In My Words: Television advice can be another way to build community

Associate Professor Naeemah Clark writes for several regional newspapers about the role she fulfills, and the community she builds, when sharing television show recommendations with friends and loved ones.

The following column appeared recently in the (Richmond, Va.) Times-Dispatch, the (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record, the (Annapolis, Md.) Capital, the (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News, the (Durham, N.C.) Herald-Sun and the Greenville (S.C.) News via the Elon University Writers Syndicate. Viewpoints are those of the author and not Elon University.


Associate Professor Naeemah Clark
Associate Professor Naeemah Clark[/caption]Television advice can be another way to build community
By Naeemah Clark –

I have loved television all of my life. Though I now teach my university students about the regulatory and economic structures of the television business, my friends don’t ask me much about these technicalities. They just want to know what to watch.
In the summer I make them a list with my thoughts on what they may want to catch or avoid now that they a little more time to watch TV.

I take this responsibility seriously because, in effect, they trust me with their time and emotions. They know that my opinions come from watching hundreds of hours of television and noting the schedule changes, renewals and cancelations every television season.
Television hangs out with me on rainy days and as I fold my laundry. Like any friendship, there are ebbs and flows. TV can surprise and delight me. Or she can disappoint me with some unfortunate decisions. When I suggest programs, I’m acting as a matchmaker—introducing one set of friends to another set of friends.
I have had such fun watching “Hollywood Game Night” on Thursdays. The combination of the celebs and civilians playing silly games makes me smile. The grandeur of “Downton Abbey” always adds international class to my Sunday nights much like a friend I met while traveling overseas.
And even though the self-centered angst of all four of the “Girls” and Gabrielle Union’s “Being Mary Jane” were at times infuriating, I always know who they are. They are frustratingly consistent—and entertaining.
Shonda Rhimes took a strange and confusing turn with the spy-dad story on “Scandal.” I visited every week, but not with the same enthusiasm as in previous seasons. Similarly, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban have made a fun playgroup, but the humdrum contestants of “American Idol” left me cold. Still, these programs are great for socialization and can always be great conversation starters.
This television season also saw the departure of some dear friends. Will Gardner from “The Good Wife,” Christina Yang on “Grey’s Anatomy” and Joss Carter on “Person of Interest” are just a few. Of course, it’s just plain foolish to get too close to any of the “Game of Thrones” faces.
Still, much like camp, we make new friends in the summer. For example, in June, “Murder in the First” on TNT brings Taye Diggs back to television as a homicide detective. In July, WE tv’s “The Divide” will offer a diverse cast with the lead, Marin Ireland, questioning her role in a man’s death sentence. Also piquing my interest for July is Halle Berry’s return to TV (remember 1989s “Living Dolls”?) in the science fiction drama “Extant.”
And, like having a new friend with a swimming pool or one that makes cheesecakes, online viewing offers a decadently selfish way to replace much of the time spent with traditional television viewing.
Viewers are streaming content more and more as their schedules get busier eliminating the need for a television set and creating their own prime time lineups. I can catch up with those I’ve only had great, but brief moments such as “The Americans,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Parenthood” and “The Goldbergs.”
The Internet has also provided opportunities for producers to create original programming without the structural bounds of traditional broadcast and cable networks. Netflix and Amazon Prime have cultivated their own series. Now programs such as “House of Cards” and “Alpha House” give audiences alternatives to the weekly viewing that has long been the foundation of commercial television.
Akin to sitting at a different table in the cafeteria, there is a bit of naughtiness in the change. Much like the first original programming on HBO (“Dream On,”  “The Larry Sanders Show”), this over-the-top content is sophisticated, quirky and slightly controversial. Its characters are diverse and complex, letting viewers get to know personalities they may not have otherwise met.
For example, transgendered actress Laverne Cox as credit card thief Sophia Burset featured on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” has been one to watch this year.
In the end, my relationship with television allows me to offer my real friends something unique. I use my career to connect them with what is good and bad and funny and poignant and suspenseful and just plain silly.
It’s a reminder that we all should look for those tiny ways that we can share what we love with those who we love.
Naeemah Clark is an associate professor at Elon University who researches economic, programming and diversity issues related to the media and entertainment industries.


Elon University faculty with an interest in sharing their expertise with wider audiences are encouraged to contact Eric Townsend ( in the Office of University Communications should they like assistance with prospective newspaper op/ed submissions.