Thoughts From the Big Chair: Comments on Television and Associated Media From a Lifelong Addict

Thoughts From the Big Chair

Comments on Television and Associated Media From a Lifelong Addict

Welcome to the first of an anticipated series of weekly columns about television and associated media.

The title is taken from one of the iconic music albums from the 1980’s, “Songs from the Big Chair” by Tears for Fears (1985) and it, of course, refers directly to my lounge chair in our (that’s Linda, my lovely bride, and me) living room here in White Rock (N.M.)

I am a lifelong lover of television, starting in the late 1950’s, and my love for television has run unabated since then. I have a long view of the evolution of the Tube; where it has gone during that time.

I think I can make some observations that might be of interest to some readers; my TV experience basically runs from the 1950’s Howdy Doody” to  today’s “Person of Interest.”

I would first state that I will ignore most of the current crop of “dramatic” reality shows as they have little relevance to actual reality for most people and, frankly, are as phony as a three-dollar bill.

So no Real Housewives,” Shahs of Sunset or “Honey Boo Boo to be discussed here. No Kardashians either; the only things with big butts I might mention are dinosaurs (I am a paleontologist, after all) and if you want to know the connection, just ask me.

My interests are oddly eclectic and range from science and science fiction, to comedy and drama, to cooking shows, Downton Abbeyand even, at times, fashion (why? will be the subject of a later column.)

I do like some reality shows, but mostly those that are informative in some ways, although sometimes in some odd ways.

My columns will talk about a wide variety of topics, from why The Walking Dead,” despite some flaws, is really an amazing show and the apex of the zombie genre, to why it and other cable series (e.g., Deadwood and Rome)  have really helped spawn a new Golden Age in Television, even as so much of what is aired these days is historically awful.

Given some of the crap that has been broadcast through the years, the implications of that last statement are pretty impressive, by the way.

I would very much like this to be an interactive experience, so thoughtful comments and subsequent discussions are quite welcome.

So off to a first subject that is sports-related, something that will actually be relatively rare for this column. However, it is really about giving you a chance to keep up and sound conversant on sports, while investing a minimum of time in prep. So give it a shot and you might enjoy it. If not, I’ll try and be more entertaining next time.

Do you cringe in horror and embarrassment when you’re at a party and the conversation turns to sports? When you’re in meetings at work and the boss talks about last night’s game, do you shrink into the woodwork? Well, Have I got a deal for you …

Using A Little Television to Stay Semi-Literate About Sports

“But those are Terry Benedict’s Casinos!”

(Reuben Tishkoff  [Elliot Gould’s Character], “Ocean’s 11” {2001})

You probably think it’s odd that I quote a line from George Clooney’s 2001 remake of  Sinatra’s 1960 movie, but I’ll explain it in a bit. When I grew up in the late 1950’s and, especially through the following decade, males were expected to have a functional knowledge of Sports (the general topic as opposed to a sport like baseball) that they could demonstrate at any time during conversations among “men.” 

I have no idea of what women talked about back then, but you couldn’t escape sports if you were a guy. Luckily, most of us played and studied sports a lot in the 60’s.

Of course, Sports meant only very specific sports back then, at least in the Northeast (about 70 miles north-east of NYC in coastal Connecticut.)

It meant baseball primarily, but also football in increasing amounts with time, golf when Arnie and, later, Trevino was playing, hockey, track and field, boxing, the Olympics, and, occasionally, basketball.

Soccer was virtually ignored as being an odd running version of Irish dancing that made everyone uncomfortable because of its lack of arms. Basketball only really came up when Wilt Chamberlain was involved as he was an historically special player, as was Bill Russell later on.

I acknowledge that in some other regions – like Indiana – basketball was probably at the top over even baseball.

You had to keep up with Sports to avoid sounding like a dullard or wimp.  It wasn’t as easy back then as most people only had, at best, three to five TV channels.

Closer to NYC, we luxuriated in eight channels, supplying a wonderfully constant stream of sports and old movies to watch, and this changed me forever.

We made up for the lack of TV sports coverage by reading newspapers a lot – yes those paper things – and one of us even subscribed to “The Sporting News” to really give us the inside scoop.

Yes, you had to know rosters and stats, and conversations often were just like those Billy Crystal included in the 1991 movie City Slickers. I mean, really, just like them. That movie was Déjà vu all over again for me (thanks, Yogi.)

As I got older, the conversations evolved as some sports (e.g., boxing, track and field, and even the Olympics, especially after Munich) grew far less important.

Hockey – now a form of boxing – worked hard to become the inconsequential niche sport it is today. Basketball surged and Football took over from Baseball as being of prime importance. And leagues everywhere expanded and expanded and expanded.

So, now we have a zillion sports channels, lots of sports at lots of levels, many more teams, and not much time in our lives to pay attention to it all.

Yet, there still can be situations where not sounding ignorant about Sports may come in real handy. Further, lots of people feel the need to know more about sports simply to be conversant with their friends and officemates.

So how do we make it past the “Catch 22” of lots and lots of sports and too little time and get to a comfortable place in dealing with others when Sports comes up? Gather around the Big Chair and listen to old Ralph; I have a system.

The answer is to invest about 40 minutes a day for four or five days a week (you can get away with even less this time of year, post-Super Bowl and pre-baseball). There are two shows on ESPN – Around the Horn (“the Horn”) and Pardon the Interruption,(“PTI”) that air on weekdays in the afternoon (starting at 3 p.m. here in Mountain Time.)

DVR those suckers and watch them. Zoom through the commercials (cutting about 20 minutes off the one hour total length for both) and feel free to do other things while watching them as they are not to be studied, the banter just needs to be absorbed through osmosis.

Both shows go over the past day’s (or weekend’s) sports highlights, following a list of topics assembled by ESPN staff. Typically, they use the same list, although sometimes “PTI” adds things because they film it later and new stuff  can come up.

Around the Horn has a Master of Ceremonies, young Tony Reali, and four excellent sports journalists (varying from a stable of twelve or so) who appear on plasma screens from around the country; they are arrayed in geographic order with the most western to the left, and the most eastern to the right (like America, in all our heads.)

They go through the list and Reali gives them points depending on how informative they are—he scores their arguments, although there is a randomness to it at times.

They are eliminated for lowest scores progressively until 1 is left each day. The winner gets to make a 30-second statement on any subject he or she chooses.

Video clips are shown throughout and you really get a good feel for what happened in sports over the past 24-48 hours.

Pardon the Interruption has two arguably better-known journalists – Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon – who argue mostly the same points as “the Horn” uses. Tony Reali is also there, but in a quieter role providing an occasional factoid and listing their errors at the end.

The two shows are very different in that “the Horn” tends to have wild discussions and a wide variety of very different opinions, and much more interpersonal banter.

“PTI” tends to be less volatile in nature, although their opinions are not expressed at all less enthusiastically. In an odd way, you can compare the two shows to the Congress, with “the Horn” being like the House of Representatives, and “PTI,” with the more senior journalists, like the Senate.

Watch those two shows and pay some attention and you’ll be surprised how well you’ll hold up in casual conversation when Sports comes around.

The shows do tend to give soccer (OK, real football), golf, NASCAR and, often, hockey a bit of  a minor part in their discussions, but the biggies are covered well; you’ll do fine and seem competent in general with their mix of topics. The shows are fun, too, so you’ll probably enjoy them.

I’ll give one of many possible stories where this strategy of keeping up served me well.

I never watch basketball on TV. Hate it that way. Love to play it, but every time I see someone take nine steps without dribbling I just get apoplectic when they are not called for traveling. When I do catch part of a game, it is generally the NBA or, especially, the Olympics, just to see LeBron or Kobe (also special) play for a couple minutes.

College is even more talent-diluted than the NBA – which is really saying something – and I just find it painful to watch most of the time, especially the last two minutes of the game, which take about 40 minutes to finish [the three definitions of forever are; two people and a ham, a half-hour with an insurance agent, and the last two minutes of a college basketball game.)

On a business trip to Pasadena a couple years ago, I was eating alone at a sushi bar. It was empty because it was early in the evening. The sushi chef loved college basketball and wanted to talk about it.

I was able to hold a conversation with him simply from osmosis from those two shows for over an hour. He kept feeding me free sushi and I kept expounding on “one and dones,” how exciting the tournament was, and why no one can make free-throws anymore. Probably got $30 in free sushi that night and it was actually fun. Yet, I hadn’t watched a full college game since, well, forever.

So, if you want to be able to hold your own with real people, try this strategy out. You’ll cruise through the conversations and feel comfortable with and enjoy them. If you do know some stuff and share it, not knowing something else isn’t a big deal.

Now, if you run into some fantasy team crazoid who is expounding obscure stats and dreaded injuries, ignore him (it’s almost never a her) as they are the new Dungeons and Dragons people, but far worse than any I have known of the latter. They are worth ignoring as time with them is the fourth definition of forever.

So, you say, what about the Ocean’s 11 quote? Well, Linda and I have used it through the years (since 2001, when the movie came out, obviously) as a general caveat or whine whenever one is called for – although you have to say it just like Elliot Gould did in the movie.

It is one of two we use – the other is “But I have to go into Toshi Station to pick up some power converters” said by Luke in the original 1977 film Star Wars– and that has to be said in a very high, whiny pitch.

Tell me to move the garden tools to the back shed and you’re liable to hear “But those are Terry Benedict’s Casinos!” Tell me to go get a haircut, and Luke will come out. Well, on “Around the Horn,” Terry Benedict comes out a lot, and at typically great and funny times and I always listen for it. Sort of a long-term drinking game possibility.

So, that’s it. Try the system out and amaze your friends that you know some things they don’t. Ladies, do it at the right time with your guy and watch other guys look at him with envy that his lady actually gets it. Guys love that about their great women. I know I do.

So, next time, for the column, no sports; we’ll get into more typical TV stuff.

Thanks for reading. Until next time…

©2013, Ralph E. Chapman (Twitter @RalphEChapman)


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