Yes, TV is Good for Your Reading List

I love to read.  I’m a writer, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

However, I also love TV.

There, I said it.

I’ve never understood folks who disdain TV and declare it does nothing but spew crap.  I beg to differ.  They’re just not looking hard enough for quality shows of interest.  I’ve learned a lot of kitchen skills from PBS’s cooking shows; I’ve discovered a plethora of brilliant independent and foreign films courtesy of IFC and Sundance and I love the “Unsung” series on TV One (did you know original Shalamar member, Jeffery Daniel taught Michael Jackson how to moonwalk?  No, me either…until I saw it on “Unsung.”

IS there crap on TV?  Of course!  And yeah, I watch some of it and love it.  No shame in my game.  

Besides teaching me and entertaining me, TV has also done A LOT to feed my reading habit.  I was reminded of this recently when the Encore channel devoted February to replaying all three volumes of the epic “North and South” miniseries, based on John Jakes’ historical novels about the Main family of South Carolina and the Hazard family of Pennsylvania before, during and after the Civil War.  I was rapt in front of my TV during each Sunday afternoon airing with a bag of microwave popcorn, a Coke and smile.

Re-watching “North and South” a few weeks ago took me back to the first time I saw Book I and Book II.  I didn’t see them when they first aired in the mid-80’s, but rather when ABC re-aired them in the late 80’s and I was in high school.  When I saw Book I, I was hooked.  And why wouldn’t I be? A pre-“Dirty Dancing” Patrick Swayze as the earnest, upstanding and lovesick Orry Main and James Read as the dashing, confident and easygoing George Hazard represented the original bromance. Watching their escapades – romantic and otherwise – was entertaining and yes, educational even, with the origins of the Civil War being woven between all the bodice ripping and heavy breathing.

Loved, loved, loved.
After watching Book I, I rushed to the library and checked out John Jakes’ book, devouring the 800+ pages in a matter of weeks.  Not something a lot of high school freshman would do willingly, but I was obsessed and couldn’t get through that book fast enough. 

Then Book II (based on “Love and War”) was rerun and I was even more addicted (especially with the part of Billy Hazard being recast with Parker Stevenson.  Hello, Patrick Swayze, James Read and Parker Stevenson in one movie?  Talk about Holy Trinity of Hotness.) Once again, I ran to the library to check out “Love and War,” and sped through that as well (though there was such a vast divergence between book and movie, it’s not really fair to say the book inspired the movie.) 

Years later, I even brought myself to watch Book III, based on “Heaven and Hell,” though like most “North and South” devotees, I prefer to believe the story of the Mains and Hazards ended with Book II and them walking out of Mont Royal for a fresh start after the big house was burned to the ground by a band of ragtag renegades. 

Through the years, I’ve read numerous books after seeing them on TV (“The Wedding” by Dorothy West,” and basically any miniseries or TV movie from the 80’s.)  Honestly, were it not for seeing them on TV first, I might not have picked them up.  Not being big on historical fiction, I highly doubt I would have ever in a million years picked up “North and South,” had I not fallen in love with the miniseries first.

Thank you, TV.

In fact, I wonder how many readers discovered “Dexter Dreaming Darkly,” “A Song of Fire and Ice” and “The Southern Vampire Mysteries,” after seeing the television shows/movies they were based on.   

So, before writing off TV as a perpetual purveyor of crap, consider that it just might hold your next
book to be read.

By the way, below are my two favorite sequences from the entire 500 million hours of the “North and South” miniseries.  Despite all my opining to the contrary, I really am a sucker for romance.

Did I mention how hot Parker Stevenson is?









  1. It bugs the HELL out of me when people try to tell you that if you watch TV, reality TV, or even scripted drama's...well, it's almost like you're not a real writer. (As if there were rules for being a real writer, and writers were only supposed to drink wine, eat cheese and read Nabokov).

    So, YES. I'm with you.

    P.S I love North and South.

  2. A kindred spirit! I read every day - books, magazines and newspapers. And I write every day. And I love my TV - all day, every day.

    How great is "North and South? Swoon!

    p.s. I do agree with the wine and cheese thing - another obsession :-)

  3. LOVE this post! Here's my list of great shows that inspire my writing (currently... it's always changing):
    -Downton Abbey
    -America Unearthed
    -True Crime
    -The Americans (new one. How the heck is Felicity still so pretty?!)
    -Barefoot Contessa (I don't know what it is about this woman. Nuclear Defense woman turned chef... she just fascinates me, even if all her friends are rich)
    -Project Runway
    -Anthony Bourdain and Rick Steves' travel shows

    Every night I spend 1 hour writing and 1 hour watching TV.. and then about 20 or 30 minutes reading a novel....and that mix is working for me!

  4. That sounds like my nights! It's a nice balance of getting do a little bit of everything I want and need to do.

    And how cool is Barefoot Contessa? "Barefoot in Paris" is my fave cookbook!


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