catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 6 :: 2009.03.13 — 2009.03.27


My first favorite

If a favorite book is defined as one that we read repeatedly from cover-to-cover, returning to it for comfort and renewal, memorizing passages and delighting in its insight, then my very first favorite book would have to be the TV Guide.  Though my early television diet was restricted-two hours on Saturday and a few family friendly shows throughout the week-I managed to read the TV Guide whenever I wanted.  I read the book thoroughly from the snark-filled “Cheers and Jeers” to the always facile crossword puzzle. With its vibrant full-page ads, the book promised a host of wonderful delights with exotic names like Falcon Crest and Hawaiian Heat.  So complete was my familiarity with the periodical that for a time I could recite from memory the entire prime time line up for all of the big three networks. The Guide was a gateway drug to an entertainment addiction that has yet to abate and the allure of its systematizing programming charts, descriptions and bite-size reviews created in me a perpetual need to consume, classify and catalog as much filmed entertainment as possible.

Just as film previews are often more satisfying than the film itself or fast food double patty artery-cloggers better in the abstract, the garden of delights that I imagined in the unforeseen parts of TV land in no way matched the actual offerings.  Having now been able to take a cursory survey of missed childhood television thanks to YouTube, DVD, syndication and Hulu, I can now see I wasn’t missing much.  As a child, though, I took the snippets of descriptions-“Jack and Chrissy pretend to be married in order to become contestants on a game show”-and promo pictures of cops and lawyers in action and imagined a tantalizing world full of danger, hilarity and strong language           

The Guide so infected my imagination that I began to frame every moment in my day, every activity in my waking hours, as if it were part of a broadcast day and I the network Vice President in Charge of Programming.  My school days became educational television, video rentals were special movie presentations and a trip to the store, like a sitcom, presented an opportunity for potential hijinks and unforeseen adventure.  The TV programming idea spread into my play, when I would create elaborate serialized adventures starring my limbless Fisher Price Little People.  These scenarios were a comic book and action film pastiche, but they gave my play a sense of urgency and momentum.  My stories hurtled toward the next chapter and always ended with cliffhangers.

To an adult, television offers escape, but to a child, it offers education.  It tells us what to desire, what to fear, what is funny and what is cruel.  When we sneak peeks at the shows we as children are not meant to see, we can safely sample the prizes and pitfalls of the adult world from which many of us were carefully shielded.  The Guide was a Zagat’s for the burgeoning gourmand of forbidden fruit.  Television promised knowledge and the Guide let us know where to begin searching.  The Guide was a terribly effective glossy ad delivered every Monday and like the best of advertising, it turned an inessential product into an essential need.

Nowhere was the promise of the Guide greater than in the overstuffed, super-sized Fall Preview issue where networks anxiously trotted out their fall line ups in hopes of convincing you that this year’s offerings were the most essential and unmissable to date.  As at the beginning of a sports season when every team has a perfect record and hope is limitless, each description of a new fall show, every promo picture featuring smiling wacky neighbors and bedroom-eyed soap stars made a promise that all that had come before would be eclipsed by this season’s brand new batch of prime time entertainment.  This season was the One and all before had been mere shadows on the living room wall. 

TV Guide no longer looms so large in my mind as I have now sampled enough television to realize much of it is hardly essential.  Television has also changed.  With so many means of entertainment vying for our attention, television has become more novel and crass in hopes of horrifying/fascinating audience members long enough to make them sit through ads for body spray and bottled water.  With the announcement of NBC jettisoning its 10 o’clock hour-once reserved for original dramatic programming-in favor of five nights of Leno it is clear that we are at the end of an entertainment epoch and television’s hold on the national imagination is receding.  We are more apt to be twittering about the octo-mom than all gathering around the television to catch the latest installment of the number one show.  We’d just as soon watch it online, store it away digitally or wait for the DVD in order to watch it on our own time.

As I moved through school and my reading skills improved, I discovered new favorite books like Danny the Champion of the World, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22 and Lonesome Dove.  I stopped reading TV Guide altogether when I left home for college.  As academic and social demands grew greater, concerns like what would happen to staff of County General receded.  As an undergrad I devoted four years to learning to read more critically and now devote my time to finding every book its reader.  TV Guide has changed, as well. In an attempt to keep readers, it’s now People-sized and more focused on the stars – what they’re wearing and who they’re dating.  What’s on television is now less of concern than who’s on.  The TV Guide is no longer an indispensable resource for TV viewers, but, for better or worse, it was an essential book of my childhood – my first favorite book.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus