I tend to watch the legal and doctor shows: L&O in all of its permutations (CI is my fave), Bones, House, ER. I like forensic medicine, even have two books on it (which at times means I get distressed when I see evidence not properly preserved or misinterpreted or missed altogether.)
Characters. I also tend to prefer the shows with the more interesting, complex, flawed characters, even though at times I don't completely buy them. Dexter is a case in point. A "serial killer for good". Some things about his character ring true while others just don't float in the sea of reality. House is a tough one to believe completely - at times we see him softening and we figure he's breaking through his shell a bit - or we don't, and I suspect that his underlings and boss actually cut him too much slack (but then again, it would be refreshing to believe that some people are able to see what's "theirs" and what's "his" and get beyond it).
I like the flaws that are irretrievable. I don't think House can ever get past his. One of my favorite flawed characters of all time was Fitz, the lead on the BBC version of Cracker. When the show got translated to American it lost it - even with the same scripts. Robbie Coltrane is a genius.
British characters. Which brings me to a theme of sorts: British shows are more likely to feature seriously disturbed or flawed characters, people whose "issues" are not particularly "lovable". As a rule, American shows lean toward the lovable flaws, as in Monk (a show I feel is not written well enough to warrant watching). The popularity of House indicates we are ready for more, though. And Dexter. Although the character of House is played by a British actor - perhaps there's a connection?
And speaking of that, many British actors are finding their way into mainstream American television. The Riches' two main characters are both brits. I read in a newspaper article - I think it was the Wall Street Journal, of all things - that many television and movie producers are starting to ruffle through the ranks of British actors because, for the most part, they aren't as botoxed as their American counterparts. They actually look real and have real expressions.
British television does not seem so obsessed with youth, either. The characters on some of my fave British series - Wire in the Blood, Midsomer Murders, among many others - are middle-aged or older. The villagers in Midsomer Murders tend toward older, but this does not in any way inhibit them. They are a randy lot at all ages. It's understandable that I might be attracted to persons who have lived a few years.
Nor are the British actors beautiful. Some are, of course. But they come in all sizes and shapes and that doesn't affect the types of roles they get. A skinny little guy can be a Bruce Willis type character. An older woman without the beauty of Helen Mirren can still play an important, consequential role (for example on Waking the Dead).
When I read fiction I am delighted to find elements of the characters that feel deep and real to me. I am satiated by a full, rich character, well-drawn, who reminds me of people I know or people I've been, people whose motivations may not be simply read. I feel grateful to the writers who can explain these people so they are understood. I feel similarly about television and movie characters. Some of them are me. Parts of me.
Plots. I confess: I often do not follow the story lines closely. The plots are less important when the characters are my main interest. Some shows, like L&O, are so plot-driven, however, that I do pay attention and get involved in the questions the show asks. My interest in these shows is with something outside of the people, is with the semantics, the legal system, the ethics. The show's issues are clear but the answers often are not. In the shows that feature forensics I also find the details of the investigations interesting and revealing. At times I wish I had entered the medical profession and become a pathologist. Really.
Reality shows. The one reality show I watch is Meercat Manor. I watch runs of it, then don't watch it for a while. I think we've seen variations on the plots more than once...how many ways can a young female meercat stray, for example. I love the size and looks of these little guys and the complexity of their communities. I think this show gives us a lot of insight into the animal world, and I continue to hope that shows like this one and others on Animal Planet will slowly make changes in the culture.
Sometimes I find myself watching a marathon of some reality show, like Bravo's ridiculous "Top Chef" or that one with the fashion designers. The challenges are absurd, the contenders are far from the top anything - they are young and ambitious, the judges publicity-seeking. And yet I will get caught up in the story. I will watch episode after episode, cheering on my favorites and saying good by to those who need to be gone. I can see the structure, the cheapness, the bad scripts the hosts read, and I can still like them in a way.
Do I watch too much television? Oh hell yes.