I stopped watching TV for a year while I was suffering from depression. The news is so distressing. Being depressed can make you emotionally permeable, a lesson I learned the hard way. One night, I tuned into a ’90s period romance, The Whole Wide World, starring Vincent D’Onofrio as the guy who wrote the Conan books (Robert E. Howard). As it turns out, he kills himself at the end. They didn’t put that in the blurb, did they? Of course, ordinarily it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal to me. I mean, Vincent D’Onofio is always blowing himself up in the movies. But this particular death scene got under my skin. Because it came at the end. With no closure. No and-then-this-great-thing-happened moment. Just Renee Zellweger getting on a train and making that face she does. Oh, sorry, that face she did. You see, I don’t read gossips either. I catch snippets. Headlines. My old apartment building put in a news crawl at the bottom of the elevator screen. “Karl Stefanovic wears same suit for a year” was something it told me. I assumed I wasn’t missing much. And, frankly, after that distressing Whole Wide World incident (it made me cry), I started noticing that a number of other TV shows also made me feel depressed. The Bachelor. I mean, come on. That is not healthy. Or even logical. What sick, base fetish are we feeding there? And what about all those gross-out medical shows?
I started watching TV regularly again at the start of this year. I’d got a hold of my depression and felt ready to handle news, but only for short durations. Newspapers were worse than the broadcast bulletins. Newspapers depress people. I worked as a waitress at a cafe in a middle-class suburb of Melbourne. People would come in, read The Age and get pissed off. “They often run depressing headlines,” I noted to a guy, who was squinting aggressively at the paper’s front page. He gave me a glare. “Well, it is depressing when you’re unemployed,” he barked. He was right. It is depressing when you’re unemployed. But a constant stream of messages that announce “watch out folks, it’s bad news” probably isn’t helping. There’s plenty of great stuff on TV. Lots of interesting shows with people smiling, cooking for George Calombaris … Oh, and Grey’s Anatomy. My best friend Catherine loaned me her complete set of DVDs. “They’re my friends,” she said, referring to Derek and Meredith and all those other unreasonably good looking doctors. She went on to explain how they’d helped her feel less alone during a difficult spell with her ex-partner. Catherine was right. They’re lovely people to get to know. And Patrick Dempsey is, if anything, underrated. That’s another thing I’ve learned this year.
So I suppose it’s a question of balance. It feels more than a little ridiculous to admit that TV and the news genuinely got me down at one point in my life. But isn’t that a natural human reaction to watching a lot of death and all those butt-implant surgeries? The experience also answered a lingering question I had from many years ago. I once collaborated with the former script producer of a famous Aussie soap opera. A show about people who live … close-by. Anyway, I was toying with this idea for a sitcom where a guy attempts suicide via electric shock. He then wakes up to find he can talk to all electrical devices- kettles, toasters, trams- and they offer him helpful advice throughout his day. The script producer agreed it was brilliant (we wrote the pilot) but the suicide element had to go. “You don’t want to be the person who puts on the show that makes someone commit suicide,” he said. “But he doesn’t die,” I protested. He shook his head. “Even bringing it up can be enough to upset someone.” The Whole Wide World didn’t make me want to kill myself. But it certainly had an affect. – Mia Timpano
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This article first appeared Daily Life, 17 March 2015.