Tube Talk: TV snobs know what it means to be voted off island

There are two “nevers” in my life: Never trust someone without a sense of humor, and never believe someone who says they don’t watch TV.

I don’t know why it is, or when it started, but at some point it seems a large number of people decided not watching TV somehow makes them superior to the rest of us. A few say they only watch PBS and BBC America, as if a British accent somehow makes The Office smarter. Fact is, the NBC version is just as funny as the original.

Don’t you feel sorry for people who claim they don’t watch TV? They’ll never know characters like Hurley, Veronica Mars or Karen Walker. They’ll never know why everybody loves Raymond but hates Chris. If they hear Prison Break is about a group of Illinois prisoners trying to break a guy out of death row before he’s executed, they’ll focus on the fact that Illinois has a moratorium on the death penalty—when 1,000 other details make the series totally implausible and yet, somehow, completely riveting entertainment.

Sometimes, enjoying TV means forgetting all sense of reason and going with the flow. Suspending disbelief is part of appreciating literature, too, so why do TV snobs feel so superior? If they can’t suspend their disbelief for just 30 or 60 minutes, can we really believe they suspend it through a whole novel? Maybe they don’t spend all that free time of theirs reading after all.

Fortunately for the rest of us, there’s a lot worth watching these days.

Faced with a ratings slump just two years ago, ABC took big risks on shows like Desperate Housewives and Lost (the pilot episode is rumored to have cost upward of $10 million, thanks to the spectacular plane crash and special effects, which would make it one of the most expensive TV pilots to date) and emerged last season as the network to beat. UPN made strides with breakouts like Everybody Hates Chris, Veronica Mars and America’s Next Top Model. Even cable networks are producing high-quality original programming like TNT’s The Closer, USA’s The 4400, and FX’s The Shield.

TV fans can be snobs, too. Some people avoid watching anything in the Nielsen’s Top 20. I admit that I tend to look down on reality TV. Sorry, but I just don’t get the appeal of American Idol and felt disgusted with myself for getting sucked into the first season of Survivor. But lately I’ve found myself glued to Dancing With the Stars and VH-1’s Celebrity Fit Club. I can’t explain why. I don’t set the VCR for them, but when I flip past either show, I’m compelled to watch.

Not sure what this says about me, but maybe there’s hope for other snobs, too. So next time you’re confronted by a TV snob, just remember even they know what it means to be voted off the island. Not that they’ll ever admit it.

Paula Hendrickson of Rockford is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications including Advertising Age, SatelliteORBIT and TVGuide.

From the Jan. 25-31, 2006, issue

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