Last week I read an article in the L.A. Times’ business section that detailed how Americans are watching television at an all-time high these days. To quote Alana Semuelsâ€™ piece, â€œThe Nielsen Co.’s â€˜Three Screen Reportâ€™ — referring to televisions, computers and cell phones — for the fourth quarter said the average American now watches more than 151 hours of TV a month. That’s about five hours a day…up 3.6% from the 145 or so hours Americans reportedly watched in the same period last year.â€ The article also goes on to state the obvious that in these harsh economic times, adults and their families are more likely to stay at home than go out to dinner and to the movies, both expensive endeavors. I mean, when you could easily drop $60 on a family of four at the cineplex vs. watching a movie or program on TV and cooking dinner, which would you choose? This all makes sense, but I think it goes a little deeper than just spending as to why people are watching so much television.
This weekend, as I was preparing to write this weekâ€™s article on Lie to Me (Foxâ€™s newest hit) or Ashes to Ashes (the BBCâ€™s spin-off of Life on Mars) I walked through the bedroom and saw my wife watching a repeat of Americaâ€™s Next Top Model on Oxygen. The expression on her face made me stop. She didnâ€™t seem all that consumed by the show; instead, she seemed dazed, as if escaping for a couple of minutes before having to drive off to the laundromat. It was a hell of a weekend, primarily because we put one of our cats to sleep. Itâ€™s not just the cat, though; our lives since last year have been pretty stressful. We have home repairs that have been placed on the back burner (including plumbing work, hence the laundromat), bills piling up, and (obviously) we have our sonâ€™s health, which occupies much of our thoughts. When I came upon my wife and saw that expression on her face, I knew it well, because Iâ€™ve had it many times myself.
I donâ€™t think itâ€™s just about spending money or about having more options in our television viewing habits that is making so many people watch TV. I believe itâ€™s the chance to escape, even if itâ€™s just an hour a day, from the daily barrage of bad news you see in the newspapers, on the Internet, and yes, on television. I canâ€™t tell you how many times Iâ€™ve found myself curled in a ball trying to forget those worries that seem to follow me around nearly all day. At 9:00 PM on a Monday night, when I want to forget, you better believe Iâ€™m going to watch something pointless and funny like Two and a Half Men or How I Met Your Mother. And when I want to really get away, what better place to escape to than an island trapped in a time loop, like in Lost?
For my wife, itâ€™s drawing inspiration from the contestants on The Biggest Loser, or the doctors on Deliver Me, that offers her some quality time away from the daily stress. Television has become comfort food for the brain, especially in these trying times. Some television is thick and fills your belly like a good stew, some of it is completely bad for you, but oh it tastes so good going down, and occasionally there is some television that actually nourishes you in your time of need. Until the country comes out of this recession and people find the means and/or the enthusiasm to go to the mall or to the ballpark again, television viewing is going to continue to rise.
What do you think?