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What I Really Know About Television: High-Minded Pursuits

I have a friend who is great to have at parties because she always has interesting icebreakers that get people talking. One of her favorite questions is, “What are you reading right now?” But much as I love her engagement tactics, I hate this particular query because invariably I’m still reading whatever I was reading the last time she asked the question.

I ask myself, “Why?!”

The reason is obvious: I rarely read anymore. Instead, I watch TV. And much as I long to expand my mind, to learn new information and skills, and—let’s face it—to sound more intelligent at parties, these intentions always lose out to the absolute comfort and reliable certainty of watching my favorite TV dramas.

What I really know about television is this: There is a reason that “formula shows” like Law & Order, NCIS and The Closer have such big audiences and are so appealing to the 50-and-over crowd. It’s because for us, watching them is like enjoying a visit from our favorite friends, who are interesting, intelligent and dependable. You know exactly what you are going to get—and it’s exactly what you need.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not some lonely spinster with no real friends whose only social stimulation comes from the “boob tube.” But I will admit that a day without Leroy Jethro Gibbs—the handsome NCIS lead, for those unfortunate enough to have never enjoyed his inimitable blend of courage and vulnerability—is like a day without sunshine.

In this world of unending complexities and problems too large to ever truly be solved, there is something incredibly comforting about watching smart people overcome difficult dilemmas. The opportunity to flex my mental muscles each episode is akin to the crossword puzzles that my more intellectual friends pursue. While they are busy generating words with the right number of letters, I’m reflecting on the character development that keeps me interested from week to week. They may get bigger vocabularies, but I like to think I get smarter at understanding people and what makes them tick.

If my television addiction is the worst vice I have, I’m probably ahead of the game. I wish somebody would write a book about it. That one, I might read!

The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Patrice Hall is a reader from Brooklyn, N.Y.

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