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Watchin' Around the Clock

What’s the time? Let me see… I started watching “Friends” when it began at nine on TBS and I’ve watched two episodes plus about two commercial segments through a third episode so maybe 10:15-ish. “Monk” will start at noon on Hallmark Mysteries & Movies with three back-to-back hour-long episodes. But then it will also be on the Heroes & Icons channel at 2:00pm for two back-to-back episodes. I’ll just see which station has the better episode playing for that two o’clock overlap. At 4:00pm LAFF will air two more episodes of “According to Jim” before “Home Improvement” starts. It’s a Monday so “The Big Bang Theory” won’t be on TBS tonight at six like it is most of the week, but FOX will play two episodes of it at 6:00pm. And somewhere between “According to Jim” and “The Big Bang Theory” I should start thinking about dinner….

…and so goes my day.

I think it drives my husband a bit crazy when I watch and re-watch movies or episodes of shows that I’ve seen so many times I could act out my favorite scenes. Honestly, it drives me a bit crazy too. And of course, not every day is spent watching TV like this. When I am home, however, I typically will have the TV on, with some variation of the above-mentioned schedule running in the background while working on my computer or folding laundry or tidying up my bedroom or the family room. Even as I write this blog post Monk is playing in the background.

Why do I feel this obsessive need to keep time throughout the day as determined by what is on television? If I need background noise, why not just listen to music? I love jazz and light rock. Both could provide excellent soothing background noise for anything I need to do that requires focus, like homework or writing. A good mix of 80’s Hairband music would be perfect for cleaning the kitchen. When I want to relax there are plenty of books I could be reading, and that I would like to be reading, instead of plopping on the sofa and clicking the on button to view the guide based on the time of day.

My comfort in this sort of mindless, time-keeping ritual makes me think of a 1994 movie called IQ starring Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins, and Walter Matthau. The characters Ed Walters (Tim Robbins) and Albert Einstein (Walter Matthau) meet a colleague at a psychiatric hospital and come across a subject who, because of a time deprivation experiment he has agreed to take part in, is uncontrollably screaming and pacing in his small cell-like room. Ed Walters decides to help the test subject out, sneaking his watch to the young man through a small door used for delivering meals. After placing the watch carefully on his ankle hidden beneath his pant leg, the subject becomes instantly calm and relaxed. For me, instead of having a watch or clock close by at all times, I have to have a remote control in my hand when I am home.

Ah! So soothed is the soul who knows the time.

I’ve been keeping time like this for most of my life. Years ago when I was a stay-at-home, homeschool mom, I’d start my day with NBC news. First the local news at 6:00am, followed by the TODAY show at 7:00am for an hour or two. Somewhere during that news schedule I’d feed my kids breakfast, make my husband an egg and English muffin breakfast sandwich, pack leftovers or prepare some other lunch for him to take to work for the day, and then I’d have my coffee and breakfast as well.

Usually, the TV would be turned off for homeschool time, but if the kids were occupied with worksheets or silent reading, on would go the tube. Occasionally we’d watch some educational programming on PBS, like Between the Lions (excellent for learning letters and words), Zaboomafoo (a fun animal and nature show), or School House Rock where they’d learn songs about various topics related to grammar and history. After (or during) dinner we’d watch the local news again on NBC, followed by Wheel of Fortune – also good to help the kids learn letters, spelling, and reading – and then whatever else the TV guide had planned until bedtime. Of course, Frasier was always there to lull me to sleep at night (only because I’ve seen so many reruns that I pretty much know what is happening as a listen with the volume down low).

Again, I ask myself why. Why do I feel this need to always have the TV on?

I subscribe to streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, and HBOMax. It would make so much sense, when I have actual free time, to simply click on one of those services to watch whatever I want – commercial free – with the ability to pause or stop and come back to my favorite show any time I want. Instead, I follow the guide around the clock and endure endless, repetitive, mind-numbing commercials, and for what? It’s clearly my way of wasting time! Often the television simply serves as background for other daily activities, but it’s still always on, easy to be drawn to – a distraction from other important daily functions of life and much-needed family time.

I kind of loathe these time-telling habits of mine even as I write out their full realizations.

When I was growing up, the TV was the focal point of family life when we were home. As a teenager in high school, I remember my mom having the television on while we had breakfast and got ready for school. It would be on when we got home from school. We would turn it off for dinner, but then it would go back on, and my siblings and I would always want to watch whatever my parents were watching, distracted from chores by the glowing screen. We learned the craft of working-between-the-commercials, running from the kitchen after washing the glasses and plates, back to the living room to watch more Magnum PI or Miami Vice or The Cosby Show or Family Matters or whatever episode was on, and then back to wash silverware and pans. Then it was another siblings turn to repeat the cycle so they could dry and put away those clean dishes between the commercials.

I’m not opposed to having or watching television in general. I’m simply annoyed by my seeming-addiction to always have the glowing tube on when I’m at home. Am I alone here? Please don’t misunderstand my purpose in ranting about my personal frustration. TV has its place for home entertainment, but I feel that I need to have more balance. I don’t want repeated episodes of Frasier or Monk or The Big Bang Theory to be my constant companions when I have family and friends and household responsibilities and writing projects and books to be read that all need my attention.

How do I break this cycle? I don’t really expect an answer, but I suppose there’s a part of me that hopes writing about my frustration will help me recognize and look for alternatives to watching TV when I really don’t need to.

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