There was a time when most American households were equipped with just one television. In the event that your favorite program had to yield to what the rest of the family wanted to watch, disappointment was the bitter result.
There seemed to be three categories that divided – and occasionally united – family viewers. There were the “grownup” programs like the CBS Evening News and Lawrence Welk, the kid shows like Batman and Leave it to Beaver, and then there were those that, for the most part, could hold the interest of the entire family, such as I love Lucy and Mission Impossible.
Nowadays, we can simply retreat to another room and another TV to watch what we want if there isn’t a consensus on what the next program should be. In our home, it’s the typical division in which I would prefer to watch football or custom car shows, while my wife, Jenny, prefers cooking shows or anything that doesn’t showcase footballs. When it comes to movies, I’m more of a Stephen Segal or Clint Eastwood viewer, while my wife is more of a Sandra Bullock or Ryan Gosling fan. We’ve done well in yielding to each others’ preferences, where she at times musters just enough tolerance to endure an entire football game, and I suffer through an occasional chick flick, feigning just enough interest until the very end, to which I refer as “tear thirty”.
Fortunately, at times there is a unifying element, such as a rivalry, that enables my wife to enjoy a ball game, and sometimes just enough humor or “man stuff” to where I may actually enjoy a tearjerker. When it comes to sappy romance comedies, there is one actor who can provide just the right amount of sarcasm and harmless, silly chauvinism to bridge the gender gap and make the movie enjoyable for both of us: Jack Nicholson.
A few evenings ago, we watched the movie As Good As It Gets, starring Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson. Helen Hunt is a talented actress, and Jack— well, Jack is Jack. His delivery of lines that might otherwise be offensive or demeaning produces hilarity and shock value that we both enjoy. One such line is when Jack’s character, Melvin, a writer, is asked by the receptionist at the publisher’s office, “How do you write women so well? Melvin, with the perfect facial expression that only Jack Nicholson can deliver, replies, “I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.”
Similarly, characters in books, especially protagonists, can be created with the types of personalities and character traits that can be enjoyed and admired by a broad range of readers. After all, don’t writers want to write books that appeal to most, if not all, readers? A character that can be as tough as nails, a hopeless romantic, and yet make readers laugh out loud is a protagonist that can be enjoyed and admired by a broad range of readers. In my novel, Errand Runner, the protagonist, Step Bronstad, can prevail in physical and dangerous battles, love with a genuine heart and cause readers to laugh with his own brand of wit and humor. Errand Runner is a book that doesn’t take us back to the “one television” dilemma; it has something for every reader.