Back in the ’50s, I’d plop down in front of the TV and watch shows like Gunsmoke, What’s My Line or The Jack Benny Program. Deciding what to watch was simple. I looked through the TV Guide, made my selection, and tuned in, seldom rising to change the channel.

I tied a string to the electric cord connected to the small black-and-white set in my bedroom. At night, when I started dozing off, I’d give the string a tug and pull the plug out of the socket. Sadly, I never got any credit for inventing the first TV remote.

In those days, watching TV was relaxing. But now, I feel anxious when I turn on the set. There are hundreds of shows to choose from every week. When I grew up, there were only three or four channels (now there are hundreds), which made the selection process in those days much easier. Not only that, but if you happened to miss an episode of, let’s say, Twilight Zone, it didn’t really matter. Why? Because there would be something completely new and creepy the following week. But now, you have to watch these shows beginning with the very first episode or you will be lost.  I don’t care how good the previews are, you can’t flip to Homeland in the middle of season three and expect to know why Carrie is sleeping in a psych ward disguised as a Muslim sheik.

What’s worse is that if you try to watch dozens of series at the same time, it becomes impossible to keep all the plots and characters straight. Imagine reading 24 books simultaneously. At least we have DVRs to help us manage our viewing time. That makes things much easier…sort of.

“Mary Ellen, when I watched True Detective last night, I didn’t recognize the characters.”
“Because, Dick, I think you recorded True Crime by mistake. Or maybe American Crime?”
“Or maybe I taped American Greed? No, I think it was The Americans.”
“Dick, did you record Masterpiece Theatre for me?”
“I recorded Masters of Sex by mistake. I watched one episode already.  Why does a guy have to      prepare a sumptuous meal just to get his wife in the mood?”
“I think you were watching Master Chef.”
“Well, I did record Kevin Spacey in House of Lies.”
“He’s in House of Cards.”
“I miss just plain House.”

I really don’t want to watch all these shows, but I hear people talking about them at work and at parties, and I want to be as culturally hip as possible. This is not easy for a senior like me who only recently discovered that Bruno Mars is not a candy bar and Kanye West is not a discount airline.
Right now, our DVR has a couple dozen programs on it. “We have so much to watch,” said Mary Ellen the other day. “We need to stay home an entire weekend and finally get through it.”
We used to say that about cleaning the house.

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