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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Reading TV Guide

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

I'm going to send my name into the World Record people, because I've just completed something that (as far as I know) no one else has ever done. I've just read TV Guide. Yes, READ it. All of it. All 212 pages. All 7,997 program listings. And you learn some interesting things when you do that.

For example, I learned that when they asked 800 people age 16-29 whether it would be harder for them to give up sex or TV for a week, 51% said it would be harder to give up sex and 41% said it would be harder to give up TV. I don't really know what that says about America, but it says something. It probably also says something about the remaining 8%. They may have been otherwise occupied, I guess.

I learned more about Oprah than I wanted to know. I learned what a columnist thought about video cameras, and what the networks think about their newspeople giving speeches for big money ($20,000 to $35,000 per speech sometimes). (They don't like it.)

But of course the most interesting thing is the listings. With nearly 8,000 program listings for just this one week, I learned that we have nearly limitless choices on what we watch. There is, indeed, something for nearly everyone on TV these days.

There are shows for sports fans, covering baseball, Little League baseball, arena football, Australian football, sailing, surfing, rodeo, horse racing, wrestling, jet skiing, hydroplane racing, wrestling and volleyball. And that doesn't even include the Goodwill Games.

There are religious shows for nearly all faiths: "Church Service" (great title, huh?), "The World Tomorrow," "Concrete Gospel," "Key of David," and "Charlie's Angels." There are shows for those with too much free time on their hands: "Princess Diana: An Intimate Portrait," "Gossip Show," "Celebrity Restaurants" (I'm not making any of this up!), "Headbangers' Ball," "Beyond Reality," and its sequel "Beyond Bizarre."

There are shows about politics and the political process: "Inside Politics," C-SPAN's coverage of the House of Representatives, "President Clinton's Weekly Radio Address" (on TV?), and "The Three Stooges."

There are cartoons -- a whole network of them. In addition to the usual fare, there's also "Dynomutt," "Perils of Penelope Pitstop," "Biker Mice," and "Toon Heads." (Remember, all this is 100% true!)

Of course, in addition to the silly, there is a great deal on TV that's worthwhile. There are classic movies like "Citizen Kane," "The Maltese Falcon," "Ben Hur," and "Richard III." There are news and information shows like "60 Minutes" and "Face the Nation." There are excellent documentaries and shows that teach something, like the movie "Gettysburg," or Court TV or programs on the end of the Vietnam War 20 years ago. There are shows on how to succeed in business, shows on ancient history, the nightly news from Moscow, real estate, health concerns, court and law issues -- even the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

With such a wealth of programming out there, there is something to appeal to everyone. There are as many kinds of programs as there are kinds of people. So it's silly to ask if you like TV. It's like asking if you like people. The real question is what kind of TV? How do we choose our viewing? How do we sift through the literally thousands of shows vying for our attention? There are choices to be made each time we turn on the set; there's even a choice whether we turn it on or leave it off. We need to think about how we choose as well as what we choose.

There are, however, a few things I did not understand in TV Guide. I don't understand, for instance, why the show called "Everyday Workout" is not on every day. Or why "The Nightly Business Report" airs at 6:00 AM. I don't know why there's a show called "30 Minute Movie" that runs for 45 minutes. And for the life of me, I can't even BEGIN to understand what "Weinerville," "Mr. Bogus," "Two Stupid Dogs," or "We Are the Weird" are about (or who watches them).

I do, however, want to see the show called "Am I Nuts?" I kid you not.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.