I had a "Moment of Truth" the other night. While preparing dinner, Fox's "Are you Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" was on, although it was mostly background noise.
Before I knew it, an hour had passed. Next was "Moment of Truth," which is part Jerry Springer-part game show also on Fox. Contestants answer 21 increasingly personal questions. A polygraph examination conducted prior to their turn on the hot seat determines whether they're being honest. The night I watched, a young woman with her boyfriend, sister and mother on the set was asked whether she had ever left the scene of an accident, whether a bartender had refused to serve her because she was already intoxicated and among the more hurtful questions, whether she believed she deserved a better-looking boyfriend.
I knew I shouldn't be watching it, but I didn't seem to be able to stop myself. I liken it to rubbernecking at the scene of a traffic accident.
Then I remembered what Deseret News TV critic Scott Pierce had to say about this program. "This show is so slimy you'll need a shower after watching it. Why is it returning for a summer run? Because lots of people watched it so it's THEIR fault."
Sad to say, I'm hardly alone in this passive, mind-numbing addiction we call television. Even as Americans spend more time browsing the Internet, they're watching more television.
Just as I'm about to swear off extraneous television watching, I read about NBC's plans to cover the Beijing Games. We're talking 2,900 hours of live TV coverage spread across NBC and its cable TV outlets. Some 2,200 hours of Olympic coverage will be available online, too. All Olympics all the time.
Granted, watching the Olympics is much better use of one's time than watching "Moment of Truth" and the other garbage that's on the air these days. This bumper crop of live coverage is made possible by the 12-hour time difference and savvy scheduling of events. There are so many fascinating personalities on the U.S. Olympic team, and hosting the games in communist China is pure intrigue. But 2,900 hours of coverage?
What's next, recliners with built-in privies, fridges and massage units, lest we develop blood clots from our inactivity, all to facilitate our watching thousands of hours of coverage of the most fit athletes in the world performing superhuman feats?
As we learn that we've gone off the deep end with our television watching, I am reminded of a couple of gentlemen who never quite caught the "vision" of television. One was my great-grandfather William Hoagland. He died in the early 1960s and could not be persuaded to watch TV, even the early rocket launches. As my mother tells it, he didn't have any interest in it, although he was a well-read man and enjoyed listening to the radio.
The other was John Templeton, the billionaire philanthropist who died last week at age 95. Templeton made his fortune as the pioneer of global investing in the post-World War II boom. Templeton, a devout Presbyterian, set up the $1 million-plus Templeton Prize in 1972. Mother Teresa was its first recipient.
Templeton was remarkable in many respects. But the one detail that I have retained from all I've read about him recently was his approach to watching television. In a 1998 article in Investor's Business Daily, Templeton estimated that he had watched fewer than 84 hours of television in his life, aside from spiritual programs.
I'm not suggesting that I could cull my television watching from this day forward to just 84 hours. It's not going to happen.But Templeton and my great-grandfather's example teaches that there's far more to life than television. Talk about an Olympic-sized "Moment of Truth."
Marjorie Cortez, who is generally smarter than fifth-graders, is a Deseret News editorial writer. E-mail her at [email protected].