gibility of television’s content would not sit well with thenmakers of TV Land, but their concept remains McLuhaninennevertheless. Every show gets the full TV Landntreatment in its individual spot; but no show is sold straightnon its own merits. Nick at Nite presents itself as somethingnother than television: hip, ironic, condescending. It abusesnits programming in order to ingratiate itself with the viewer.nThe psychological effect of this media ploy is subtle andndevious. The shows are not chosen perfectly for strategy;nonly occasionally is Nick at Nite’s programming as ridiculousnas they make it out to be in their ultrahip campaign.nNick at Nite commercials in a sense contain the shows theyndescribe, mastering them with sarcasm or affectionatendistortion. For example: blackout, white titles, portentousnvoice-over:n”Your boss is a butthead.”n”The Sun is a dying star.”n”You stink at bridge.”nJoe E. Ross, patrolman Gunther Toody of Car 54, WherenAre You?, appears onscreen mugging “Ooh! . . . Ooh!” fornan identifying instant, and then the blackout and mockngravity returns. “Car 54 can help.” The Nick at Nite logonappears in the corner, and the real commercials begin. Innanother spot, several shows are treated in this facetious,nsuperior way: “Behind these suburban homes lies a hiddennworld of passion and shame . . .” — Dick York is shownndancing — “See the ad man as you’ve never seen him . . .n[Donna Reed] the domestic goddess unveiled . . . ” — shotnof Fred McMurray, from My Three Sons — “in a housenwithout women, will a father lose his grip? Learn thenshocking truth about the young and the restless of TV Landntonight and every night on Nick at Nite.” Nick at Nitendefinitely appears to see through the banality of these shows.nOr has it?nAs David Marc has pointed out, “The distinctionnbetween taking television on one’s own terms andntaking it the way it presents itself is of critical importance.”nBut the attitude of Nick at Nite towards its TV Landnterritories is ambiguous. Is there such a thing as affectionatendistortion? The people at Nick at Nite give only mixednsignals. Debby Beece, in Advertising Age magazine, says,n”We treat the shows with reverence.” Yet Nick at Nite’snpress release describes the network as “an irreverent and funnenvironment.”nThis contradiction might be ascribable to miscommunicationnbetween executive and middle management on anpoint of public relations, but for the fact that it extends to thencreative element. Will McRobb, the head writer for Nick atnNite’s TV Land campaign, stresses Nick’s affection for TV.nPeople who misunderstand Nick at Nite, McRobb insists,n”think it’s black comedy — all edge.” Which isn’t true.n”We basically like TV.n”Sure, it’s ridiculous, but it’s also valuable — it can makenyou happy,” he says. McRobb, however, is aware of thenimportance of irony in his TV Land spots. “The bestnpromos come from the dorkiest shows.”n”The best promos come from the dorkiest shows” is thenkey to Nick at Nite, in both its conscious goals and itsnfunction in the context of television in general. With a dorkynshow, Nick at Nite is able to offer the viewer a way to maken22/CHRONICLESnnnan ostensibly individualistic or creative contribution to thenwatching of television. By constantly talking about TV Landnto the TV generation, Nick at Nite attempts to in some waynlegitimize watching TV to a set of people who, as a culturalndefense, usually keep their TV habits and their self-respectnseparate, except when they are watching Emmy-winningnNBC “dramadies.” Donna Reed is a dated and vacuousnsitcom, which almost any TV-aware person would admit,nand it is not sold by Nick at Nite as nostalgia. Instead, thenviewer is invited to watch it as an affectionate joke, one thatnhe can feel literate and respectable about, while at the samentime enjoying the comforting formulaicism of the TV of hisnchildhood. “We take the burden of guilt off people,”nexplains Will McRobb.nSuch a strategy suggests that by watching televisionncritically, one can somehow rise above or subvert it. All ancynical viewer has to do, Nick at Nite suggests, is watch anshow from a certain distance, and redemption is at hand.nThis is the posture offered by David Marc, in his booknDemographic Vistas: “The viewer who can transform thatncynicism into critical energy can declare the war withntelevision over and instead savor the oracular qualities of thenmedium.”nIn his book. Marc takes this position to an extreme. Hencalls TV “American Dada,” “a flow of dreams,” andn”montage in the cubist sense.” TV shows are “texts” thatncan be read creatively {Lucy as proto-feminist, The BeverlynHillbillies as “a noble possibility conjured from America’sncultural unconscious,” etc.). These inflated claims are far innspirit from Nick at Nite, which is, after all, a TV network.nThis is not merely because, as a TV network, it can’t get toonintellectual; Nick at Nite rarely denies itself educatednin-jokes. “Make room for dada,” was slipped into a promonfor Looney Tunes, with the assurance that no one whonnoticed would object. What could be more flattering thannpicking up an in-joke inside an in-joke? No, Nick at Nite hasnto be considered differently as an attitude toward televisionnbecause it also happens to be television. It is the most visiblenprecipitate of “metatelevision,” or TV about TV, yet tonappear.nNick at Nite is a Marcan appreciation of TV, absorbed byna TV network for its own purposes. But David Marc, as anviewer of television, may be functioning as an unwittingnfink, inviting TV into the critical minds of real humannbeings, where it’s real identity will only be found out afternthe damage is done. Mark Crispin Miller, in his essayn”Deride and Conquer,” stresses the use of irony andnself-deprecation by all television as a tool to protect itselfnfrom any real criticism. “The history of this subversive ironynhas reached its terminus,” he writes. “For now the ironynconsists in nothing but an easy jeering gaze that TV uses notnto question the exalted, but to perpetuate its own hegemony.nOver and over, the spectator recurs within the spectacle,nwhich thereby shields itself from his/her boredom, rage, orncynicism.”nNick at Nite, by taking a Marcan posture, may function asnMiller suggests. “No matter how bad TV gets, it cannotneasily be deplored or criticized as long as it manifests its ownnunseriousness.” If “unseriousness” is expanded to includen”self-consciousness,” or rather, a false projection of selfconsciousness,na few hours of Nick at Nite will confirm this,n