Students flip to sitcoms, reality programming

Freshman Mike Plytynski said he avoids five of his friends on Wednesday nights because the atmosphere they create is “too intense” and their attitudes are “too hardcore.”

Like several other GW students, Plytynski’s friends sit down each Wednesday to watch NBC’s “The West Wing,” anticipating what the president’s next move will be on the political drama that focuses on an imaginary White House staff.

“We need to concentrate on the show,” said sophomore Clay McCausland, one of Plytynski’s friends, who watches the program each week. “‘The West Wing’ actually kind of mirrors what’s going on in the world. There have been (episodes) about the Middle East and there was even one about (the United States) going to war with a dictatorship.”

McCausland is among the almost 55 percent of college students who watch television weekly, according to a survey ESPN conducted in late September. The poll is the first to specifically target the 9 million college students who live away from home and attend four-year universities.

The typical college student watches 14.5 hours of TV a week, according to the study.

But GW students only take a few hours out of their busy schedules for television watching, according to a survey conducted by The GW Hatchet that polled 175 males and 175 females in October.

According to the survey, about 70 percent of GW students watch fewer than six hours of television per week, while a little under 30 percent watch between six and 20 hours. Only a handful of students said they watch more than 20 hours each week.

Most students cited heavy work schedules and class commitments as reasons for limited viewing.

Sitcoms are the most-watched programs, according to 50 percent of students surveyed. About 20 percent of females prefer reality or dating shows and 20 percent of males watch sports games or programs.

“There’s just something human in (NBC’s) ‘Friends,'” freshman Gloraz Amid said, discussing the nine-year sitcom about six friends living in New York City. “Everyone has someone they can relate to in (the show).” She also noted the “history” of characters Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) and Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), who had a baby this year after dating on and off during the show’s run, as one of the program’s driving forces.

GW females watch “Friends” (35 percent), as well as HBO’s “Sex and the City” (27 percent) and “The Real World” (10 percent), according to the survey. Males reported watching “The Simpsons” (30 percent), “The West Wing” (18 percent) and “The Sopranos” (17 percent) most frequently.

At television network NBC, college students are “clearly a really important demographic,” said Curt King, vice president for NBC publicity. King noted that NBC’s target audience is 18- to 49-year-olds and that students are “the up and coming consumers we want to reach out to.”

The two most highly rated shows currently running on NBC are “Friends” and “ER.”

“They’re always coming up with a new story line on ‘Friends,'” junior Amy Nayi said. “The show just reels you in.”

King said viewers “love funny, funny comedies” and programs that are “very smart and quick-witted.”

More than 40 percent of students surveyed said “funny” programs draw them in. Other factors that attract student viewers include plot, sex, good-looking actors and celebrity casts.

“Teens and young adults are attracted to compelling stories that speak with a youthful voice that have an edge,” said Scott Grogin, vice president for corporate communications at FOX.

He said FOX keeps its programming current by creating focus groups and researching its younger viewers’ preferences.

While sitcoms are a “classic” television option, reality programs have been slowly monopolizing the television scene for the past several years with programs such as MTV’s “The Real World” and “Road Rules,” and dating shows “Blind Date,” “Elimidate” and “Shipmates.”

Almost 30 percent of students said reality shows are “still popular” and 40 percent said they would participate in one.

Some students said they are skeptical of reality shows.

“(Reality shows) don’t represent real life,” sophomore Ben Glasgall said. “People wouldn’t do what they do on the shows (in real life). I’d never go on one.”

“The shows are reinforcing the kind of stereotypes that make college students as stupid as we are,” junior Jason Moussourakis said. He said shows like MTV’s “Sorority Life” show students “running around like chickens with their heads cut off” while drinking, and this reflects negatively on college students.

More females than males watch reality shows, according to the Hatchet survey.

“I love ‘Blind Date’ and all those trashy dating shows,” junior Shahana Shaikh said. “I find humor in how ridiculous it is.”

Reality show creators and participants said the appeal of reality-based shows is escape and love, and they don’t need to be taken so seriously.

John Tomlin, executive producer of the syndicated reality dating show “Shipmates,” said people come onto the show looking for love. He said most of the potential participants he interviews are looking for a future relationship.

Some experts said students enjoy watching reality programming because their lives don’t seem as troubled compared to those on the programs.

Laura Grindstaff, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis, said she spent about a year and a half working behind the scenes at daytime talk shows before publishing a book about their production. Her book focuses on how the public views talk show guests as characters rather than “ordinary people.”

“Most college students feel their lives are very different than the guests’ (and) that they would never go and do those same things,” Grindstaff said. “So (that’s) part of the entertainment for these middle-class kids.”

With more than 55 percent of college students tuning in regularly to various types of programs each week, some said television influences some aspect of the way they think.

“People have become obsessed with (sitcoms and reality shows),” freshman Shelley Bury said. “If that’s all you watch, you’re thinking in that spectrum. If you balance what you watch – with the news and information – (it’s better).”

Some other students said television doesn’t influence them at all.

“Anyone who’s educated should watch (television) and take the messages for what they are and have their own thoughts,” sophomore Rachel Green said.

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