Air-channel dreck, cooking shows, and more

Kat picked me up after her last class today, and we drove to the video store. Over the past month I've mostly exhausted the halfway-interesting selection at Movie Gallery, and now must move on to the higher-priced Hollywood Video.

I mentioned how many movies Jeff and I usually watch during a week. She was boggled until I reminded her that we do not watch much television. It's not that we're regimented; it's that not much interests both of us. Mondays were once busy viewing nights. Adding Robert Downey Jr. to Ally McBeal turned me into a mostly-loyal viewer for about a season. Then they axed him, and I decided it was more interesting to write or read during that time. I'd move from that show to Daria, on MTV, but MTV periodically removes the show from its lineup, and 'now' apparently falls under the category of 'periodically.' Perhaps it will return—it has before.

Tuesdays: Battlebots, on Comedy Central. Mmmm, destruction. Andy says there's a better 'bot-destruction show, but I have since forgotten the name of it.

Wednesday night: Good Eats, on Food Network.

We might dip back into ER once new episodes begin airing. Despite the overly-bombastic writing, it's hard not to get even a little bit attached to a show that aired in my high school years, all through my collegiate years, and is continuing on now that I'm married and on my own. After a while, some persistent characters can become a little like … family, I suppose.

Jeff got me hooked on the Sci-Fi Channel's re-airings of Babylon 5—which, coincidentally, came on during dinner. We've watched it all the way through and now they're cycling back again, so I've lost interest. They've picked up Farscape and are syndicating it, so sometimes I delay dinner by about 30 minutes so that the show starts as we're finishing our meal.

That's, truthfully, about it. If you consider how many hours there are in an evening, and that we don't have children to tend, that's a lot of hours free to watch movies. Three or four a week isn't a terribly difficult task.

But it occurs to me that almost none of these shows are standard "air channel" fare. ER, yes, but that's about it. Most of the cable-channel shows aren't any better than the air-channel dreck, but it occurs to me that the reason I tune into these few shows is a question of targeting. Air-channel fare has to be targeted to an audience of millions—and, anyone who has been to a movie with me can attest that what entertains millions often (to quote a friend) bores the everlastin' hell out of me.

On the other hand, cable channels are each trying to cater to smaller, more homogeneous audiences. Given that, and enough channels and enough shows, there are bound to be at least three or four that appeal to me. (Wanton, willing destruction of robots? Excellent. Cooking shows written and hosted by someone who cooks like a real person? Sign me up! Cartoon-facsimiles of the kind of girl I was in high school? Of course I'll watch.)

Thus, I've found my three or four.

But—and you knew as surely as you typed in '' that there had to be a 'but' coming in for a landing—one of the most pervasive reasons I don't watch much television is because it's excruciatingly dumb. Every season the air-channels haul out a new list of shows that make you wonder if every executive in the company is sleeping at the wheel.

This year it's the show "Emeril." Oh, the cooking show, you say? No, I fear not. Someone decided that the overblown Portuguese-descent chef on Food TV was in need of a fictionalized show about his life.

I wish I were kidding, truly, I do.

I have to ask myself: there are legions of struggling, talented actors in Hollywood and New York, hungry for a chance—a break—to show the viewing public how talented and deserving they are. Instead, the networks say, "Hey, he can yell 'Bam!' a lot—I bet this would make a great TV show!"

If you lie quietly and listen very, very carefully, yes, that is the sound of TV executives collectively snorting a couple of lines of crack each.

Really: the guy can shake a pan; he's apparently an incredible chef. He can slice a tomato perfectly on national television, but as my spouse has repeatedly pointed out to me over the past few months, Emeril has approximately four jokes. One involves amounts of garlic. One involves the word 'Bam!' One involves the lack of seasoning that comes included with Food X.

I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming there is a fourth joke. In all deadly seriousness, watch a show of his sometime, and see how many times he recycles each joke—and watch the audience laugh like trained seals. It's funny at first, it's great to feel like you're in on the joke, but after a while you honestly want him to shut his trap and start cooking.

I read an insider comment about the Emeril sitcom and winced all the way through it. The scuttlebutt: the network quickly realized that Emeril didn't have the acting chops to carry it all off on his own, so they brought in a sidekick to try to salvage the show. Last I heard, it was someone like Robert Urich.

Meanwhile, the better actors are sticking with the wait-service jobs. Can't say that I blame them.

Oh, and if you want to see a good cooking show, I have two recommendations. Alton Brown's Good Eats is one of the best cooking shows I've seen in a long time (and cookies baked from his chocolate-chip cookie recipe will garner you fresh souls for your collection every time). I find the Food TV's G.E. site to be useless; instead, let me recommend the fan page at

On the other hand, if you want to see a show set in actual restaurant kitchens, watch Great Chefs on the Discovery Channel. It's not about "learning to cook"—it's about watching trained chefs ply their trade. Instead of recipes, you get to see technique in action. I watched it daily when I was in college—for something like four years—and I learned more about cooking from that show and Jeff Smith than anyone else on the planet.

Given choices like the Emeril sitcom, I think I'll stick to watching restaurant chefs and poking through James Berardinelli's review archives to find good movies that I've not seen. Might as well make the most of my awake time, y'know.



Noggin, a kid/teen network we get on DISH Network, shows Daria reruns every night from 10-11PM. Perhaps you get said channel ...

I get said channel, but for us Central Time folk it's 9-10 pm. :)