The Breakfast Table

Talking Shows

Dear Steve,

Court TV had a Dickensian quality about it. I went to LA for the Menendez and O.J. trials, but then followed them religiously on Court TV. So many people did that that we had a common prism through which to talk, perceive the world. The backyard fence was temporarily reconstructed when we could discuss Lyle and Eric’s crew-neck sweaters, Kato Kaelin as perpetual freeloader, the dog-walking habits in Brentwood.

Dependence on the media is part of why it’s so loathed. You always hate the thing you need and have no control over. My voice mail is full of people venting over the coverage of Littleton–too little, too much, glorifying the killers, not glorifying the police. And as ubiquitous as TV is for things like the Colorado shooting, it is not a factor in our national conversation otherwise. For my parents, a new act on Ed Sullivan was as much as a touchstone for them as O.J. or Monica is for us today. Among my friends, there are many who watch the public-affairs programs but few, like me, who watch bad TV. Unless something gathers a cult following (Seinfeld), it doesn’t have cultural saliency. You’re a lawyer, would you sink to watch The Practice? I do, happily, but there’s no one to discuss it with on Monday morning. Any episode of Inspector Morse on Mystery (PBS) is better than almost any movie I’ve seen this year. But it gets blank stares.

Today the media brought good news: a new diet pill, a beacon of hope to a couch potato like me who doesn’t exercise and intends to keep eating Ben & Jerry’s into dotage.

As for that big Slate fee burning a hole in the pocket, my favorite charity is Save Our Aging Religious. Sounds like a Saturday Night Live joke, but it’s money for nuns without 401(k)’s or Social Security who don’t have a crop of young nuns coming along to look after them. They’re largely responsible for the life I lead, and so I have a soft spot for the cause.