I have a confession to make – I am seriously addicted to American daytime TV.
Having just spent a few of weeks in rainy Costa Rica, where each day comprised of business meetings and dodging the never-ending bursts of torrential downpour, sitting in front of the box in my hotel room always seemed like the most sensible option.
I certainly felt guilty wasting valuable times indoors when I could be out and about exploring the tropical rainforests or trying to find an iguana amid the lush jungles or something.
But the fact that October coincides with the launch of the ‘fall schedule’ across all the networks, with old favourites returning for the umpteenth time, interspersed with new shows and dramas which television executives hope would at least survive beyond the first few episodes, meant television versus the rain is no contest.
Sadly, many shows don’t even make it past the first three episodes.
I read recently that CBS’s version of the BBC drama Blackpool, renamed Viva Laughlin, got pulled from the schedule after just a couple of weeks, while ratings for some promising-looking new shows like Carpoolers and Bionic Woman are already on the slide, and may not even survive beyond Thanksgiving.
Thankfully, that’s only during primetime, where the ever-changing line-up might baffle even the most loyal of viewers.
For those of us who only watch US television intermittently, it’s likely to be the morning chat shows or late-night talk shows that we dip in an out of whenever we’re across the pond – and like Coronation Street, they’re always there.
And having spent a bit of time across the Americas this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that US television is obsessed with anything LGBT.
This is indeed odd, given who is in the White House and how socially and religiously conservative many Americans are.
But it also makes sense. For the liberals, LGBT matters are part of an individual’s civil rights and freedom, or perhaps a source of some juicy Hollywood gossip.
For the more conservative, they probably represent everything that is wrong with modern society.
Whether it’s NBC’s venerable Today show, or Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel (FNC), LGBT celebrities and news items are guaranteed to provoke some kind of reaction across the social and political divide.
Certainly, if it brings in ratings then all the better. So while Carpoolers or Bionic Woman struggle to establish a foothold in the primetime schedule, the saga surrounding the late Anna Nicole Smith’s estate and her former partners alleged gay love affair make it a far more watchable real-life drama than anything CBS or ABC can put on at 9pm.
That would explain why, prior to the Californian wildfires, all they ever discussed on a daily basis were news stories about Ellen DeGeneres (puppy love), Lance Bass (new book), Rosie O’Donnell (new book and her refusal to publicise it), Senator Larry Craig (toilet “toe-tapping”), those Anna Nicole Smith gay lovers (a book, a secret tape, a lawsuit and millions of dollars) and, last but not least, gay marriage during the Republican presidential debate.
Even frigging Dumbledore from Harry Potter,/I> received hours of coverage and analysis!
Even if there wasn’t a gay angle to all of the above, each story is an interesting one in its own right.
The fact that the main protagonists are gay or allegedly gay merely allow the subjects to be further scrutinised.
Unfortunately the American media has a habit of milking something for all its worth, to the point that you can’t help but switch over to another channel in order to avoid DeGeneres’s emotionally incoherent plea to get her dog back for the fiftieth time.
Or in Lance Bass’s case, it was switching off the TV completely: there’s only so much a person can take after hearing about his ‘betrayal’ by Justin Timberlake on consecutive morning news shows, mid-morning chat shows and late-night talk shows.
In truth though, they’re almost impossible to avoid unless you switch off completely.
FNC, and even the now dumbed-down domestic version of CNN, continuously replay these clips with full analysis by various commentators or canine psychologists; they obviously think other important matters in the world are less important.
For example, Bill O’Reilly, the abrasive right-wing host of The O’Reilly Factor, devoted sections of his show to lambast both Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell, using the latter’s refusal to publicise her new book as a flimsy excuse to lay into her ethics and lack of business acumen.
DeGeneres, on the other hand, was accused by O’Reilly and his guests of abusing her wealth and celebrity power in order to get what she wants.
All this on the same day that President Bush made several important announcements regarding Iraq, Iran and US fiscal policies.
Meanwhile, Senator Larry Craig – he of the airport toilet cruising fame – has been doing the rounds on numerous media outlets to protest his innocence.
Unsurprisingly, that has now backfired and he is being further isolated by his own party.
So, you get the idea: start the day on NBC’s Today, then on The View on ABC, then O’Reilly, Larry King on CNN, or perhaps Andersen Cooper on 360 (himself subject to many gay rumours and malicious gossip) an hour later, more on Letterman and Leno with plenty of jokes thrown in, the Huffington Post, Perez Hilton, Gawker …
You could quite easily watch the same person or topic being discussed endlessly twenty-four hours a day.
Take the Republican Presidential debate last Sunday, for example, when ten candidates lined up to advertise their conservative credentials in Florida, accusing one another of being pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, unpatriotic or whatever they can think of that will win them the nomination.
Naturally, the media only paid attention to a handful of candidates: Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and for pity’s sake, the old man of the party, Fred Thompson.
The next day, snippets of them going at each other’s throats got the usual overkill treatment by all the main networks.
The clip that I saw the most on television the day after – especially on Fox News – was when Romney, a Mormon, singled-out Giuliani for being a liberal on guns and gay-rights. Giuliani retorted by saying he isn’t – or at least, used a form of words that would make out he isn’t. (He is.)
What baffled me though is why the likes of Fox News would choose to highlight that single clip, when, as a right-wing mouthpiece (don’t believe its slogan on impartiality), it would publicly diminish Giuliani’s conservative credentials.
By highlighting Giuliani’s supposed liberal views, and in the process, deterring party voters from nominating the Republican Party’s strongest candidate, Fox News could well have shot the GOP in the foot.
The latest opinion polls suggest that only Giuliani poses a serious threat to Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House (Barack Obama’s campaign has stalled), while 19% of the electorate are said to be suspicious of a Mormon.
Sure, the Republican nomination isn’t going to be decided by Fox News alone – conservative voters in the Midwest and the Southern states could easily end Giuliani’s ambitions.
But with Mrs Clinton looking increasingly likely to get the nod from the Democrats, it is a risky move by FNC.
My guess is that the channel is suspicious of Giuliani and is gunning for a more conservative candidate.
Whether it is the right strategy or not is highly questionable.
No doubt, Presidential campaigns are notoriously long and torturous, with many more twists and turns to come before the first primary caucus in January.
But if highlighting the right-wing shortfalls of its strongest candidate by emphasising his supposed liberal stance on gay rights and gun-control, then FNC executives might as well start plotting how to sabotage the next Clinton presidency now.