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Imaginary friends

I’ve mentioned before that my husband and I don’t entirely share the same taste in entertainment — especially when it comes to television programming. Neither of us cares for “reality” TV, preferring scripted shows for the most part, though I do rather like some of the talent competitions. “So You Think You Can Dance” is my favorite non-scripted program, but I also enjoy “American Idol,” “Project Runway” and several of the Food Network competitions, such as “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America.” I watch hours of American football in season, whereas John’s preference in non-scripted entertainment would be found on the History or Discovery Channel when he isn’t watching twenty-four hour news coverage (yawn). We both enjoy “Mythbusters” and “Dirty Jobs.”

As for scripted programming, we share a few favorites. We’re currently watching summer series such as “Eureka,” “Warehouse 13,” “White Collar” and — my favorite — “Burn Notice.” While John enjoys all of these for the most part, I probably like them even better than he does. All are a little too “light and fluffy” for his taste. His favorite shows are gritty, rather grim (in my view) procedurals. I prefer clever repartee, happy endings, romance — and okay, cute guys with guns. Give me “Castle” over “Law and Order” any time.

He and I have talked often about what draws us to different shows. We’ve come to the conclusion that there is one particular criterion that makes the difference for us. I absolutely have to like the main characters portrayed in the programs I watch. They have to be people I’d want to know, maybe to hang out with, people who make me care if they stay safe until the end of each episode, and who make me want to see them ultimately happy at the end of the series. Sometimes I’ll decide within the first few minutes of a new show that I can’t stand anyone in it and have no interest in spending more time with them. There’s an ad campaign now for an upcoming Fox comedy that features a character I developed an instant and irrational dislike for — needless to say, I won’t be watching that show. Probably won’t even give it a chance, I’ll admit somewhat sheepishly.

That drives John crazy. He doesn’t really care if he likes the characters as long as their stories are interesting. When he crashes in front of the tube at the end of a day, he simply wants to be entertained with a reasonably well-crafted plot. He can’t even always tell you the names of the characters. I can tell your their names, their back stories, their clothing style and their motivation (maybe I embellish a little in my own mind).

There have been series that I’ve watched regularly … until the writers take the characters past a point I can’t forgive, what I’ve heard referred to as character assassination. Once that line is crossed, I turn the channel and never return, even if I have been a regular watcher to that point. For example, when initially sweet and charming Adam cheated on “Jane” in Joan of Arcadia — not only cheated on her, but was cruelly hurtful  to the emotionally-disturbed girl he was using — I turned off the TV and never watched that show again. I might have ranted. There have been a few other series I’ve abandoned because central characters became unlikeable to me, even though I had watched and enjoyed the programs until that point. I actually get angry in some of those situations — which bewilders poor John no end. “You know they aren’t real?” he’ll ask tentatively.

That’s the problem. They’re a little too real to me. And I have to like them to watch them — or read about them, in the case of books. The characters can have flaws — in fact, I prefer them a little less than perfect — but ultimately, there has to be something within them that makes me care about them. I’m not actually that hard to please; both in real life and in fiction I tend to be easily intrigued by people. I watch a bit too much TV and too many movies and read too many books, because I like spending time with all those imaginary friends. I’ll watch reruns of my favorite series or repeatedly watch movies I like or reread favorite books just so I can revisit those old pals and be entertained by them again. But I have to like them.

Is the difference between my preference and John’s due to gender? Am I more interested in characterization and he in plot because of the difference in female/male brain wiring? Is it because I’m a writer? I create characters every day, and they become entirely too real to me — if they weren’t real to me, I couldn’t bring them to life for my readers. I hope the readers like them — though I’m sure certain characters didn’t resonate at times for some readers, even if they like my other books. After all, differences in tastes and preferences (even between myself and my hubs of 34 years), regardless of the reason, explains why there is such a wide selection of entertainment available — and I, for one, am grateful for that variety.


Award-winning, best-selling author of women's romance fiction.

One thought on “Imaginary friends

  1. My husband and I tend to like the same TV shows. I prefer the light and fluffy fare myself. I want to feel good. Life is hard. I just want to smile and enjoy a good mystery…maybe get caught up in some drama. I want characters I like and enjoy. I agree with you there. We love the show Psych because we just love Shawn and Gus. Actually, I love every character on that show (except that girl that played in “She’s All That.” I did not like her character at all and was grateful when she was written out of the show). We like White Collar and Covert Affairs. We also love In Plain Sight. I guess we are drawn to USA shows. I just can’t sit through a show if I don’t like the main character. I can’t do it. I tend to be like you in another way. If a central character I have liked before does something ugly and scummy, I can’t watch it anymore. I hate it when I am supposed to care about a character who is ultimately just a jerk. My husband tends to be the same way, so maybe it is not a gender thing. He LOVES Murder She Wrote and Diagnosis Murder…they are like his comfort food. Those shows make him feel good. Me too.

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