Remember watching TV with the whole family?
I mean, I'm sure people still do it, but it's been years since I did. And with screens proliferating to the point where babies think you can swipe a coloring book, and channel lineups stretching beyond the hundreds and into the thousands, it's hard to imagine that mom, dad, bro and sis find themselves stationed around the flat-screen all that often, unless the Super Bowl happens to be on.
When I was a kid, we had one big honking color television, in the living room, and on weekday evenings when the Yankees weren't playing and there was something my parents considered funny and sophisticated enough to warrant our attention, we all watched it. Mind you, it didn't have to be very sophisticated. Cheers was our all-time favorite, and we must have watched every episode at least once. My dad loved Sam Malone, the bartending ex-ballplayer played by Ted Danson, and I think my mom did too. And the rest of the regulars -- Coach, Woody, Norm, Carla, Cliff -- were like family friends. Hell, given how rarely we saw any actual family friends, they were better.
Only now, looking back on that time we spent around the "boob tube," as my mother would say, do I realize how perfectly Cheers reflected our sense of ourselves. My parents were the grandchildren of Irish immigrants, and though they both had advanced degrees to go with their God-given smarts -- a law degree for dad, a master's in theater arts for mom -- they always felt more comfortable in a dimly lit bar than they ever would at some fancy cocktail party. They preferred the company of down-to-earth people, which is not to be confused with stupid people. Stupid people watched Full House or Who's the Boss. My parents were smart, down-to-earth people, the kind of people who could easily keep up with your Frasiers and your Dianes but would ultimately rather have a laugh with Norm, Sam and the gang.
Is there any other medium that can reflect -- and even shape -- a family's sense of self that way? People talk about the generational impact of certain movies or albums, but to get a whole family speaking the same language, you really need a TV show. There's something about the rhythm -- "we watch it every week" -- and the comforting mass-appeal of it all. Music is made for cliques; movies are made for audiences; TV is made for America!
It used to be that way, anyway. Now, television is changing fast. My personal theory is that it won't be long before our TV's effectively become big beautiful iPads, allowing us to point and swipe our way to any piece of video we want to see, as long as we're willing to pay a few bucks for the privilege. Even now, our choices are expanding at an almost exponential rate. A person could spend all day, every day, watching shows about moody detectives, or people with colorful jobs, or people who think they can sing, or people who hoard things, or people with the last name Kardashian.
Nowadays, I watch TV everywhere -- on my phone, on my computer at work, on an iPad, and yes, when I'm lucky, in the living room, with my wife. We are rapidly nearing the end of our Netflix allotment of Breaking Bad episodes, and I am expecting some ugly withdrawal symptoms to set in if I don't somehow get my hands on Season 4 soon. But even in today's disjointed TV-watching environment, I still find that much of my conversation -- more than I ever realized, until I started editing a TV site -- is dominated by talk about television. "Have you seen Downton Abbey? Oh, you must!" "Are you watching Revenge? We hate ourselves for it, but we just can't stop." "Did you give up on Boardwalk Empire? Well, don't. It's about to get better." "Do you keep up with the Kardashians? Yeah, so do we, God help us."
That's why I'm so excited to be launching HuffPost TV today. We certainly intend to publish eye-opening reports, like Richard Rushfield's article about the continuing influence of former Friends writers on today's TV landscape, and blog posts by the most influential minds in the business (getting an email, with an attachment, from The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin definitely stands as a highlight of my professional career), but above all we want to host a conversation. A lot of conversations, actually. As our TV critic, Maureen Ryan, puts it in her launch-day post, there are far too many shows for any one person -- even one as dedicated as Mo -- to keep up with. But together, we can cover them all -- the ones that define us, the ones that reflect the way we live, the ones that remind us how we don't want to live, the ones that make us laugh, or cry, or want to hurl a brick through the screen.
Man, I just remembered something else about watching TV with my family. We had one of those stuffed bricks that you could throw at the tube when somebody said or did something you just couldn't stand. And we used it!
Well, think of HuffPost TV as your personal stuffed brick. You won't hurt anyone by posting your thoughts here, but, unlike my angry 9-year-old self, you will be heard. You will connect with other people who feel the same way, and still others who think you're nuts. And from there, it's anyone's guess what will happen. If you stay with it, it may not be long before everyone here knows your name.
Follow Michael Hogan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/m1keh0gan