Television is a tranquilizer.

All winter it is our solace and our comfort, helping us to pass those long, cold nights in peace. Television is, to the twenty-first century, what gin was to the nineteenth.
Of course, we don’t like to admit this, because we don’t like to accept we are addicted to television.

Just as we’d prefer to think we weren’t addicted to gin.

So summer television comes as a rude awakening. Summer television brings the truth to Cyclist and non cyclistour door and lays it before us, like a cat with a dead mouse. Televised sport, for example. Sport says, loudly and clearly, you are addicted. Sport is a shivering turkey, because sport actually requires a viewer – that is, someone who stays awake.

Now I know sporting people don’t understand why we hate them, but to say that televised sport is ‘riveting’ is to imply that your eyeballs need to be nailed to the screen. Sport makes it impossible to sleep. It is too loud, too brash, too intrusive. And when summer comes the screens are filled with it. All sensible programming leaves via the window faster than a pop star’s cocktail cabinet; the schedules are crowded with anything the least bit ‘sporty’. The London Marathon trumpets reveille, and from then on, through ‘Queens’ and ‘Eastbourne’ to ‘Wimbledon’, to the Davis Cup, to the Scottish Open (golf), to the British Open (golf) we are forty-loved and deuced and eagled and bogeyed until our brains fry.

Two major issues dog this philosophy of program-making. The first is an assumption that everyone likes ‘sport’. Bad news, Wayne! There are thousands, nay millions of us out here who find it excruciatingly boring! The sight of drugged-up lugs legging it round in circles or muscular ladies with abs and breasts like Schwarzenegger screaming at each other over a net sets our teeth on edge just as much as those members of the ‘Fit’ family who bounce up and down on our doorsteps at seven-thirty on a wet morning insisting we’d feel much better if we went for a five-mile run.

Speaking of ‘wet’ – in winter, we are reconciled to rain. In summer, rain remains a fact of life for everyone except sports broadcasters, who treat it like a beached whale. We might forebear when all the programs we regularly watch for the rest of the year, and actually like, are elbowed aside to make room for sporting juggernauts. We might even find it mildly entertaining, watching a ‘severe’ gust of wind blowing three very professional golf-balls off the seventeenth green; but we positively fume when a three-hour program has to be filled by knowledgeable punditry because the intended sporting event is ‘rained off’. And then, when the event is re-set and another schedule of meaningful television gets deleted to make room for it, we have been known to get our daily exercise by hurling heavy objects.

On one notable afternoon this summer, the BBC showed the same tennis match simultaneously on both their main channels. Now, I know they are meant to be cutting costs, but really?

This cavalier disregard for audience needs has repercussions for health. Thousands of us, unable to be lulled into semi-consciousness by dreaming yak breeders or measured doses of quiz questions need hospital treatment for illnesses brought about by sleep deprivation. We are awake. We are nervous, always on edge. Where are the programs about home improvers? When can we nod off to the tune of a citizen driven to bankruptcy by architecture, or settle comfortably before a moral debate about sugar?

Only prayer can help us. Only August will bring relief.

And then the football starts…

17 Comments

  1. We don’t seem to have this problem in the U.S. Sports are often on year-round, but so are a zillion other things. Which makes picking and choosing difficult. It’s like books–so many good ones to get to, I don’t think I ever will.

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  2. I seem to have the opposite problem. I cannot count the number of “American” football games I have fallen asleep during. Ditto for your football! Also hockey…which seems such a fast paced sport…but that puck is so small.
    Not to mention baseball, tennis and golf…the announcers are so soothing I drop off within minutes.

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    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who can’t see the puck! Hockey has ever mystified me for just that reason. Sleep though? Alas no, not for me. I may be just on the verge of dropping off, but then my companion goes into paroxysms of excitement or rage because of some imagined infringement of those ridiculous things they call ‘rules’ and I am awake again. Aye, me!

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  3. This is a lovely piece packed with resounding truths.
    My husband likes live baseball games. In the early days of our marriage I developed the ability to sleep in the Astrodome bleachers and didn’t even wake up for the seventh inning stretch! The problem with televised games is that they never seem to be showing when I want to sleep, or perhaps I just don’t find them.

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    1. The true level of my intelligence stands proven by the fact that I never could understand baseball. Cricket, albeit adjusted into a much more hit-and-hope model for the 21st Century, is still a game of tactical and psychological skill the viewer can appreciate, whereas it seems to me that watching baseball just involves sitting through an extremely long game of rounders, usually anesthetized by burgers and beer. Maybe I haven’t got the finer points…

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  4. I loved the pop star’s cocktail cabinet reference–great visual. And you are so right, Frederick. I am not a sport enthusiast, either. I remember the days back in the 1960s when there were “summer replacement programs”. Some were bad, others, though, were quite good. That’s when I discovered “The Prisoner”.

    Another friend of mine lumps all the various games into a term she created, called “sportsball”. Where I live, in Kentucky, we are inundated with all things University of Kentucky, especially basketball. I seem unable to escape it, and I shall now be struck by lightning for my “wrong thinking”.

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    1. That’s a further, very important point – how is it that ‘sporting people’ manage to make us feel so guilty for our lack of enthusiasm? In my home town, ‘What team do you support?’ is almost a standard greeting. When you reply in the negative you’re treated to a look that is somewhere between sad and accusing. I guess I’m just plain anti-social.

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  5. I’m not much of a television watcher, but I don’t mind if hubby has the television on in the background and is tuned to the Tour de France or (American) football. Those are about the only two sports that intrigue me….and I will either watch or happily turn them into white noise while I write.

    I can’t have any background distractions while writing but for some reason cycling and football have that dreaming-yak breeder effect 🙂

    We don’t get inundated with sports in America. Just reality TV. Given the choice, I think I’d probably go with the sports!

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    1. Ah now you see, I’ve always had a soft spot for reality TV, especially the ‘whose husband slept with whose daughter’ shows. They’re a sort of fix, reminding me that in the great scheme, there are some things Darwin missed. God bless Jeremy Kyle!

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  6. I recently gave up on summer TV and signed up for Netflix. Some of my favorite summer shows were canceled. The others–the summer season is so short and mixed with reruns, I get annoyed. I’d read instead, but I’m a tad tired by the time evening rolls around.

    Ergo, Netflix. So far, so good.

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