I think a lot of people use television as a sort of companionship. There are many who turn on the television set as soon as they get up in the morning and turn it on again when they get home from work. It is common for people to leave their television sets turned on without even watching it. They must be doing this to create the feeling that they are not alone. I would assume that such people get as much companionship out of the commercials as they do from the programming--if not more. Television brings hordes of strangers into our homes. We are better acquainted with some of the people on television than with most of our neighbors. Ray Bradbury foresaw this strange phenomenon in his short story "The Pedestrian," which was published in the very early days of television (see reference link below).
I think another part of the appeal of TV is the ability for a culture that seems lost at times to feel connected to people on TV even when things are abysmal in their real lives. On some level TV can serves as a companion for people lonely or missing something in their lives.
One could watch an action/ adventure show if their life is dull and a romantic comedy if they are missing romance in their lives.
The most basic appeal of television is that it is both an escape (into the realm of potential entertainment) and a mode of connection (wherein a viewer can feel part of a community, can listen to people talking and passively take part in the conversation, and receive some human feeling).
Also, it's really easy to do it. Watching television is a lot like doing nothing and it's easier than doing nothing because it's distracting enough to keep you from thinking about what you are not doing, what you a putting off, etc.
My first reaction was one of simplicity: vegetation! Ha! However, the more I thought about your question, the more I realized that the reasoning depends on the individual, ... especially today. Yes, I have my guilty-pleasure shows that put me into a nice vegetative state (like The Bachelorette), but I also watch some shows to be inspired (like Biggest Loser). Mostly, though, I watch TV to keep informed. I watch many national cable TV news shows (most notably The O'Reilly Factor) as well as our local news (to a lesser extent) and frequent the weather channel as well to keep up with our up-to-the minute weather.
I think television has always served as a form of entertainment for its viewers. It offers an inexpensive (and, in the distant past, free) form of relaxation for a person to wile away one's free hours, and it offers an escape from reality at the same time. Today, with the expansive number of stations and networks, it also can give an educational and historical experience in many instances. It serves as an alternative to reading or listening to music--similar entertainment forms that occupied a person's time before the advent of TV. Television programming can now be found on the Internet as well, so it is still offering its versatile entertainment to yet another new generation of viewer. Likewise, video games, DVDs and the Internet can be viewed on TV, as can music videos, making the TV set the most diverse form of entertainment possible for most people.
The main appeal of TV is
- Entertainment: From having a good laugh to having a good scream, the TV has always been there to console me or help me relax.
- Materialism/Consumerism: I always am interested in things sold on TV for some reason. Although I might not need the item, I still want it.
- News: It helped me stay updated on local, national, and international events.
I don't watch as much t.v. now since i'm always on the internet and basically everything is readily available on the internet. However, back when the T.V. was invented and when I was a young child, the T.V was used as a form of entertainment, it is also one of the ways to get the news with seeing pictures, and for maybe hooking up your gaming consoles.