The Company I Keep

I like TV.

Don’t hate me because I like TV.



TV:  it’s become so “not cool.”  Maybe it’s always been this way and I just never noticed because I was too busy watching TV!  Oh, I don’t mean that, though I kind of do.  It’s such a fucking stereotype:  those who read, those who taking reading seriously, don’t waste their brain cells on the tube.  Real readers, real writers, real thinkers, don’t lower themselves to pedestrian distractions like — gasp! — TV.

I grew up in houses where the TV was on from the time we woke up until we went to bed.  And by “went to bed” I mean we were asleep when the screen went to black and white fuzz, the steady hiss of nothingness, and someone had to get up and turn it off.  Mornings were for Grandpa Red’s game shows; he was very good at The Price Is Right.  “Come on down!”  The lunchtime hours were for Grandma Ann’s soaps:  The Young & The Restless, As The World Turns,  and Guiding Light.   (Yes, we were a CBS household. It was the channel that came in the best.)  Weekends, when mom wasn’t working, we’d scan the TV guide to see what was on, and we’d draw circles around the shows we didn’t want to miss.  Then, when dusk settled the day, we’d curl up on the couch together for a night of TV.  When I was home alone all summer, the TV was my babysitter:  old shows like Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Alice, One Day At A Time, I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, etc…  I swear it was Ann Romano who taught me it was okay for my mother to be a divorcee.

Was this the ideal way to grow up?  Probably not.  But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Look, I’m not saying TV is as good for you as fresh air at the beach or a long walk with the dog or hours spent practicing piano; I’m not even saying there’s a load of smart stuff on TV, though I do love my sports and Downton Abbey!  But come on.  It’s not smoking 2 packs a day or wolfing down a box of donuts in one sitting.  It’s an electronic device and it has an off switch.

"I never wanted this for you."

These days I do some of my best writing with the TV on.  I can’t explain it.  I just do.  I remember a few years ago I pounded out an entire essay, editing and all, in two, day-long, sofa-sittings.  I’m pretty sure there was a Godfather marathon on TBS that weekend.  My back was killing me and my crossed legs kept going numb, but it remains one of the best things I’ve ever written.

I used to think I needed quiet to write — and I do love the quiet, pure and absolute silence — but that’s not the whole story.  The truth is, I’m not that cool.  To write well, I need to feel a little lonely.  And whether it’s in a shushed library, or in a roomful of people with my headphones on, or on my couch with the TV as some strange kind of company, it’s feeling just that little bit lonely that gets my work done.

So to all the people who don’t need TV, I’m happy for you.  I admire your lack of electronic need.  I sometimes (often!) wish I could be one of you.  I’m not even kidding about that.  But alas ….  I’m just never going to be.  I need my TV.  How else would I get all this reading and writing done?


Note:  This post and today’s painful manuscript editing were aided and abetted by Tennis Channel.

Tennis Channel: Where Champions Live.

30 thoughts on “The Company I Keep

  1. Sarah W

    What I need to write is to feel a little lonely.

    You know . . . I do my best writing at baseball games, in crowded cafes, listening to music, and while the kids have the TV blaring, but I’ve never thought of this as needing to be lonely.

    I’ve always thought I needed something to ignore so the words in my head didn’t echo in the silence—and for once I’m not trying to be funny.

    But maybe you’re right . . .

    1. Teri

      The tuning out is a skill, Sarah. I read like a crazy person when I was kid, even with that blasted TV on all the time.

      These days, I can concentrate pretty well so long as: (a) no live person is talking to me, or (b) I’m not having to listen to Viagra and/or Cialis commercials. I have my standards.

  2. girl in the hat

    Yes! Loneliness makes it all happen. I never thought of it that way before but it’s completely right. And the lonelier I am, the better I write. The puzzler is how to do this with a house full of people….

    1. Teri

      Having yelled “Knock it off!!” to my wild wrestling dogs all day, I kinda-sorta understand. This was a day of distractions — the TV just wasn’t one of them.

  3. Laura

    But Teri! What would Franzen say about watching TV?? If he’s anti-Twitter then he’s certainly against TV. And I for one take all my advice from Franzen, obvs.

    I wonder what kind of writerly elitist fury would build up if someone forced him to watch a show like The Bachelor for 24 hours straight?

    1. Teri

      You KNOW I take all of my leads from my Franzen. Even I couldn’t stay awake for the end of The Bachelor. I went to bed before the “date nights” happened so I could rest in peace.

      But honestly — what an awesome punishment 24 Hours of The Bachelor would be! Especially this season.

  4. lisahgolden

    I love TV. It’s a troubled relationship with some addictions involved, but then, like you – I comfort myself with the idea that it’s better than smoking.

    Sophie told me that one day last week, she had a “Lisa day.” She cleaned the house and kept MSNBC on all day long.

    My work here is done.

  5. Lyra

    Sing it sister. I grew up in a tv house also, and I read more than any kid I know. We were an ABC family, Ryan’s Hope, All My Children and I wonder how much of my love of romance comes from being a four year old home from half day kindergarten and watching Ryan’s Hope…ha!
    I miss the days when people weren’t so righteous and judgemental, when a word wouldn’t have been thought about it. Then again, they also smoked and drank through pregnancies, so, well, yeah. Not saying it was per-fect…

    1. Teri

      The only reason we didn’t watch All My Children is because ABC came in a little fuzzy. The only reason. I’m pretty sure I learned how to write “in scene” by watching soaps from the age of babyhood. I knew Victor left Mrs. Chancellor for Nicky, the stripper, when I was about 6, and thought nothing of it.

  6. oma

    I confess I am addicted to tv. It is the first thing I do when I walk in the house. Turn the tv on. I love Downtown Abbey, I watch a lot of BBC. I don’t watch a lot of popular series, but I watch a LOT of tv. MY mother loved Turner Classic, and now I am addicted. I still read though, tv has never cut into my reading time. But I know I watch way too much tv. (I’ve watched Jeopardy since way before Alex Trebeck and his snide remarks were part of the show.)

    1. Teri

      I was just talking to my Aunt Mary and she said, “I love that Lifetime network! There’s one movie on after another!!”

      I think she just discovered it. Too funny.

  7. Downith

    The Company I Keep – now, would that be Three’s Company?

    Here’s your other sister.

    I got out of the habit of watching much television when I moved over here for a variety of reasons -crap shows, no cable, different taste to husband etc etc. Last Friday night I was clicking around and found a show called Not Going Out featuring a British guy living in a Californian woman’s flat. My head exploded. Holy cultural confusion Batman! Could I relate!

    I was so excited to find this “new” show. Turns out it’s been on since 2006 -that’s what happens when you get out of the habit – you miss important stuff!

    1. Teri

      Come and knock on our door …. we’ve been waiting for you …. 😉

      I imagine if I moved to another country I’d turn it off —- in fact, I love being in non-English speaking countries where the only thing in English is CNN World News. But I’m sure the TV-Bug would bite me if I found anything worth watching.

      What do I wish wasn’t on TV? Our painful political process — if Rick Santorum becomes the presidential nominee, I’m leaving the country. Do you have a guest room I could borrow for 4 years?

  8. macdougalstreetbaby

    Truth be told, the only reason we don’t own a television is because of my addiction. I would watch 24/7 if I had the chance and, no, I do not multitask while watching. I am ever present for the show at hand.

    1. Teri

      Holy Buckets! I need to know more about this.

      I think I always assumed you didn’t have TV because you didn’t want the kids to watch it. I know I wish our kids had watched a LOT less TV, especially as they became teenagers. Many evenings at 5 pm I thought I’d slit my wrists if I heard “The Simpsons” theme song one more time.

      1. macdougalstreetbaby

        ‘Tis true. I have three kids who are addicted as well. My youngest girl has no interest, which makes me think there’s a genetic link to getting sucked in.

  9. Averil Dean

    I understand what you mean about the background noise. I used to think I needed to be secluded behind a locked door in order to assemble a coherent thought, but as it happens I do much better writing in public. There’s something to that need for loneliness as a writer; we need the angst.

    That said, I’m not a TV lover. I do adore HBO and the occasional episode of Disappeared, but usually I end up searching desperately for something to watch. I want to be addicted, I do! I just can’t find anything appealing.

    However, during football season, I’m curled up on the sofa every Sunday. And Monday night. And sometimes Thursday . . .

    1. Teri

      Sometimes I think the main reason we have a TV is for sports — and to watch movies. I’m about to get sucked into the vortex known as March Madness —- I’m one of those sports lunatics who loves the playoffs of just about everything.

  10. erikamarks

    Teri, what a perfect post today for me to return to! My family and I just got back from a few (glorious) days away at the Carolina coast and we stayed in a wonderful old motel with sand stuck in every corner of the room, and there was real cable!

    I am the ultimate TV junkie and I won’t apologize. I have such fond memories of watching TV as a kid–and I firmly attest that TV helped shape my imagination and my love of story-telling. From Wonder Woman to Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island to game shows (and yes, Soaps! Funny, CBS was always the strongest signal in our house too.)

    Now excuse me while I go over to and tumble down the rabbit hole of old TV themes for the next three hours…

    1. Teri

      Your holiday sounds glorious, Erika. Real cable or no.

      I liked Shanna’s comment at Betsy’s yesterday, which is what spurred this post. It’s not watching TV or not that’s the issue, really, it’s more the announcing people do of, “We don’t own a TV!” as a declarative statement that makes me nuts. It sounds so pretentious when it hits my ear. There was a young man in my grad program who didn’t own a TV and reminded us constantly — though of course he saw whatever he wanted online, and what’s the difference?? He also didn’t read books written by women, so maybe that was part of it!

      1. lisahgoldenl

        I got to read that thread at Betsy’s late last night. Very interesting. I wondered if that inspired this post. Question answered!

        As much as I love TV, I’m a TV snob watching mostly MSNBC, Masterpiece on PBS, The Big Bang Theory and Portlandia. I try not to be a jackass to people who like reality TV or whatever else makes their motor rev. Goodness knows, they’d hate some of my shows as much as I wouldn’t understand their preferences.

        Then again, I’m now a sort of fan of Chasing Bigfoot so who am I to throw stones?

  11. CJ

    TV trays, scoop of tuna salad in the center of a vine ripened tomato, my grandma in her rocker watching her stories on the phone with her sister across town, each tuned to a different station, telling the other what they were missing. Test pattern of an Indian at night listening to my siblings sleep, watching over them while I stared at a rectangle of light.

    Yes, I watch TV.

    1. Teri

      I love it, the sisters calling each other to see what they’re missing. I kind of miss the old days when, if you wanted to see something, you had to sit down right then and see it. Along with everyone else. At the same time.

      Sometimes that rectangle of light was what kept me believing another world was out there. Somewhere. That and books, of course.

  12. Catherine

    I also grew up on a diet of Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, the Thunderbirds, Hogan’s Heroes, even Get Smart and Bewitched. I truly think it has made me into a funnier person. Humour is hip, more than reality shows I think. If I think how clever those scriptwriters were, taking the piss out of so many things and having a great laugh…

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