Friday, May 9, 2014

Can TV Watching Be a Hobby?

Before I started this blog there have been times, such as during interviews or in social situations, where I have been asked if I have any hobbies. And my standard answer was usually “golf and tennis.”

It was an honest answer but I did not say anything about watching television – not because I was ashamed of it, but because I wasn’t certain if doing so qualifies as a hobby.

According to Webster (the dictionary, not Emmanuel Lewis) a hobby is “something that a person likes to do in his spare time.” Watching old TV shows certainly meets that minimal standard, but I am not sure that definition really goes far enough.

Engaging in a hobby should mean that you are “doing” something, like playing a sport or going to museums. Or that you are engaged in an activity that is creative or educational or goal-oriented, such as painting, cooking or crochet, or collecting something like stamps or coins or Mego Kristy McNichol action figures (just me on that last one? Ok).  

When watching television, one could argue it’s not really about doing something as much as having something done to you. You’re taking in creative material from a stationary position, while making no contribution to it or embellishing it in any way. If watching TV is a hobby, so is listening to the radio in your car while you’re driving.

However, perhaps some distinction can be made between watching passively for relaxation, and selecting and viewing classic programs with a purpose.

There are times when it’s sufficient to relax on the couch, flip indiscriminately between channels, and let whatever program you land on wash over you, as you put your mind in neutral to decompress after a long work day.

Sometimes I do that too, but most of my evenings of classic TV viewing require advance planning. I choose specific episodes of certain series based on what I’m in the mood for, or if I’m looking to spend a couple of hours in the company of a particular actor or the work of a specific writer.

For instance, when baseball season began a few weeks ago, I enjoyed an evening watching these shows:

“Lucy and the Little League” (The Lucy Show)
One of the series’ best first-season episodes, with a message about overzealous little league parents that resonates as much today as it did 51(!) years ago.

“Leo Durocher Meets Mr. Ed” (Mr. Ed)
Featuring Hall-of-Fame Los Angeles Dodger legends Leo Durocher, Sandy Koufax, Vin Scully, and the unforgettable image of a horse sliding into home plate. 

“The Dropout” (The Brady Bunch)
In which pitcher Greg Brady decides school is no longer important, after Dodger great Don Drysdale praises his curveball. The final scene with Barry Williams and Robert Reed is one of the more touching father-son moments on the series.

“The Mess of Adrian Lissinger” (Get Smart)
Guest-star Pat Paulsen plays Ace Weems, who murders the members of the CONTROL softball team. “They were always throwing balls at me,” he tells Max, who replies, “But Ace, you were the catcher!”

“Take Me Out of the Ballgame” (Family Affair)
Jody’s dreams of joining the neighborhood stickball team are dashed by lack of talent, but Buffy proves to be a natural.

I think there’s some creativity involved in scheduling nights like this.

If I sound a little defensive it’s because those with a connoisseur’s appreciation for classic movies never face this type of scrutiny. Older movies are celebrated as a window into how people lived in different times and places. They have messages inherent in the narrative, and a subtext that reflects a social or political perspective  – sometimes, one that was not intended.

The same can be said for television shows – good television shows, anyway. Beyond their entertainment value I’ve learned something from almost every series I valued enough to collect on DVD – including some shows perceived only as weightless fluff.

So upon further review, I think television can qualify as a hobby, and from now on I will add it to my list of responses. Though at this point, it is probably no longer necessary to do so. 


  1. I like your idea that watching TV, specifically the way you did with the baseball themed episodes, as a hobby. Though, the classic TV fan that I am, all I could think of were "Why didn't he include these shows in his baseball themed eps lineup?":

    "Herman The Rookie" ; The Munsters episode where Herman tries out for the majors by showing his powerful throwing arm to… guest, Leo Durocher.

    "The Clampetts and the Dodgers"; The Beverly Hillbillies episode where the Dodgers, along with guest star Leo Durocher, try to recruit Jethro.

    "Baseball"; The W.K.R.P. episode where the station is challenged by rival WPIG to a softball game.
    (and surprise, surprise, no Leo Durocher!)

    1. Love that WKRP episode - lots of other choices obviously. This way, I can have a different baseball marathon next year!

  2. When I read the question, my immediate reaction was similar to what I can only assume would be John Waters' response: "Do I look like a f*cking dabbler?" If you're passionate enough to put together episode marathons of themed content, then watching TV is more than an escape from the daily routine--it has provided you with meaning. Who needs hobbies when you have intention?

    1. Great point, Joanna. I used to joke with friends that I justified my TV Guide collection by talking about how I use them for academic studies, but for all that the act of watching TV simply gives me pleasure and delight. I enjoy writing about it as well, but that's given me an entirely different pleasure - that of learning more about society, about American culture, and seeing how television interacts with them. As you suggest, I think that's more than just a hobby; I prefer to think of it as something like a self-study course in sociology.

  3. Wanted to add that for me, the hunt for a particular TV show that might not be commercially available, or collecting some of my favorite series on DVD (along with ones that I've read about but never seen) is, for me, a great hobby - as satisfying as collecting baseball cards and building model rockets. That it's introduced me to something equally satisfying - writing about TV - is the icing on the cake.

  4. I would say, it's more of a pastime than a hobby. Hobbies are usually collecttions, like Avon bottles (bad choice)

  5. But he IS collecting - he's collecting TV episodes on disc. This may turn out to be an important hobby, too, as the studios coerce everyone into streaming. In the future, when they've stopped selling physical media and a legal battle erupts over a classic show (like Batman, say) then private collections will be the only way to watch those shows.