Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Appointment Viewing

When I was growing up, we only had three channels to choose from on TV. Cable was just dawning in the US, but the places we lived were too remote to really be reached by the relative luxury of 13 channels of televised entertainment.

As a result, our family learned to like what was on the networks, or read a book, go play or (God forbid) talk to one another. Actually, we found ourselves hooked by what we saw on the tube in those days. I’m tempted to go into a full-blown discussion of what we used to watch in the “good ol’ ‘70s”, but that’s not the point. The point here is that back then, we got the Big Three programming, and we liked it.

As time wore on, and we moved around the Southeast, our family finally got cable. We saw programming from different parts of the country, thanks to independent TV stations like WTBS and WGN, and nationwide, cable exclusive programming. It made a bit of a dent in our network viewing habits, but prime time was still pretty much all theirs.

Time passed. I moved out of my parents’ house and got cable of my own, and then satellite TV. The universe of TV went to 30 channels, then 70, and then hundreds. My attention began to shift in prime time to what I could find outside of the Big Three, which had become the Big Four with the debut of the Fox network. I found myself less and less enchanted by the nets’ offerings.

A couple of years ago, I sat in my chair in my living room, and as I flipped around the channels looking around for something to watch, I realized there was no network show that I had any particular loyalty to. Sure, I would watch the occasional episode of “The Simpsons”, and “American Idol” would manage to suck me in during the auditions and the final couple of weeks, but there was nothing that really screamed “appointment viewing” for me.

That all changed a little over a year ago. In the summer of ’05, I began seeing promos on NBC for a new show called “My Name Is Earl.” I was drawn in by the fact that it starred Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee, and the concept of a show based around the theory of karma intrigued me. When it debited that fall, I watched and all my hopes for the show were realized. I started taping it, and lo and behold, I had a brand new “appointment viewing” on a broadcast network.

I wasn’t sure that it could happen again, but it did a few weeks ago. I had just gotten home from Roanoke, and the auditions for “Jeopardy!”, and I was looking for something to watch. I turned to the local station that broadcasts “Jeopardy!” and decided to watch the show that came after it.

It was “How I Met Your Mother.” That night’s episode was one centered around Halloween, so there was a bit of gimmick writing involved in the ep. Still, it was cute, and had some genuinely funny moments. I decided to tune in the next week and see if the positive things I had heard about it really were true.

I wasn’t disappointed. The episode was very well written, and featured a great mix of wordplay and visual humor. The characters seemed fleshed out, and there was a bit of pathos mixed in with the yuks. What really sold me on the series, though, was one word. If you’ve seen the episode, you’ll instantly go “ohhhhh yeah!” and if not, it’s your loss.


This one word, inspired by a badly misspelled name on a coffee cup, had me rolling. The way that “Swarley’s” friends teased him over the name, and the way they worked it into their conversations was beautiful, as was Swarley’s reaction to the name. Even when he pretended not to care about being called this new name, you could see the pure hatred burning inside him for this nickname. Neil Patrick Harris played it brilliantly, and the next day, Kathy and I were calling one another Swarley and passing e-mails back and forth with the name as the subject line or in the body of the message.

“How I Met Your Mother” has grabbed me and won’t let go. Last night’s episode, in which one of the characters has a deep-seated, secret fear of malls, was another classic. I learned for the first time about the world of “slap bets”, and the payoff to the character’s reason for avoiding malls was damn near perfect. For the record, I think I would rather be associated with Canadian porn than 90s Canadian teen pop.

So, there are two shows I am committed to watching regularly. Any other suggestions out there?

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