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July 22, 2014

TV 101: Summer Madness

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Jun 9th 2011 2:00PM
True BloodThe old Fresh Prince summer anthem, "Summertime," encapsulated summer for an entire generation. With all its "frontin'" and "maxin'" - terms long ago replaced by "chillaxin'" and "being lazy" -- the song embodied notions of breezy whimsy, lazing the days into nights with friends and family while touting summer as a "natural aphrodisiac."

All of this is true, but there seems to be something missing from Mr. Smith's idyllic recollection of a very '90s summer: television. I know it's probably difficult to come up with a rhyme for "True Blood Season Four Premiere," but that notwithstanding, for how many of us is television a part of the true summer experience?

For most of my childhood, television took a Fresh Prince approach to the summer months. After working hard to keep me entertained through the fall and spring, shows would take the summer to unwind and come up with new, innovative ways to showcase Daisy Duke's ass.

It was a healthy relationship that way. We got to spend some time apart, which ultimately made our connection that much stronger -- knowing I could go off and fool around with some other activities like basketball and baseball and trying to experience the touch of a woman, or at least the voice of one not shouting, "that's him, officer!"

If nothing else I learned through this symbiotic relationship that absence makes the heart want to watch new episodes of 'Beverly Hills 90210' really bad, and it was this realization that would change the way humans and televisions interact for years to come, testing the flesh at every turn.

In 1991, possibly (but not probably) in response to the aforementioned, noticeably TV-less account of summer by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, someone in the TV industry asked the question, "hey, do you think people will watch TV in the summer?" And when the guy shining his shoes answered with a half-hearted "yeah, why not?" the summer season of '90210' was born.

The epic tales of Dylan McKay and Brandon Walsh were drawn into a series of summer escapades at the Beverly Hills Beach Club, and this innovation was the catalyst for the show's eventual success as people tuned in largely because it was the only show on TV airing new content. '90210' stayed on the air for nine more years, as it seemed the lowly shoe-shine guy was right.

Never embarrassed to cash in on the general public's mindless dedication to mediocre and often gratuitous entertainment, summer programming started to gradually pick up and expand to the point where now, there are countless shows that wait for the summer months to release their venom on a now suspecting population.

It's no different than the way HBO transformed Sunday night into the night for quality television a few years back in the glory years of 'The Sopranos.' Like summer, Sundays were for so long relegated to the margins of TV relevance, airing hokey TV movies or excruciating mini-series, until someone asked the question "hey, do you think people will watch TV on Sunday nights?" and when the answer came back a resounding "duh! of course they will," it happened all over again.

The truth is, our society's relationship with television has evolved into something of an obsession. TV has always been this awesome thing that is supposedly rotting our brains, but we have elevated this complicated relationship to exceedingly dangerous heights. I would never say that TV is a bad thing, but TV in the summer has become a rather accurate means of measuring your addiction to the medium itself.

For me, the summer has too many distractions to allow me to settle into a consistent TV viewing pattern. I choose to coach my son's Little League team, to run my daughter to and from dance and to manage a cock fighting ring in my garage before making time to tune into a particular show ... even 'Franklin & Bash.' These choices allow me to sleep at night, knowing that I have yet to sell my soul to the glowing spectre that resides in every room of my house (thank you DVD and DVR).

But if you catch yourself at a barbeque at a friend's house with good food and great company, maybe some Bieber softly and subtly serenading everyone in the background, telling your homie to slap another slice of cheese on that burger because you're "gonna get all up in that," only to stop abruptly, sprinting to your car to speed home and watch 'True Blood' alone in a dark room ... that's the "definition of summer madness."

Dr. Vaughan teaches English/media/humor courses at Binghamton University in upstate New York, and he feels the love tonight. You can also check out his blog or find him on Facebook.

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Cartman

Former student of yours writing. Pretty sure you watch South Park judging by your commentary on the series at various times in class. It would be AWESOME of you to write a quick review or analysis piece of the last South Park episode to air last night on 6/8 titled "Your Getting Old". Many are saying this is the possible foreshadow to this being the last season of the show. I would love to hear your take on what you think about the episode and the future of the show because I always tend to agree with your view on the many comics and stand up performances we viewed in class. Waddya say?

June 09 2011 at 6:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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