Monday, August 25, 2008

NEW YORK

Stage actors love theater. Film actors see movies. Musicians dig concerts by fellow musicians. But TV performers just don’t seem to catch much TV, according to an unofficial survey spanning years of interviews I have had with them.

Let me stress the not-at-all-scientific nature of this poll. While talking to scads of TV stars, I never made a point of grilling them on their TV consumption. I don’t recall how often it came up.

Over time, I started to realize (and marvel) that out of everyone who did address the issue with me, fewer than a dozen copped to being TV fans.

The rest? Well, they don’t shun just the programs in which they appear. They don’t watch TV, period. Or so they claim.



Why would they blind themselves to the truth (TV’s vision of the truth, anyway) if they’re all part of it?

They’re busy. They have to be up early, and they work late. Those are explanations I’ve been handed.

Besides, after spending so much time in the candy factory (I’m paraphrasing here) they just don’t have a sweet tooth anymore.

Some stars make a rare exception to the no-TV rule. Maybe they watch cable news, maybe Project Runway.”

Beyond that, it seems, they shut their eyes to what’s on TV, at least when it’s on. For them, apparently, watching TV is akin to slumming - off-puttingly exotic or, unaccountably, none of their business.

Of course, being a selective viewer isn’t bad. The average American logs 4 1/2 hours of TV per day, a sum that should set off the get-a-life alarm.

Many TV stars insist that catching up with even a program they confess to liking is more trouble than it’s worth. They claim never to be around a TV when that show is on the air. They seem never to have heard of TiVo.

I’ve been hearing this kind of thing from TV-averse TV stars since long before anybody ever heard of TiVo. I think it reflects the stigma that has burdened TV since birth - a stigma that will still stick to TV when its convergence with the Web is fully consummated and the term “television” is retired to the same place as “the wireless” and “gramophone.”

Society brands people who are gung-ho about TV as mentally challenged, hopeless nerds or cursed with too much time on their hands.

Then TV shows reinforce those stereotypes. Who’s more of a TV fan than Family Guy”?

A TV masterpiece regularly pegs its hero as a lowbrow channel surfer: Behold Tony Soprano in front of his widescreen TV, spooning up ice cream as, heavy-lidded and expressionless, he gazes at a war documentary.

Little wonder if TV stars think loving TV publicly would harm their reputation. Never mind the irony that they might choose to occupy their leisure time with loftier things than the TV programs with which they expect us to occupy ours.

That, happily, is not the whole story.

I have come across a handful of TV stars who, unabashedly, include themselves among the TV-watching masses - for instance, Ricky Gervais, the gifted actor-writer-humorist whose credits include “The Office” and “Extras.”

“I live a very, very normal life,” Mr. Gervais told me a couple of years ago. “I walk to work. I walk back from work. I’m at home at 6 o’clock, in my pajamas watching television.”

Does being British give him some special insight, or immunity? Could be.

Another example is Seth Green, who, at 34, has been acting on TV since childhood - also watching TV.

“It’s important to be aware of what’s going on in your medium,” he said during a recent interview. “It gives you an indication of what you’re doing right and wrong - or gives you something to shake your fist at, in defiance.”

Defiance is right. Among his various projects these days is “Robot Chicken,” the subversively funny series he co-created, which lampoons pop culture - especially TV. For Mr. Green, a lifetime of watching TV has paid off nicely.

I can name one more case, too: Dan Draper on the acclaimed drama series “Mad Men.”

“I’ve loved television since I was old enough to reach the dial,” he said not long ago. “Television is meaningful to me. It’s frustrating and fascinating, all at the same time.”

As Mr. Hamm spoke, I couldn’t help noticing a trace of indignation that anyone, least of all one of his peers, might think otherwise. And though I failed to ask, I’m betting he’s acquainted with TiVo.

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