When Water Doesn't Cool

Last week, The Riff (who I am increasingly convinced is Jeff Greenfield on psilocybin) noted that CBS is launching a big campaign to promote some of its fall shows built around the idea that people still gather around watercoolers at offices and talk about what they watched on TV the night before.

"At the heart of any promotional campaign is the drive to inspire watercooler buzz," CBS Marketing's George Schweitzer apparently told The Riff.

And you wonder what happened to network TV?

First of all, I haven't seen a water cooler in an office building in 20 years. I've seen crystal carafes on silver trays; I've seen plastic bottles littering the conference room like the day after Woodstock; and I have even seen people produce their own personal favorites from out of their shoulder bags (as if they've just made it across the Mohave with only a few precious sips to spare). But a watercooler? Never.

And even when there were such things, the proper etiquette was not to hang around and chit chat with the next person in line, but rather to get your little cupful and get the hell back to your desk. If anyone did pause to talk, it wasn't about TV, for Christ's sake. It was about whether the layoffs were going to hit the department or if word had yet reached the floor that Jones was sleeping with Smith.



The fact is, until cable TV came along, there was not much to talk about on TV. Even if you were addicted to "The Andy Griffith Show," watched "Amos & Andy" like a loyal member of the Mystic Knights of the Sea, or felt like the week did not properly end until Walt Disney bid you farewell on Sunday night, you had to be a nerd from accounting to ask a fellow worker if he thought the Sergeant was being too tough on Gomer Pyle.

Now that we live in a world filled with polarizing programming that would have sent your old man into a perpetual state of what's-this-world-coming-to, it is nearly impossible to comfortably ask people on the job if they think Brian should have let Justin go to New York, or if Turtle smokes too much weed, or if watching a soldier lose a leg in an "insurgent" bombing on a Hollywood back lot sits well with the parents of those who actually have.

Were there still watercoolers anywhere else but warehouses and doctor's offices (and apparently Black Rock), it wouldn't be hard to imagine that they might foster fistfights rather than conversation about last night's fare. Can any thinking American overhear any reference to "The Apprentice" and NOT interject, "Donald Trump is such an egotistical asshole!" Is it more politically correct to pull for the mob in New Jersey or against the corrupt cops in Baltimore? Is it okay to watch "24" only in hopes that Elisha will fall into a lake wearing a thin white cotton blouse and quietly not really care how many nuclear power plants the terrorists control?

Rather than being the unifying experience TV was in the Johnny Carson and Jackie Gleason days, we are forced to defend the 'f' word on "Deadwood" or the 'l' word on Showtime. Frankly, it's gotten too dangerous to have a watercooler in the office.

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