A Guide to the Obvious
here are undeniably more painful pursuits of a week’s time than sitting with a 200-channel television from the early rays of the morning to the dark crevices of twilight. One thing is for sure, another obviously fingernail-on-the-chalkboard-scraping venture would be reading about someone’s week in front of a TV. That didn’t stop Bill Brownstein, who chronicles his television watching odyssey in his book Glued to the Tube.
Brownstein is billed as a columnist and “saucy social critic” with the Montreal Gazette, but the sauce he serves up in Glued to the Tube is on the cold side. Seating himself before his TV one week in the autumn of 2000, Brownstein flicked and clicked his way through a supposedly endless number of networks and channels. The book contains an endless series of one-paragraph observations on the various inanities Brownstein stumbles across during his seven days of endless channel hopping. Despite the wide number of channels to choose from, Brownstein centers himself on the most quotidian offerings of the major broadcast networks and, for the most part, avoids the more esoteric and intriguing edges of cable programming. To give him credit, perhaps this was his mandate—only view the inane and report on it. If so, then he has succeeded. This book serves the reader well as a documentation of the obvious.
Unfortunately for the reader, Brownstein’s attempts at wit come across like a third-rate Paul Lynde-wannabe with a skein of stale bon mots (most egregiously and cruelly on the subject of roly-poly weatherman Al Roker: “who’d best never go out to sea without a Greenpeace contingent to guard him, lest the whalers get him in their sights and harpoon him”).
The main problem with Glued to the Tube is that it presents absolutely nothing which has ever been raised before, either by rival pundits who routinely barbecue TV line-ups or even the casual viewer who hops around the channels and mutters to himself on the mediocrity polluting the airwaves. Brownstein offers easy slams of easy targets: Rosie O’Donnell’s excessive goodwill to all guests, Regis Philbin’s omnipresence, Gene Shalit’s excessive mustache, Jerry Springer’s daily wallow in human sleaze, the less-than-life-threatening situations faced by the officers on COPS, the various C-list celebrities who populate game show panels, and the vapidity of celebrity interviews on the Leno/Letterman/O’Brien late night gabfests, etc. In many ways, Glued to the Tube could be mistaken for a manual on how to use a toilet: a guide to the very, very obvious.
Although based in Montreal, Brownstein’s television viewing is fixed entirely on American programming. He even spends time with Al Gore and George W. Bush during one of their numbing presidential debates. While Canada is, admittedly, not globally celebrated for the quality or quantity of its television productions, the complete absence of Canadian viewing opportunities is more than glaring.
Furthermore, Brownstein never bothers to tumble into any of the dozens of movie channels which fill the airwaves with an infinite number of films. Outside of a brief glimpse at an incomprehensible Hollywood caper on an Asian programming network, Brownstein never considers watching a movie. Many who seek to escape the banality of TV programming find respite in the classic films offered on Turner Classic Movies, AMC, and others. And what of Arts and Entertainment, The History Channel, or Discovery?
Brownstein also avoids sports programming until Sunday, when he overdoses on football (American, not Canadian). Honestly . . . who cares? Another glaringly obvious observation, even the most avid sports fan can be rendered comatose by 7:00 p.m. on Sundays.
Throughout the course of the book, Brownstein is joined by a number of friends and family members who briefly join him in his viewing binge and then inevitably vanish. It would seem these good folks caught on to this nonsense rather quickly and enjoyed a hasty exit from the silliness. Hopefully, they have not read Down the Tube yet . . . living with bad TV commentary is one thing, but having to experience a real-life re-run must be the ultimate insult. Cruel as it may seem, for those who find themselves in possession of Bill Brownstein’s Down the Tube, it is actually advisable to jettison the book and instead, seek out an ab-flattening infomercial. Channel surfing is a waste of time. In retrospect, reading the book is like the inane programming offered on many TV channels and perhaps, just maybe, we can learn something from the experience ... if nothing else, the definition of wasting time will be further refined from the pursuit.