When I was a kid, my parents controlled my TV diet, and while I was hardly deprived, I was never at risk of becoming a glutton. After school each day, I was allowed to 30 minutes of TV time – enough for one show. Our TV set was a 17″ black and white with the obligatory rabbit ears. It was old and sad, even for its day. It sat in the corner of my parents’ bedroom, probably because that was the only place where it could get decent reception, and I remember sitting on the corner of my parents’ bed, joyfully, for my daily dose.
There were, if I remember correctly, six channels: NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS and two UHF channels. I would rush home from school to watch Ultraman, Spider-Man, The Little Rascals or The Three Stooges (although my mom ultimately banned this last one, after I started reenacting the stooges’ antics on my younger sister).
Sometime in college I stopped watching TV. I think I just didn’t have time. I also didn’t have a TV. This abstinence phase continued after I moved to New York, then Arizona and well into my life here in the Bay Area. I won’t say I missed it, but this was probably due to not really knowing what I was missing. I will say that through those years, whenever I encountered “ambient” television – in many bars, for example – I was powerless to look away.
All this ended a few years ago when I signed up for DirecTV, with TiVo (before they switched to their own DVR). It was like going from a tricycle to a Ferrari. I had never been one to proselytize about the evils of the idiot box but still, for the first few months, I kept my conversion secret. I considered TV to be junk food for the mind, and while I never begrudged anyone their right to a tasty – if unhealthy – snack, it was also not something to be proud of.
Gradually though, I began to make exceptions for certain shows. Then more and more. Until finally I had to acknowledge that there are a whole lot of good things on TV. It’s not 57 channels and nothing on. It’s 500 channels, and trying to optimize my TV viewing to see as much of the good stuff as possible.