Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Margaret Moser

DECEMBER 29, 1997:  "TV Eye" was grateful for many things in 1997 but it was primarily thrilled by the feedback from readers. Correspondence with readers is always a pleasure, and I took a perverse joy in finding company with other cartoon-watching adults. I was astounded to find out how many other readers think The Mary Tyler Moore Show was the best series ever, something I was sure of years before I ever thought about writing about television. Someone understands!

These correspondences have become a kind of confessional, hopefully because readers recognize that "TV Eye" doesn't even pretend to have standards. There's almost no such thing as "guilty pleasures" in TVEyeland, and I have found to my delight that most of them think nothing of disputing my opinion, either (except for the Simpsons-loving reader who placed a curse on me). I willingly accept being berated for misspelling Laura Innes' name and character on ER because the person who wrote in understood I really care about things like that.

The last couple of weeks I have been attending many Christmas parties and club gigs, and talked to a lot of people about this column and television watching. I especially liked the comment from a man who said it was easy to think of this column as a series of non-sequiturs when really he thought it was just like channel surfing. I was thrilled. Someone understands! It was as exciting as the night indie film guru John Pierson gamely tried to compliment "TV Eye." "I like your... uh, tangents." Tangents! Is that diplomatic or what?

It is a given that television viewing is an unholy union of good and bad programming, and I would be hard-pressed to suggest in which direction it tipped more, so it's easy to go off in one direction while talking about TV. Just when I think MTV is the devil for springing Jenny McCarthy on us, she ditches the music network, making it safe for me to randomly seek out Beavis and Butt-head reruns. (And this is probably as good a time as any to say that while it was fun to schmooze with Quentin Tarantino, Rick Linklater, and Robert Rodriguez at the Austin Film Society's benefit Jackie Brown screening last weekend, it was Mike Judge, using his Hank Hill voice and the word "sodomy" to introduce Tarantino, that made me almost die laughing. How's that for a tangent, John?) But sweepingly dismissing all television programming because of the Jenny McCarthys or David Hasselhoffs in general is as dangerous as taking it too seriously.

Is it because television has its finger so readily on the sensitivity button? Being emotionally tweaked by television is not a difficult task - I can easily be moved to tears by talking about Dana Scully's (Gillian Anderson) cancer on The X-Files or a tender moment between Doug (George Clooney) and Carol (Julianna Margulies). If watching so much violence on TV desensitizes us, does watching a lot of thoughtful and poignant programming make us more understanding? Nah - it just increases the likelihood of our emotional barometers vascillating wildly as we sit and stare at a screen. I may be sobbing over that episode of My So-Called Life, but that sort of contrived response is not the same as the tears that rose repeatedly over the news of Diana, Princess of Wales, being killed, or when looking at the ghastly footage of the Oklahoma City bombing.

I actually watch less television than I used to, having found the new frontiers of cyberspace irresistible. I watch television more selectively, though, choosing my shows with more care and less randomness. There are the primetime regulars I spend my evenings with, and the second-string schedule - those shows that I don't watch every week but enough to follow. Then there are the auxiliary channels I flip to when I'm bored or commercials get to me - reruns, history and learning shows, biographies, and music shows. There are my beloved movie channels, which require even more planning now that watching is less random. All that, and at least once a week I have both VCRs taping at once while watching a third channel. Ack.

Ever talk back to the TV? I do. All the time. Especially when I'm alone. I don't just mean screaming at the referee on a bad call or cheering at RuPaul. I mean, how can you watch a show like Melrose Place and not try to top that inane dialogue with your own improvisational repartee? Back in the old days a couple years ago, when Weezer and I were joined by friends Randy and Al for the then-weekly watching of Beverly Hills 90210, Randy complained bitterly that "you people talk too much." It's true that Weezer and I engage in impromptu dialogue that often overshadows whatever Titsy, oops, I mean Valerie (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) or Amanda (Heather Locklear) are wearing, since what they say is irrelevant anyway. We're pretty good at it too, often delivering the same responses seconds before the scripted reply. The nice thing about having a pal like Weezer to watch with is being with someone who understands. And knows how to talk back.

Maybe that's what television does. In its own cold, glassy way, it really does have something for everyone, enveloping us in our own little worlds. I was channel-surfing a couple of weeks ago on a Friday night during KLRU's recent pledge drive and found myself glued to its weekend of shows like Gael Force, Lord of the Dance, Out of Ireland, and Voices of Scotland. I felt like a junkie locked in a stocked pharmacy. I was euphoric. And I pledged money.

Damn those tangents. I started out talking about "TV Eye" readers and ended up mentally somewhere in the Scottish Highlands. I'll blame television for my lack of concentration, but I will thank the readers from the bottom of my heart for their support and response because they understand. I originally thought I would have to write a lot about Nielsen ratings and audience shares. I thought I would have to address meaningful topics that affect our culture and impart wisdom about the real national pastime - watching TV. Nah.

Instead, it's been a joyride in the dark, like riding bumper cars blindfolded. Stumbling into the CAD Syndrome (cartoon-watching adult) has been nothing short of illuminating and even the Desert Island TV shows have been fun. Next issue, I'll print some reader comments on the state of television in 1997. In the meanwhile, may 1998 bring good things for all.

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