Why I Love Television

To kick off the month, I want to talk about why I love television. What is it about this medium that makes me want to write about it on a blog and spend my free time watching it or discussing it?

To start on the most basic level, I watch TV because it makes me happy. It’s an activity that I enjoy so therefore want to spend my time doing. The short episode lengths make it easy to fit into my day. I can keep track of several shows at once, so I always have something to fit my mood.

If that were as deeply as I wanted to think about my love of TV, that would be fine but then I wouldn’t be me. The “examined” part of this blog name isn’t just about looking at trends in television or looking at larger societal implications of what we are watching. It’s about looking deeply at yourself and using your consumption of television to tell you more about yourself. It’s an introspective process and one I very much enjoy.

So I ask again, why do I love television? In many ways, I love it for the same reason I love books and reading. I like visiting a world that is unfamiliar to me. I don’t live in Westeros, I haven’t just gotten out of jail, I’m not attempting to become a meth kingpin, and I don’t solve crimes with my fiancee while wearing great coats and having fabulous hair. My everyday life is not filled with Ron Swansons, Don Drapers, or Jed Bartlets. Through fiction, I get to “meet” a variety of people and for a short while, become immersed in their world.

I love it for the length of time we get to spend with the characters. Even in a short TV show, we can still spend 4-5 hours with the characters, getting to know the different facets of their personalities. I want to get to know who the characters are and how they ended up where they are when we come across their lives. I want backstory and motivations that can be doled out in pieces that can both inform and reconceptualize the way we see the character going forward. I want little details, like Danny Castellano’s love of building gingerbread estates, that seem ridiculous but somehow make perfect sense for that character. I want the joy that I get everytime Leslie and Ben mention the wallflower mural because I know its significance for the characters.

I don’t just want to know the characters, I want to find ones that I identify with or look up to. I love finding a character in whom I can see myself and I want to see them grow and change and fall in love and meet their goals head-on because it inspires me to do the same thing. I want that level of emotional connection and the amount of time we spend with the characters makes it ideally suited for that.

I love it because people talk about it with such enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter whether it is the latest episode of whatever prestige drama happens to be airing at the time or the latest episode of a teen drama, television makes people excited. To make it better, it’s relatively easy to find people who are excited about the same show you are.

I love the way that TV fans of all sorts come together to form a community. TV fans all have that show that they love so much that has touched them so deeply that it’s become a part of who they are. We all have that show that was cancelled too early. We’ve all experienced the heartbreak of a character death and we’ll all experienced the euphoria that comes from a truly exceptional episode of TV. There is a shared understanding even when the shows you love are different.

I love it because of the people who spend their time writing about it. I love reading critics’ reviews and industry analysis. A well-written review can deepen my experience with the episode when I agree with it or help me see things from a different perspective when I don’t. Industry analysis just excites me on an academic level because it’s something I enjoy learning about. Looking at long-term trends and how that may or may not reflect societal pressures is incredibly facsinating to me.

More than anything, I love television because without it, I never would have gotten the chance to make some incredible friends who have made my life so much happier. We’ve bonded and shared so much of ourselves through our many discussions about the shows, characters, and relationships we love and the reasons why we connect to them so strongly. While television isn’t directly responsible for those friendships, it has been a wonderful facilitator.

Television entertains me, touches me, excites me, and fulfills my academic curiosities. It brings me joy (and occasionally disappointment). It’s something I can have fun with, something that can make me see the world differently, take me to new worlds, and better understand my own. So I talk about it, read about it, watch an awful lot of it, and simply love it.

Since you’re on a blog all about television, I assume you love it as much as I do, so tell me all about what makes TV special to you. What makes you love it?

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7 thoughts on “Why I Love Television

  1. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the month brings if this is just the start of these posts. I don’t like to play favorites, but this is quite possibly your best writing yet, Heather. Your passion for so many different aspects of TV is so vividly displayed here, and it was a pleasure to read. ❤

    I have so many of the same feelings you do about this medium—I love the intimacy with which we get to learn about characters, I love the enthusiasm nearly everyone I know has for at least one show they love, I love the analyses I get to read from critics and other fans every week, and I love that TV shows have the ability to build detailed worlds in the same ways books can.

    What else do I love about television? I love the way it makes me feel. No medium engages me emotionally like television does. I love that it makes me cry happy tears because I've spent season after season learning about characters and coming to root for their happiness. I love that characters grow and change on television in ways that can mirror growth and changes in our own lives, and television provides a source of catharsis as we deal with those changes. (I always think of Lost ending the day after I graduated from college.)

    More than any other medium, television inspires and empowers me as a woman. Whether it's Kate Beckett's journey towards accepting happiness, Snow White's ability to hold onto hope and positivity in even the darkest times, or Leslie Knope's ongoing quest to balance ambition with openhearted kindness, through television I've been given a series of role models who have helped me embrace all of who I am and be my best self every day. And through television, I've watched characters I relate to find happiness, which is a never-ending source of hope for this nerdy girl.

    And of course television inspires me as a writer, too. I love analyzing television shows—looking for foreshadowing and symbolism and recurring motifs that open up an episode or an arc in deeper ways. Television is a medium that allows me to indulge in my passion for character study and "emotional analysis"—digging deeper into a work to analyze exactly why it makes me feel as strongly as it does. And it allows me to do this on a weekly basis with other fans who passionately care about the same shows.

    Finally, I love that TV has sparked and/or strengthened many of the closest relationships I have in my life. I will always believe we reveal so much about ourselves when we talk openly about the media we love, and talking about TV with people I love has helped me open up to people in my life in ways I never could if I were just talking about my own life experiences. Sharing TV shows with people I love is a way of sharing myself with them, and I'm forever grateful for the people this medium has helped me grow closer to.

    1. Thank you so much, Katie! I feel like a rambling mess any time I try to write something but this month should hopefully help me fix that 😉

      I completely agree about how emotionally engaging TV is. There is just something about watching characters grow throughout a series and accomplish all of their dreams that I just love. Series finales will always make me cry because the journey is over, characters have grown and become the people we always knew they could be. There is heartbreak and celebration but it’s all possible because of the connections we’ve come to have with the characters.

      “More than any other medium, television inspires and empowers me as a woman. Whether it’s Kate Beckett’s journey towards accepting happiness, Snow White’s ability to hold onto hope and positivity in even the darkest times, or Leslie Knope’s ongoing quest to balance ambition with openhearted kindness, through television I’ve been given a series of role models who have helped me embrace all of who I am and be my best self every day. And through television, I’ve watched characters I relate to find happiness, which is a never-ending source of hope for this nerdy girl.”

      I really love this. When people want to know what TV can do for people, this is one of the things I want to tell them. It’s not mindless, it gives us these role models that help teach us to be our best selves. Not because we want to be the character, but because we see traits we want to emulate and it helps us grow.

  2. You’ve put things so perfectly here, I feel like all of this is exactly why we love television.

    For me, I love TV for a variety of reasons. Like you, I enjoy being able to visit so many different places and meet so many different people. It’s way to experience different things without leaving your house, a way to learn how to empathize with other points of view, to be able to understand others’ personalities and motivations, and a way for us to see how people living in different parts of our countries and our world might experience things that we may never have to deal with in our lives but still affect our nation and our planet.

    When TV is really good, occasionally it can help change our culture. It can show people a variety of life that they may not have seen in their city before, and can humanize people who have been deemed “other” in our culture in ways that show that everyone deserves respect and that different doesn’t automatically mean bad. It can give hope to those who feel like there is no way they can succeed at something – I’m thinking of the various quotes you see from actors talking about how seeing someone like them on TV made them realize that they could actually be an actor; representation on TV is so important. I think in some ways it’s so important because it’s a visual medium, and sometimes that “seeing is believing” saying holds true.

    I love TV for the way it not only entertains and thrills me, makes me connect with characters, but for the way it can change my mind about something, the way it opens up my mind to the different ways of thinking that people have, for the way it shows myself and others that there are so many possibilities in this world. Like you, I also love the way TV creates communities and helps start friendships. Some of my best friendships have started with connecting over the same TV shows.

    On a personal level, I also love the way that TV can be like a puzzle – an extremely well-written episode or season (or series) gives me so much satisfaction when I can look at the writing and acting and feel like it all clicked into place, that there was foreshadowing and logical plot and beautiful character moments and that it all came together to be something greater than its parts. Great TV can be such a beautiful work of art, and I enjoy it for the brilliance that can come from the people who make it.

    1. Hi bb! I’m thrilled to see this comment because you know I love talking TV and society things with you but also because it’s really great.

      “When TV is really good, occasionally it can help change our culture. It can show people a variety of life that they may not have seen in their city before, and can humanize people who have been deemed “other” in our culture in ways that show that everyone deserves respect and that different doesn’t automatically mean bad. It can give hope to those who feel like there is no way they can succeed at something – I’m thinking of the various quotes you see from actors talking about how seeing someone like them on TV made them realize that they could actually be an actor; representation on TV is so important. I think in some ways it’s so important because it’s a visual medium, and sometimes that “seeing is believing” saying holds true.”

      I love this entire paragraph so much. I love it when actors say that they were inspired by successful people who shared a race/sexuality/gender identity with them and that they’ve had fans tell them the same thing. I love that TV is getting more diverse and that kids who grow up today will grow up with such a range of actors and actresses. I so rarely got to see people who looked like me on TV and as I’ve gotten older, it’s something I’ve come to appreciate more and more.

      1. Yeah, for a while I didn’t even realize how little diversity there was on TV – I didn’t even fully realize how low the female to male character ratio is on most shows until I was in high school or college (hello, cultural brainwashing/etc), which I think makes me appreciate diversity even more now. I try to make an real effort these days to at least try out shows that do have that diversity (putting my money – eyeballs – where my mouth is, or whatever).

        One of the shows that I’ve really been excited about is Sleepy Hollow, because if you look at the main cast it is made up of mostly people of color, which is still a rarity in TV even though we are in 2014 and you’d think it would be more common by now. I remember watching an episode midway through the season and having a lightbulb go off when I realized that out of the 6 characters in the scene I was watching, 5 were people of color. I don’t know that I had ever seen a scene like that before in my (limited) TV-watching career. Also I remember reading something near early episodes of Season 1 where – I think it was Orlando Jones but I’m not sure? – someone was saying how they were amazed/happy that Sleepy Hollow was a show where like, the first person to die was actually an old white guy, which is quite different from a lot of shows. It’s just really cool to think about what this show is doing in a very understated sort of way – I’ve never seen them trying to use their diversity for their own gain or pat themselves on the back for it or anything, which is quite refreshing. I’m hoping they continue down the awesome path they’ve set as it’s quite nice to see it on my TV.

  3. Because I am an old head TV has a very deep significance for me. Coming of age before the internet meant I consumed information in a very different way. TV was literally my gateway to a world outside of my own. Much of my experience of history is tied to TV and it made it very powerful and visual in a way that I find difficult at times to describe. Moments like the USA beating the Russians in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid or when the Challenger blew up with the first Teacher to attempt to go into space on board. I remember learning everything there was to know about grammar and American history from Saturday morning episodes of Schoolhouse Rock. I remember Saturday morning cartoons being the original “TV binge” where you could watch cartoons from 7AM – 12PM once a week and it was glorious. I remember every Friday after Thanksgiving being a ritual because it was the one time a year that West Side Story came on television. TV was my chief source for news growing up and it was a magical escape. I remember the landmark moment when Roots aired (and that my mom declared me too young to watch). I remember falling in love with my first “Cop drama” in Hill Street Blues and sneaking out of bed to watch it from underneath my older brother’s bed every Thursday night.

    I look at TV as one of the great character vehicles because of the time and longevity it has to develop and deepen characters that I get to invest in over the course of a TV show. I love that TV gives me an escape from the mundane, the inspiration to dream and the reminder that my feelings are universal in a world that can sometimes be very isolating. Watching TV evolve has been fascinating. I have recently spent some time revisiting shows I watched when I was a teen to my college days. I marvel at how well shows like Mad About You, The Cosby Show, Good Times and a litany of others hold up nearly 25 years later in some instances and how I discover new thematic resonance as a 40 year old that is so different from what made me originally love the show in my childhood.

    TV is one of the great enduring art forms because of its limitlessness. To come of age at a time when there were live discussions around the schools and water coolers for big moments like “Who shot JR?” proved the power of TV for me long ago. What I love now is the ability to share and geek out on shows in such an expansive thoughtful way. To have critical discussions about what moves me or storylines that have emotional weight or lines of dialogue that offer pure joy is spectacular. It has also opened an avenue of creativity for me that breaks me out of my own mundane day to day that feeds my soul in a way that I can hardly describe.

    1. I love listening to you talk about TV because your experiences have been so different from my own. I love that you mentioned the role that television has played in making historical moments available to the public and how that impacted you. It’s something I take for granted now, since most of my news and media consumption.

      I really like that you mentioned the way you can see and appreciate new themes in the TV shows you loved when you were younger. I feel like the best TV grows with us and that we can find something different in it every time we revisit it and I’m glad that has been true for you as well.

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