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Seth Green

Commentary : Why don’t TV stars watch TV ? (seth green mention)

Saturday 23 August 2008, by Webmaster

Stage actors love theater. Film actors see movies. Musicians dig concerts by their fellow musicians. But TV performers just don’t seem to catch much TV, according to an unofficial survey spanning years of interviews I’ve had with them.

Let me stress the not-at-all-scientific nature of this poll. Among the scads of TV stars I’ve talked to, I never made a point of grilling them on their TV consumption. I don’t recall how often it came up.

But over time I started to realize (and marvel) that, out of everyone who did address the issue with me, fewer than a dozen of them copped to being TV fans.

The rest: Well, they don’t shun just the programs they appear in. They don’t watch TV, period. Or so they claim.

Why would they blind themselves to the truth (TV’s vision of the truth, anyway, which they’re all part of)?

They’re busy! They have to be up early and they work late! Those are explanations I’ve been handed.

Besides, after spending so much time in the candy factory (I’m paraphrasing here) they just don’t have a sweet tooth anymore.

Some stars make a rare exception to the no-TV rule. Maybe they watch cable news, maybe ESPN. Who knows? Maybe they’re sneaking a peek at the Olympics. Maybe the smart comedy of the moment ("The Office," or, before that, "Seinfeld.") or the fashionable drama (early in its run, I’d often hear "ER," and then, for a number of years, "The Sopranos"). Or maybe an admitted guilty pleasure like "The Amazing Race" or "Project Runway."

Beyond that, it seems, they shut their eyes to what’s on TV, at least when it’s on. For them, apparently, watching TV is akin to slumming; offputtingly exotic; or, unaccountably, none of their business.

Of course, being a selective viewer isn’t bad. The average American logs 41/2 hours of TV per day, a sum that should set off the get-a-life alarm.

But many TV stars insist that catching up with even a program they confess to liking is more trouble than it’s worth. They claim to never be around a TV when that show is on the air. They seem to have never heard of TiVo.

I’ve been hearing this kind of thing from TV-averse TV stars since long before anybody ever heard of TiVo. And I think it reflects the stigma that TV has been saddled with since birth — a stigma TV will still be stuck with when its convergence with the Web is fully consummated, and the term "television" is retired to the same place as "the wireless" and "gramophone."

Society brands people who are gung-ho about TV as mentally challenged, hopeless nerds or cursed with too much time on their hands.

Then TV shows reinforce those stereotypes. Who’s more of a TV fan than Homer Simpson (a fat, ambition-less lamebrain), unless it’s fellow cartoon couch potato Peter Griffin with his maniac brood on "Family Guy"?

A TV masterpiece regularly pegs its hero as a lowbrow channel surfer: Behold Tony Soprano in front of his wide-screen TV, spooning up ice cream, as, heavy-lidded and expressionless, he gazes at a war documentary.

Little wonder if TV stars think loving TV publicly would harm their reputation. And never mind the irony that they might choose to occupy their leisure time with loftier things than the TV programs with which they expect us to occupy ours.

But, happily, that’s not the whole story.

I have come across a handful of TV stars who, unabashedly, include themselves among the TV-watching masses — for instance, Ricky Gervais, the gifted actor-writer-humorist, whose credits include "The Office" and "Extras."

"I live a very, very normal life," he told me a couple of years ago. "I walk to work. I walk back from work. I’m at home at 6 o’clock, in my pajamas watching television."

Does being British give him some special insight, or immunity?

Could be. But another example is Philadelphia native Seth Green, who, at 34, has been acting on TV since childhood — also watching TV.

"It’s important to be aware of what’s going on in your medium," he volunteered during a recent interview. "It gives you an indication of what you’re doing right and wrong — or gives you something to shake your fist at, in defiance!"

Defiance is right. Among his various projects these days is "Robot Chicken," the subversely funny series he co-created, which lampoons pop culture — especially TV. For Green, a lifetime of watching TV has paid off nicely.

And I can name one more case: Jon Hamm, a breakout star on the acclaimed drama series "Mad Men."

"I’ve loved television since I was old enough to reach the dial," he said not long ago. "Television is meaningful to me. It’s frustrating and fascinating, all at the same time."

As Hamm spoke, I couldn’t help noticing a trace of indignation that anyone, least of all one of his peers, might think otherwise. And though I failed to ask, I’m betting he’s acquainted with TiVo.