Why I Can’t Watch TV

November 25, 2013

We live in times of great change. Nowhere has that been more evident than in the world of media. Some of it is great, some good, some not so good.

Television was one of the guilty pleasures of my youth. My parents put a TV in my room and I rarely had to leave it to be entertained. No one monitored what I watched.

Today TV’s have parental controls to prevent unsuspecting young children from seeing things that parents don’t want them to see.

I’m less concerned with the program content than I am with commercials. Today the Marlboro Man has been replaced with Joe Theismann hawking Super Beta Prostate. You can barely get your Tivo to whiz past the myriad of commercials for prescription medications. The most recent successful campaign is for the dreaded affliction of Low T, something I get asked about multiple times a day.

When and why did this start? I mean it’s a pretty odd thing to advertise to people who can’t buy something unless a doctor prescribes it for them.

It goes back to 1996. That year a non-sedating antihistamine called Hismanol was pulled off the market due to concerns about heart rhythm problems. The FDA was reviewing the application of a new drug in that category called Claritin. This antihistamine was also non-sedating, but the review by Dr Steve Strauss, then the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases concluded that this medication was barely more effective than placebo.

The FDA, opted to grant approval because it would put a safe drug in a depleted category on the market. The manufacturer, Scherring Plough came up with an ingenious idea. If they took a drug like this out to detail to physicians, the likely response would be tepid at best. However, going on TV directly to the unsuspecting consumer, might be able to avoid some of the more difficult issues, like the data of the pill’s effectiveness.

Patients would get some vague information about a miracle pill, and were told to see their doctor. Many doctors, unfamiliar with the new medication or its limitations, would look at the meager information provided by the drug company, and were willing to oblige their patients’ demands to write for a harmless antihistamine. Low and behold in a year, Claritin became the number one selling drug in the world! And TV has never been the same since.

So in the evening, when I get home, I hide in my library and indulge in my other guilty pleasure, reading a book. Darn if I can’t hear the TV blaring from the family room. It’s Joe Theismann again.

About Norman Solomon, M.D.

Norm Solomon, M.D., has been the medical director at the MPTF Westside Health Center since 1995.

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7 Responses to Why I Can’t Watch TV

  1. Leon Martell on November 26, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Thank you Dr. Solomon. I’m one of your patients. I have worked in television as I’m sure many of your patients have. We know the completely mercenary intent of much of what happens on the air. I am also sorely aware of market targeting, in that all the shows I watch on network (mostly news) are rife with Viagra Ads! I guess I’m that demographic! Thanks for alerting us to the hucksterism.

  2. Mary Sims on November 26, 2013 at 10:32 am


    I have had allergies since I was born. My family said I always had a cold. I also have asthma. My allergies became less constant and I was able to lead a normal life when I started taking Claritin D 24 hour years ago after being diagnosed and prescribed by a specialist. Turns out, I had a nasal infection that would not go away. Well, it finally did clear up.

    I know that once my body has produced the histimine and it has circulated, I will be sneezing for 24 hours. Nothing will stop it. I have to wait it out at home with a very red and runny nose. I go through rolls of toilet paper because there aren’t enough kleenex in the box to last for me.

    This is how Antihistimine works. If I am exposed to an allergy triger (cat, house dust, feathers, and lanolin which is found in wool) and I can take this antihistimine before my body reacts, I will not have a reaction, a constant runny nose. I will not develope a dangerous nasal infection. I will not have to go on antibiotics after being diagnosed with bronchitis. This is why Claritin is very important to me.

    After a year of treatment in late twenties, I am rarely sick. I am now 48 and I can’t remember my last bout of allergic reaction. I track the sick time for my department and I have had no sick days last year, other than taking a day off for getting my yearly pysical. I rarely have to take Claritin, now and my allergys do not bother me at all.

    Now what does this have to do with TV?

    • Richard Kim on November 29, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      Hi Mary. I am one of Dr. Solomon’s colleagues. I don’t think Dr. Solomon was actually criticizing Claritin itself, but rather, direct to the consumer marketing, and simply using Claritin as an example. If it works for you, and it works for me too, then we should continue on it. It does work. His point is that Claritin is not the magical pill the commercials would have you believe, even though it works remarkably well in some of us. I think we can all agree with that.

      Addressing the post itself, I think Dr. Solomon left out a significant part of the picture. The negative aspect of direct to consumer marketing is misinformation. If we remove the marketing, we get NO information. That is just as bad in my opinion. But there is no lack of information in today’s world. What we lack is context. Sure, drugs work on some people, in general. But how does this apply to you as an individual? Your physician is the best person to ask. In other words, look to marketing for information, look to your physician for GOOD information.

      So watch television, with moderation. Read books, with moderation. And when you find yourself disagreeing with your physician, because of what you saw on television or what you read, you may be right. Everyone, including your physician, has something to learn. But also, keep in mind that he might be providing you with a proper context, which may make the treatment, or side effect, inapplicable to your situation. Be open to either possibility, as that is the healthiest way to learn in our world of sound bites today.

      Dr. Richard Kim, Glendale Health Center

    • Norm Solomon on December 3, 2013 at 6:18 pm

      As Dr Kim pointed out, the article was not an attack on Claritin. My wife uses it with adequate results. In fact there is a legitimate place for it’s use. The reason I picked it was because it was THE drug that changed the way drugs were marketed in the US, using TV ads. It became THE drug not because of anything outstanding in it’s performance as a medication (today we have many that are similar, better, etc), but because the campaign made it the best selling drug in the world.

  3. Miriam Margolyes on November 26, 2013 at 10:34 am

    All hail to thee, Norman. I am another of your grateful patients & I always knew you were a class act. Of course, you still read – the mark of an educated man. But I have to say I think the current TV drama far surpasses what movies have to offer. MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD,
    BORGEN, THE KILLING-that’s where I look for excellence. Commercials have always been a manipulative business. Let the watcher beware! Hugs to you, MM

    • Norm Solomon on December 3, 2013 at 6:21 pm

      I would agree we live in great times in terms of tv dramas. And thankfully pay cable doesn’t interrupt those shows with commercials the same way regular tv does. I admit I do watch Mad Men and Homeland. And netflix has helped for the things I miss.

  4. Edward Dease on November 28, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Dr Solomon,
    Your article was right on point. Americans are too fond of popping a pill to solve a problem usually caused by another vice, like eating genetically modified food or using another medication with a list of dont’s as long as your arm. The idea that it was on TV gives the perception that it is true but nothing could be further from the truth.

    I have had three coworkers over the years all younger than myself die from a combination of medication mixed with other types of medication.
    The pervasive attitude of the people taking medication to fix one problem and causing many side effects then taking another medication to fix one of the side effects is discouraging indeed. Congress needs to step into the fray with a truth in advertising bill to protect the consumer. But I won’t hold my breath for that either.


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