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April 23, 2014

What Jay is thankful for

by Jay Black, posted Nov 22nd 2007 5:01PM
Does anyone else find this picture disturbing?I'm pretty sure that this TV Squad assignment -- make a list of all the things you're thankful for in television -- is going to get me in trouble with my family. See, I've only got so much introspection to spare and I've pretty much used up November's allotment making this list. When my wife asks me to give her one thing I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving, she'll probably be expecting me to say "all the love I receive from my family" or something else suitably goopy. When I say, "I'm really thankful for how good House has been this season," I'm going to get a carving knife plunged into my eye-socket.

But I knew the risks when I signed up to be a television blogger. As my blogging mentor Hyman Roth once told me, "This is the business we have chosen, Jay." My list after the jump...

1. How good House has been this season. Last season almost made me stop watching. I still loved Hugh Laurie, but I felt like the show was becoming boring and predictable. By the time Jodie Foster's dad from Contact showed up as a vindictive super-cop, I was about ready to jump ship. I don't think I was alone in this feeling, either, because this year the producers took the House formula and shook it up.

And when I say "shook it up", I don't mean like when your wife decides to get a new haircut. What House is doing this season is much better than that. This would be like your wife saying, "Hey, you know what I've just discovered? That I'm bi-sexual. I'd really like to explore a relationship with another woman, but I'd feel uncomfortable without you there. What do you think of my aerobics instructor?"

I mean, it's been that good.

When I wrote The House Dilemma last season, I made the argument that all shows built around powerful characters will eventually become monotonous due to the fact that the show can only tease at actual character development. Once the character really changes, the golden goose is dead and the show goes with it.

House circumvented this problem not by changing the main character, but by shuffling his supporting cast. By forcing House to pick a new team and by giving the old team new jobs, the show has become as interesting as it was in its first season (and has done it without changing what we love about House himself). All of a sudden, House is appointment viewing again.

2. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. I travel. A lot. For instance, this is my schedule for the last week of January: two nights in Iowa, then a night in Florida, then a night in upstate New York, then three more nights in Iowa. Sometimes I think my agent is less interested in getting me gigs than he is in seeing how quickly he can give me deep vein thrombosis.

The one constant that I have in any hotel room anywhere in the country is ESPN. It's the one channel you can count on to be included in even the most podunk cable system. Besides that, its programming is pretty much the same at any time of the day or night: thickening ex-athletes discussing things loudly.

As a homesick road-warrior I've latched onto ESPN with the same indiscriminate desperation that led Ellen Barkin's character to latch onto Robert DeNiro (video NSFW) in This Boy's Life. Seriously, sometimes I'll dress the hotel TV and myself in matching Boy Scout uniforms. ESPN knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

Pardon The Interruption is ESPN's best show. While just about every other talking-head show on the channel is a knock-off of PTI, it's got the one thing you can't copy: chemistry. Tony and Michael are two truly engaging guys who entertain even when their opinions are less-than-informed (Tony, for instance, hasn't seen a professional sporting event outside of Monday Night Football games since 1983; I love him anyway).

I love these guys so much, I always waste two of the three slots on them whenever someone gives me the old "if you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would it be and why?" question. I'd tell you who the third person on that list is, but I've never had cause to think of him: the people asking me the question always seem to lose interest when I open with Tony and Michael.

3. Slingbox. Going along with the travel theme, this little, oddly-shaped box has been a lifesaver. Earlier this year, when I was doing a gig that interfered with watching a show I was reviewing, I'd have to travel with a VCR to ensure I could watch it. A VHS VCR, like a savage.

Recently, though, I've invested in a slingbox, and I have to say... it actually works. I didn't think it would. I thought like any other consumer electronics purchase I've ever made, it would over-promise and under-deliver. But, so long as I have a decent internet connection for my laptop, I'm able to access my bedroom TiVo and watch what's on it without any real frustration.

The best part is that even though we've had the slingbox now for almost two months, whenever I access the TiVo remotely, my wife is always convinced that ghosts are changing the channel. If slingbox can still creep her out, I'm pretty sure that I'll be able to convince her that a Coca-Cola bottle is a gift from the gods that must be thrown off the edge of the world. That'll make for a good practical joke, don't you think?

4. That commercial where the viking throws the garbage can. For some reason, my viewing habits have me seeing this commercial approximately forty times a day. I wish I could say that I'm sophisticated enough to find it silly.

I'm not, though. I find the commercial ridiculously hilarious. Somewhere, the parallel universe version of me -- the one that actually went to grad-school and lived up to his potential -- is weeping.

5. The Writer's Strike. Hear me out on this one:

For the most part, the strike is a horrible thing. A lot of good people are being put out of work and the idea of spending an entire winter watching nothing but reruns and reality shows makes me want to put my head underneath the wheels of a tractor-trailer.

But... I am thankful for one thing: the strike is reminding a lot of Americans how important writers are.

See, to a lot of people, writers are to Hollywood what Forrest Gump was to Jenny. Sure they're sweet and always there for you, but actors and producers are cool. They'll take you to black panther parties and let you snort coke and listen to disco. All writers ever do is tell you that they love you and go shrimping.

What's the old joke? How do you figure out who the stupid woman on the set is? She's the one sleeping with the writer!

Since the strike happened, though, a lot of people are starting to realize that writers are actually an important part of the entertainment machine. All those pretty actors who say such witty things are fairly useless without some creative person putting words in their mouths.

So, while I'm hoping that the strike ends soon, I'm thankful for the reminder that for every ethereal Eloi actor we see, there's group of Morlocks chained in the writer's room who make his living possible.

6. TV Squad's wonderful readers. That's right, I'm a panderer, so sue me. Also, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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