Group Portrait With Television

By David Finkel
Sunday, January 16, 1994

The first TV to come on is the one in the master bedroom, a 13-inch Hitachi. The time is 8:20 a.m. The alarm clock goes off, and Bonnie Delmar opens her eyes and immediately reaches over to the night stand for the remote. Her husband, Steve, has already left for work. The children are still asleep. The house is quiet. On comes CBS because Bonnie was watching the David Letterman show when she drifted off the night before. She watches "This Morning" for a few minutes, catching up on what has happened in the last seven hours in the world beyond her Gaithersburg home, and then she switches to NBC in time for the weather and Willard Scott. Later in the day, she will tell about a dream she once had. "I dreamt I was married to Willard Scott," she will say. "I was going to my 10th high school reunion, and I was excited that everyone was going to see that I was married to a celebrity, but then I wasn't excited because it was Willard Scott. You know?"

The second TV to come on is the 19-inch Zenith in the bedroom of Bonnie's daughter, Ashley, age 7 years and 10 months. The time is now 8:45, 40 minutes before school begins, and Ashley and her younger brother, Steven, get dressed while watching "The Bozo Show." The Zenith is the newest TV in the house, purchased a few weeks before to replace the 26-inch Sony console that had been in Ashley's room until the color picture tube went bad. "She threw a fit when the console broke," Bonnie says of Ashley's initial reaction. "She was, like, 'I won't watch TV in my room anymore,' so Steve and Steven went out and got her a new TV, and she wasn't at all happy about it. I mean, she went in her room and cried about it. She actually cried. She wanted a big screen. I actually laughed at her. I said, 'You've got to be kidding,' and that made her more furious. She was saying, 'How can you give me such a small TV?' But, anyway, that's over. She's fine now." On the screen this morning, Bozo is standing next to a child who is attempting to throw a ping-pong ball into a succession of six buckets. She does this and wins several prizes, and Ashley and Steven jump around the bedroom cheering while Bonnie, who has been watching with them, claps her hands. "Wow!" she says. "What a great day."

The third TV to come on is the 27-inch Hitachi by the kitchen table. It's now a few minutes after 9, time for "Live -- Regis & Kathie Lee." This Hitachi has an especially complex remote, but Steven has mastered it, despite being only 6. He picks it up and changes the channel to "Barney and Friends." "I love you, you love me," the Barney theme song begins, but Steven sings his own variation, learned from Ashley, who learned it at school. "I hate you, you hate me," he sings, "let's kill Barney one two three, with a great big knife, stab him in his head, pull it out and then he's dead." "Steven!" Bonnie says, laughing. "How's it really go?" "I don't know," Steven says. He picks up the remote again and switches to cartoons, while Bonnie, who wants to watch "Regis & Kathie Lee," goes over to the counter by the sink and turns on the five-inch, black-and-white, battery-powered Panasonic.

It is now 9:10 a.m. in the Delmar house. Fifty minutes have gone by since the alarm. Four TVs have been turned on. It will be another 16 hours before all the TVs are off and the house is once again quiet.

By the sink, Bonnie continues to watch "Regis & Kathie Lee."

At the table, Ashley and Steven watch Speedy Gonzales in "Here Today, Gone Tamale."

Looking at them, it's hard to imagine three happier people.

"Mom," Ashley says later, after she has gone to school and come home and resumed watching TV, "I'm going to watch TV in Heaven."

"You're going to watch TV in Heaven?" Bonnie says.

"Yeah," Ashley says.

"Well," Bonnie says, "let's hope they have it on up there."

OF ALL THE RELATIONSHIPS of modern civilization, none is more hypocritical than the relationship between an American family and its television set.

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