair share.
I’m telling you, it’s riveting stuff.
Except there’s a far more interesting show (pardon me) “buried” there that neither Mr. “Boom, Baby!” nor his producers seem aware exists, focussed as they are on making sure the shovel crew achieves minimum wage.
A recent episode had the boys excavating an early 20th century outdoor toilet in what had been an immigrant neighborhood.
For the first 10 feet, the petrified dung only gave up a few old bottles. This allowed for much consternation over whether the Diggers would see any return on their labors.
Imagine shoveling all that shit for nothing!
Then they began turning up jewellery, a gold compass, a glass eye, an ancient switchblade and a pistol. “Boom, Baby!” echoed all over the back alley as the fellas hit pay dirt. Some nearby pawnbroker/antique dealer/whatever would now cover their costs.
And I lay there in agony. They were trading a few trinkets for a few bucks when the real story, probably a fascinating one, maybe even a truly valuable one, was being completely missed.
What had caused all that stuff to be dumped down the shitter?
Was it a killer hiding his misdeeds? A thief secreting booty before the cops arrived? Maybe a newcomer who thought he’d found a safe place for his valuables?
It could be where a woman trying to escape an abusive husband lost her means to flee. Perhaps it was a man erasing all trace of an illicit affair.
There were so many possible stories, a myriad of motivations and potential characters that could have filled all that air time with so much more than a tale of making just enough money to get by.
But it had all been tossed aside.
So maybe I was screaming at the TV out of anger. Anger that a device so capable of enriching and informing our lives was now mostly used to tell us to settle for less.
And repeating that message over and over and over.
Enjoy Your Sunday.