Forget the solitary couch potato. Busy college students don't have endless hours to dribble away watching television. Most don't even have couches. Besides, they typically aren't watching television alone. Instead, television nights have become as much a chance to catch up with friends as to enjoy popular shows.
Kathy Bet and her friend, Cathy Soban, watch "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" on ABC, usually on tape.
"It just provides for one night of the week that we will definitely spend time together, even if we're really busy and don't get a chance any other day," Bet said. "It's also a springboard for conversation about our own relationships. We definitely have missed things because we were talking. That's when it helps to have it on tape: the miracle that is rewind."
Soban and also tapes "The O.C.," since Thursday night television and 8:30 a.m. Friday class mix like water and oil. She also enjoy past seasons of her favorite sitcom, "Will and Grace," with her friend, Dennis Chin.
"I'll watch 'Will and Grace' on DVD with Dennis for some downtime," Soban said. "Before coming to college, Dennis and I had a mutual love and were excited to find another friend with such a passion for Karen, Will, Grace and Jack."
Jessica Delisi and her sorority sisters are also fans of "The O.C.," as well as "Sex and the City." The girls usually make a night of it.
"Over the summer my housemates and I had 'Sex and the City' nights," Delisi said. "Every Tuesday night my entire house would pile into my room with food and drinks and [we would] half-watch, half-talk through two episodes of 'Sex and the City.' Since 'The O.C.' started in November, we've added that too.
But there are different rules for different shows.
"There's no talking during 'The O.C.'," Delisi said. "During 'The O.C.' people get thrown out of my room for talking, except for predictions about what's going to happen next. The commercials are always muted for that purpose."
For Elizabeth Sabin, a student at The College of New Jersey, different friends have recently gotten her interested in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," its spin-off "Angel," and "Gilmore Girls."
"Every single time it's been them introducing me [to a new show]," said Sabin. "I hardly ever turn on the television just to watch something. I'm actually more of a book person."
In addition to complexity and interesting plotlines in her favorite shows, Sabin enjoys the escapist element of television
"I enjoy humor and a break from regular life," she said.
It is the joys of escaping stressful lives that seem to be the reason college students are turning to TV. On one hand, we discuss our real lives, but on the other hand, we dissect the imaginary inhabitants of Orange County, Manhattan and Los Angeles, and the real contestants on reality television shows.
The escape aspect particularly appeals to Soban and fellow student Liz Gaglione.
"'The O.C.' is one of those guilty pleasures that you just get wrapped up in," Soban said. "As a 21-year-old college student, it's necessary to get absorbed in something besides studying from time to time."
"The shows that I like to watch are usually mindless to me," Gaglione said. "When I am watching a show, I don't want to have to figure things out. I want to watch it to enjoy myself. With the burden of schoolwork, I want to watch a show that makes me laugh and really get into the show so I want to watch it every week."
Gaglione, like Soban, is a Bachelor/Bachelorette devotee. In addition, Gaglione enjoys watching "One Tree Hill" with her roommate Katie Timpson. Yet for Gaglione, relaxation does not equal complacency.
"There is the occasional yelling at the TV if we don't like what is going on in the show, especially 'The Bachelorette,'" said Gaglione. "While we are watching 'One Tree Hill,' sometimes if I want them to do something, I will yell at the television while my roommate yells at me to shut up. That is usually a clue that I need to be quiet."
No one has ever affected the plotline of any show through sheer yelling, but, as with televised sports events, that doesn't seem to stop anyone. Delisi and her housemates "enjoy predicting what's going to happen next to each character" on "The O.C." When these often wild predictions come true, they all laugh.
Similarly, Bet enjoys watching someone narrow down a field of suitors, particularly when it's a lady choosing among many men. She speculates who will be selected for the next round of dating, but often disagrees with the decisions made by the actual Bachelor or Bachelorette.
The Bachelor and Bachelorette also serve as a springboard for exchanging stories and news. These are often negative references, rather than kind anecdotes about guys who remind us of "The O.C's" Seth Cohen or a spontaneous reenactment of brilliant repartee between Will and Karen.
Unfortunately, the Bachelor and Bachelorette usually bring to mind tales of men whom are not remembered fondly. Whether that indicates something about our own lives or the quality of individuals on the show is yet to be determined.
"It definitely sparks conversation and stories from our own experiences," said Bet. "For example, if we come to the conclusion that a certain guy [on the show] is too dependent, then one of us might tell a story about a guy we were involved with who was too dependent and why it didn't work out, supporting our argument that the Bachelorette should kick the dependent guy off."
"Sex and the City" seems to have a similar result for Delisi and her housemates.
"With 'Sex and the City,' the episodes are always so applicable to real life," said Delisi. "Everybody who has ever dated has had the experiences satirized in the show. Who hasn't dated the bad kisser, the smelly guy, the guy who calls too much, or the guy who never calls? Each episode always reminds me of my own life or the lives of my friends. The resemblance is almost scary sometimes."
Ultimately, the combination of hanging out with friends and watching television is a pleasant escape while making the "real lives" of viewers more fun. Bet, Soban, Delisi, Sabin and Gaglione all agreed that they would probably not watch these shows as regularly by themselves and that they provide much-needed downtime and bonding with friends over a common interest.
The fascination, especially in the more "guilty pleasure" type shows, is aptly summarized by "The O.C"'s Julie Cooper:
"Why wouldn't America be fascinated by the lives and loves of Orange County's rich and glamorous? We're all beautiful and we're all dysfunctional."