No Holds Barred: No Mas!

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Election eve! Photograph by Michelle Sheinbaum

Maybe it was the long-haul effect of election season (which may never end). Like Covid, it is the backdrop of our lives. That is why TV has become my action central. Like it or leave it.

It has become my fireplace, my fish tank, my altar.  I have a modest 50-inch screen.  And it is on (minus audio) all day long and I can’t help myself.  For the last three years, I turn it on at 6 a.m. and leave it on when I exit the house because I think my dog wants to hear the Dow-Jones rollercoaster reports or breaking cable news. He doesn’t. He sleeps through it all. Sometimes I do too and admittedly it’s terrible for the nervous system (what nerves I have left).

Or is it?

For those of us who stopped traveling and live alone but want a vague connection to the “churn” (the name of the world’s rhythm), it’s a necessity. Okay, it’s a drug. I am sorry; radio doesn’t cut it and podcasts haven’t held my interest (and I keep losing ear pods).  Phones or pads just don’t command the attention. I like the power of a large screen.

Personally, I come from a deep TV history since I grew up with a father and brother who were pioneers in the TV sports business (Ed and Steve Sabol created NFL Films). Super Bowls were religious holidays in my house. My dad had a multiple TV screen monitor system in our living room. That WAS my family’s fireplace. No TV’s were in the bedrooms or kitchen. We gathered in the living room watching five different screens with three or four different networks at any given time.

My dad and bro, TV sports gods.

Eventually my brother and I left home and my dad aged out of his TV studio living room. We stopped watching Super Bowls altogether because my dad and Steve needed to concentrate and take notes. It was, after all, their business. We gathered later in the evening to dissect is all. No real Super Bowl parties in my house, the rest of the world did that.

From that moment on, I learned the importance of TV — especially with sports.  The other important TV festivity was election night. In New York in the ’70s, I used to get invited to great election night extravaganzas that were as important as Christmas or New Year’s Eve celebrations.

It didn’t matter what political party you were for. It was always a drunken fun affair with big televisions everywhere. Serious reporters gathered in the library and argued, while girlfriends remained hammered in the TV bar areas. We all knew network campaign commentators as real pals. It was amusing to see them all in the spotlight in full makeup making late night winning predictions. The evening mostly ended with a feeling of hope even if your candidate lost.

It was a different time. Politics were celebratory and simple.  Not filled with digital maps and Vegas sets. Also – election nights always CAME TO AN END.  There weren’t any “hanging chads” or leftover bitterness. We all came together around the television and enjoyed the finale of a real winner and a real loser. Those were the days when election day poll parties actually had some fun pole dancers as guests.  In fact, fun was in the air.

I miss election night parties (this year I chose to stay home alone and just text my friends across town — so much for socializing).  I miss Super Bowl Sundays. I miss travel. I miss a lot. But … I have my TV and it has given me a different life.

I am not talking about reruns of Seinfeld or Two and a Half Men or Perry Mason.  And sure, TV has exploded with all the streaming empires. My 99-year-old mom adored her final years devotedly watching Judge Judy (she learned all about our legal system through Judy), Fox, and CNN news (she was bi-partisan and confused), and “Golden Girls.”

Legal mastermind, according to mom, Judge Judy.

Mom learned a few things about the justice system through The Golden Girls, too.

Everybody Loves Raymond got her to sleep. She saw few people but her strict TV schedule kept her alive, “diversified” and booked. She had the quickest remote finger I have ever seen.

I used to wonder about TV power when I saw CNN in every airport terminal and hotel lobby. Now screens are gone but we have our phones. With the streaming advent, many of us have given up on going to movies. I see so much from my bed nowadays. My town doesn’t have an “art movie theatre,” so I never got to see documentaries.

I realized I was never a real moviegoer.  I realized I hated to “go out” to a movie. But I can “turn on” a TV. Actors are “in” a movie, but they are “on” TV. I am not sure what I am trying to say here, except TV has that immediacy of Bringing It All into your living room. And it doesn’t require a dress code or a reservation or a car ride.

Bygone days.

Friends have been concerned that I no longer have the wanderlust to go to Greece or Costa Rica. I tossed my suitcases before Covid as I felt I had been everywhere when the getting was good. Now the idea of catching a disease or struggling with cancelled flights or lost luggage and just sitting in any airport buzzkilled my desire to explore a new geographic.

Last Sunday I watched actor Stanley Tucci — in his CNN series Searching for Italy — discover real basil in Sicily (all photographed magnificently).  I could smell the pesto. I was THERE. An hour later White Lotus (HBO hit) popped up with another hour based in Sicily at the deluxe Four Seasons Domenico Palace hotel with the most gorgeous suites with views of the Ionian Sea and Mount Etna. I even got the feelings of being stuck in the hotel bathroom. Talk about an “armchair travel.”

Stanley Tucci takes us along for the ride in Searching for Italy.
Better than being there.

White Lotus creator Mike White is all about travel and location, location, location. He has directed his crazy series in the most paradisiacal idyllic settings. The location is the star — not just the backdrop. Between Stanley Tucci and White Lotus I was “transported” and didn’t have to lift a finger. Travel and fantasy at its best.

Ironically, one of White Lotus popular stars Jennifer Coolidge made an interesting comment about the recent slew of “lifestyle” reality TV shows. “When you turn on TV it looks like everyone has a fancy life. It’s hard to just relate … I want way less than that. You see the Kardashians driving around in those SUVs, and they have beautiful homes and beautiful clothes and it’s hard to just go ‘I would rather sit in my mustard-stained onesie and eat beans out of a can.’”

Indeed! But the glory of TV is you can have both.  You can be a voyeur of the rich and famous and still stay in your mustard-stained wardrobe and canned food existence.

Jennifer Coolidge as Tanya McQuoid in The White Lotus season two. FABIO LOVINO/HBO

Lately TV watching has had some serious drawbacks. Forget the news shows. All those jewelry and home shopping networks now look tired, and the merchandise is expensive and awful. Even the shop jocks look old. The truth is you don’t need TV for shopping anymore. We all go online for everything. The TV ads have descended into a decrepit loop of dental implants, hearing aids, diabetes drugs, and medication for aging diseases that all have side effects listing “stroke and cancer causing.”

And then there is the Camp Lejeune Cancer lawsuit ads.  Who knew from Camp Lejeune? Apparently, it’s a Marine Corps base with water toxicity. Second to Camp Lejeune are all the Medicare supplement enrollment ads that make me yearn for the old time plugs of “knife sets” and “Crazy Eddie” appliances.

Yearning for Crazy Eddie!

Last week I realized I might have become the Peter Sellers character Chance Gardiner in the Hal Ashby movie “Being There.”  It’s about a challenged gardener who lived and worked inside a Washington DC townhouse. All he does is tend his garden and watch TV and he is content. Sometimes he wanders around outside enjoying the world with his TV remote. In dealing with people, he tries switching the channel to make them go away.  He never understood that outside his garden, life isn’t television. Even though he learned how to act civil and charming from watching game show hosts.

I don’t really think I’m Chance Gardiner.  But come to think of it … what’s so bad about being as charming as a game show host?  And just like Chance, I can always switch the channel.

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