Jeff Alexander has worked for a public-radio program, but he has never been involved with educational television. Which hasn't stopped him from writing an entire book on what a great learning experience TV can be.
Emphasis on "can."
"TV is a medium that sticks with us and that teaches us stuff in a way that's easier to retain," said Alexander in a recent phone interview. "It can be educational. The book kind of ... takes TV as a more reliable source than real life."
While growing up in Minneapolis, where he still lives with his wife, Lora, and 3-year-old son, Max, Alexander learned to read from watching TV and has spent considerable time gleaning material from the tube. He parlayed that avocation into work as a "recapper" of series such as "24," "Burn Notice" and "Big Love" for the widely read website Television Without Pity.
That spawned "A TV Guide to Life: How I Learned Everything I Needed to Know From Watching Television" (Berkley, $14), in which Alexander's experience penning bon mots for "A Prairie Home Companion" and watching sharp-witted sitcoms served him well.
Alexander took time out from a full-time job and his Internet gigs (he also has a blog, velcrometer.blogspot.com) to talk about his favorite medium.
Q According to the book, you think it's easier to retain things from TV if they're pithy or funny or clever. So jingles have a better chance of being retained than a documentary about Alexander Hamilton.
A Oh, yeah. I think the more dry something is, the less likely it is to be retained. I'm sure that there's a lot of stuff on the History Channel that you could find about John Adams, but compare its ratings to the HBO miniseries on Adams earlier this year, and give people a quiz who watched each show and see how much they retained.
Q What TV character is most like you?
A Maybe Oz from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' because he's quiet, doesn't talk much, sort of a low-key personality. But secretly he's got interesting things about him. He's a werewolf, whereas, well, I'm not a werewolf, but I play guitar and I like to think I'm entertaining.
Q Best show on the air now?
A "Battlestar Galactica." I like how dark it is and how layered it is, such a complete departure from the '70s original series. You can still see how they kept what worked and changed everything that didn't, which was a lot. I also kind of dig the post-apocalyptic themes, the "enemy-among-us" themes, with potential Cylon agents and the quest aspect of it. I don't know what's going to happen now that they've found Earth, but I can't wait to find out.
Q Is there an actor who you think has been in just a bunch of great shows, whether by being smart or just lucky?
A You know whose career just amazes me is Lucy Lawless. She's been on "Burn Notice," "Battlestar Galactica," "The X-Files" for an episode or two, and of course she was "Xena: Warrior Princess." She seems to do a really good job of picking her roles. I mean, she was on that "Tarzan" remake, too, so she's not infallible. But I admire her body of work.
Q How many TVs in your house?
A We've got two. One in the TV room in the basement, one in my study that I use for recapping.
Q Ever let your wife have the remote?
A My wife drives the remote when we watch together.
Q Do you back-seat drive?
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643