Spending the summer watching television is like getting through college by reading Cliff’s Notes. Thousands of people do it, but the waste of opportunity is profound.
Not only does summer weather encourage venturing forth from the warren, but the summer TV listings contain more R’s than a Sharon Stone film festival. How many times, really, do you need to see George Costanza talk tough to George Steinbrenner, or Jimmy Smits flaunt his haunches? Okay, don’t answer the last one.
The point is, TV in summer is a little like a Southern matron on the veranda, trying to keep to a minimum any activity beyond fanning herself.
Yet here at the TV desk we recognize that when you’re hooked on the tube, you can’t just yank it out of your arm. So here are some suggestions for alternative, yet still TV-related, things to do during these overheated, underprogrammed days.
1. Write letters to NBC pretending to be really upset that Wimbledon coverage is wreaking havoc with the “Days of Our Lives” schedule. Bonus points for using the phrases “white-clad tantrumtossers” and “hallowed, schmallowed.”
2. Concoct sweeps month story ideas and send them in to your local news teams.
3. Read a page turner and cast the miniseries based on it. No fair using Richard Chamberlain, Jane Seymour or anyone from the cast of “Melrose Place.” Also, in keeping with TV style, when someone asks you what book you’re reading, don’t just say ” ‘Pleading Guilty.’ ” Say “Scott Turow’s ‘Pleading Guilty.’ “
4. Keep an eye peeled for the good TV that actually is fresh during summer. These include new seasons of “The Real World” on MTV (already started) and “The Larry Sanders Show” on HBO (beginning July 19). Also, Fox, after airing “The Great Defender” for one week in spring, will show new episodes this month of the clever drama about a blue-collar lawyer.
5. In the spirit of ESPN’s Extreme Games, take the Couch Potato Challenge. This is the ultimate test of small-screen concentration and viewing poise. Tune in, on a weekend afternoon, to the beginning of a golf tournament, any golf tournament. Seat yourself on the couch (no fair using a hardbacked chair), then watch it all the way through without once nodding off. This also can be done with a baseball game, or any episode of “Dave’s World.”
6. At the electronics superstore, try to tune more than 75 percent of the TV sets to “The McLaughlin Group.” On the off chance that a salesperson should approach you within 20 minutes, explain to him that you can’t have too many John McLaughlins.
7. Learn, really learn, your cable system. Think of it: No more going to the TV Guide to figure out which number QVC is located at now. Along the way, you might stumble across semi-hidden gems like “Politically Incorrect” and “Absolutely Fabulous” on Comedy Central; “Duckman” on USA; and “Talk Soup” on E!. Also fun is the rather unappetizingly named TV Food Network, home to a show where two sedentary people drink lots of wine and one where the recipes reminded me of the time my dad tried to make chocolate-chip cookies by substituing Hershey’s syrup for the chips.
8. Practice your remote technique on the beach. This is easier, and less embarassing, than it sounds. Bring the clicker, wrapped in Saran to keep out sand, to your favorite waterside spot. When you see somebody who annoys you - the teen who’s sharing his discovery of old Rush albums with the whole beach, say - conspicuously point the remote and push buttons. Great conversation starter!
9. Give a shot to some good shows you probably missed, judging by their ratings, during the season. These include CBS’ “Picket Fences”; NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”; and Fox’s “Party of Five” and “New York Undercover.”
10. Using only the letters WB and UPN, try to make a word. Would it surprise you to learn that the judges will accept “feeble”?
11. Learn to program your VCR (reading the manual is surprisingly helpful) and practice by taping a week’s worth of Jerry Springer shows. Then, whenever you’re feeling lousy about your job, watch the tape and try to imagine how Jerry must feel.