A cable cure: Too remote?

Pulling the plug on your cable TV addiction can be tough, but it may help to remember that World War II is over.

April 04, 1999|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff

Each Tuesday, in the basement of an unnamed home in an unnamed Maryland suburb, adults privately meet to discuss what they are ashamed to admit in public. They are cable addicts, who are bravely trying to stay on the 12-step road to recovery.

These men and women, of all ages and viewing habits, tell their stories slowly, painfully, as the group listens nonjudgmentally. The confessions are often painful, as members gulp coffee and doughnut holes. Tears are shed, pounds are gained.

But cable addicts, as researchers in co-dependency now realize, can live a normal life without having to continually watch the History Channel's "Weapons at War" or the Food Network's "Two Fat Ladies" or VH1's "Behind the Music," featuring the rise and fall of Rick James/MC Hammer/David Cassidy/Boy George/KC and the Sunshine Band/or Heart.

It's hard to break the cycle of cable watching, but support groups can help. With the group's support, individuals have gone on to lead healthier lives. Where once they felt compelled to repeatedly watch the Nuremberg Trials or A&E's profile of serial killer Ted Bundy, these people have instead chosen to read, exercise and, in a few cases, converse with their spouse. This defies current scientific knowledge, granted, but as we will now see, people can turn their lives around.

Normally, the press is not allowed to attend support groups whose members are anonymous. But after agreeing to bring Krispy Kreme doughnuts, we were allowed to attend a recent meeting for recovering cable addicts. Their first names have all been changed to "Nick" to ensure confidentiality:

"Good evening and welcome. I'm Nick, and I'm a cable addict."

"Hi, Nick," the group says.

"Would someone please read The Steps?"

"Yes, hi. I'm, Nick, and I'm a cable addict."

"Hi, Nick," the group says.

Nick recites The Steps:

1. We are powerless over cable TV.

2 . We have come to believe there's nothing good on net- work TV.

3. Does everything have to be Hitler, Hitler, Hitler?

4. In our lowest moments, we have felt attracted to chef Emeril.

5. Only through believing in a Higher Power can we finally stop watching rutting caribou on the Animal Planet channel.

6. We have come to believe Vanilla Ice was not the luckiest white guy after all.

7. Only through cable sobriety have we come to see how wretched "Rhoda" was.

8. Remote control is the devil's invention.

9. Only after recognizing we have a problem will we be able to stop admiring Mr. T.

10. Our dreams will no longer be narrated by Bill Curtis.

11. People, the Weather Channel is about weather!

12. Krispy Kreme: accept no substitutes.

"Thanks, Nick," says Nick. "Now, do we have anybody who wants to share?"

"I do, Nick. My name is Nick, and I'm a cable addict."

"Hi, Nick," the group says.

"Last night, I watched 'E! True Hollywood Story' about the cast of 'Diff'rent Strokes.' You know, how cast members Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges and Dana Plato got all messed up after the show went off the air. Drugs, concealed weapons, porn movies. Classic cable stuff. I watched all 90 minutes of it. I feel so guilty, so cheap."

"It's OK, Nick. Now, tell us -- and please be honest -- how many times had you seen the episode before?"

"Just four times."

"OK, that gives us something to work with. With our help, you can get that number down to two. But you're going to have to want to help yourself."

"I'll try."

"We know you will. Now, anyone else want to share a story with the group?"

"Yes ... eh ... my name is ... Nick. I'm here with my husband ... Nick ... who's also a recovering cyber addict."

"Hi, Nick and Nick."

"Well, I guess I should start at the beginning. We used to love to watch the same cable shows. We both have memorized the script to VH1's profile of Milli Vanilli. We both cry at the same time during A&E's profile of Kathie Lee Gifford. But then he changed. His eyes started to wander to the History Channel."

(The room falls quiet. You can hear a pin do a somersault.)

"Then Wednesday night, it happened. It was 9 p.m. and we were set to watch 'American Justice's' profile on Jeffrey MacDonald, the former Green Beret who murdered his family. This was to be our 10th viewing of the episode. I had even bought champagne to celebrate ..."

(Her husband, Nick, looks down at the floor. Tears welling.)

"... but he insisted on watching the 'Last Days of World War II' about the mysterious suicide of Hermann Goering. We argued. Things were said we later regretted. I accused him of watching nothing but the History Channel when I was away last weekend. He accused me of watching A&E's biography of Evil Knievel without him."

(Both Nicks in tears now.)

"Obviously, this has been a painful time for you both," says group leader Nick. "Have you thought about compromising?"

"Too many hurtful things have been said."

"Please give your marriage another chance. Have you two seen VH1's 'Behind the Music' about Grand Funk Railroad? It's a goodie."

"We will! Thank you, Nick. Thank you for caring."

"That's why we're here," says Nick, adjourning the weekly meeting of recovering cable addicts.

Doughnuts in the usual place.

Pub Date: 04/04/99

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