Recent changes increase audience bitterness

SOCIOLOGISTS at the U. of Maryland recently issued a study that concluded — as summarized by its accompanying tagline– “Unhappy people watch TV, Happy people read/socialize.”

To which I say, as somebody whose vocation requires watching way too much TV, “Screw you, U. of Maryland.”

Sure, many heavy TV viewers are probably unhappy, in part because they lack anything better to do. But at least that’s preferable to waiting in line all week to see “Twilight” (although those people seem deliriously happy, if weird).

The study states the obvious with an air of discovery, as only academics can: “As people have progressively more time on their hands, viewing hours increase.” This is the kind of brilliant insight one expects from an institution of higher basketball.

THE TRUTH is that frequent TV watchers aren’t necessarily unhappy, just angry — and those who absorb enough television have plenty of reasons to be ticked off. Think of this list, then, as the inverse of holiday spirit — the opposite of things to be thankful for:

  • The BCS goes to ESPN. Major sports’ broadcast-to-cable migration has been steady, but shifting college football’s championship game to ESPN come 2011 is nevertheless a watershed event — one that sends a pretty definitive “Drop dead” message to the 16 million U.S. homes that don’t currently subscribe to cable or satellite. Officials pussyfooted around this inconvenient truth with customary arrogance, dismissing those who will lack access as “relatively minimal.” Bodes well for the digital changeover, doesn’t it?

  • Charlie Rose. Yes, we understand that the PBS talkshow host must ask ethereal, thumb-sucking questions in order to make his guests sound like deep thinkers. Still, to devote 20 content-free minutes to interviewing NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman this week and never once mention the network’s ratings struggles or the uncertainty surrounding the exec’s future was a “What’s Letterman up to?” moment, even by Rose’s standards — truly putting the BS in PBS.

  • “At the Movies.” This syndicated movie-review program has gone from amusing in its Siskel-Ebert days to mildly annoying during the Richard Roeper era to choppy, inane and nearly unwatchable as a showcase for the Bens Squared (hosts Lyons and Mankiewicz). Rated on their thumbs-free scale: “Skip it!”

  • TiVo teams with Domino’s. Really, does this represent progress for a nation where obesity runs rampant? Great, let’s make it even easier to order pizza delivery while we watch “Ruby” — Style’s new program about a 500-pound woman — until we all need help from a crane to get off the couch.

  • “Pushing Daisies” and “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” The fact that ABC’s whimsical hour about love and death and Fox’s surprisingly smart addition to the sci-fi movie franchise both remain on ratings life support dishearteningly illustrates how in primetime, the cream often sinks like a stone.

  • Cable news pundits. If the election run-up and economic crisis exposed anything, it’s the stark difference between legitimate political and financial analysts and useless, time-killing partisan hacks and corporate shills.

    As long as media companies are implementing strategic cuts, thinning TV’s predictions pack would be a welcome start. Please begin with Dick Morris. Granted, plenty of quick-draw prognosticators misfired this year (hello, Jim Cramer), but Morris is just so … obnoxious.

  • Hallmark Channel and Lifetime. It’s great that these networks keep a fast-disappearing genre afloat by scheduling original Saturday-night movies, but do they all have to feature the same indistinguishable plots and sappy musical score?

  • Chris Cuomo. The “Good Morning America” co-anchor displayed true journalistic ineptitude while interviewing William Ayers, at one point soberly saying of the Chicagoan’s relationship with Barack Obama, “You make it sound like it’s something by saying it’s nothing.” Seriously, either teach this guy the trade or reassign him to “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

  • Sam Zell. Things are tough all over for broadcasting and print journalism, but Zell’s transparent disdain for the Tribune properties under his stewardship has made his tenure inordinately callous and contemptuous.

See, for TV critics, it looks a lot like Thanksgiving every day: So many turkeys, so little time.

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