With all the late nights and early mornings I’ve spent channel surfing, I’ve discovered not only is the TV content different at 3:00 a.m. than it is throughout the day, but so is the way I watch TV during the dark hours. Even if I have a favorite show waiting for me on the DVR, I’ll channel surf in hopes that one of the shows I find will trick my brain into shutting down and getting some rest.
If you find yourself unable to sleep and glued to the small screen, here’s a look at my favorite shows and channels to check out in the wee hours.
1. “Law and Order” – This television staple is always on in one incarnation or another. The familiarity of each episode (and likelihood that I’ve already seen it) make it the perfect, mindless show to nod off to. The sound of the banging gavel, the distinctive jazzy music, and the eloquent legal arguments are my favorite lullaby.
And, if you can’t fall asleep, it’s always fun to play spot the superstar, as everyone who’s anyone has been on “Law and Order.” From Felicity Huffman to Philip Seymour Hoffman, guest starring on this legal procedural is a Hollywood rite of passage.
2. Sundance TV – Robert Redford’s indie channel is one of the few that rarely (if ever) devolves to the level of infomercials. No matter what time it is, Sundance TV provides real entertainment in the form of original series or quirky, independent films. In fact, if it weren’t for late nights spent watching TV, I wouldn’t have discovered “The Red Road” or “Rectify.”
Stumbling across these two gems was a wonderful, late night bonus. But beware – Sundance also likes to sneak in “Blue Velvet” during the wee hours – and once a dazed, sleep-deprived mind stumbles across that David Lynch freak show it’s nearly impossible to look away.
3. PBS – I’ve always been a fan of PBS, possibly because I grew up in a home without cable and the most interesting, funny, and inspiring content was usually on one of these college-affiliated channels. While you won’t get a lineup of British comedies in the middle of the night, you will discover some really interesting documentaries.
I recently came across “Growing Up Trans,” a documentary that follows several transgender young people and their families as they struggle with the decision to transition or not. It was a riveting exploration of the physical, psychological, and emotional issues these families are facing. Even though PBS might seem like the perfect channel to put you to sleep, the material is often more stimulating than relaxing.
4. “Naked and Afraid” – A sleepless night led me to this Discovery Channel show that is now an obsession. When you’re sleep-deprived and bleary-eyed, there’s just something comforting about watching two people who are far more miserable than you are. And it takes very little brain power to enjoy this silly survival spectacle, so it has a good chance to helping you slip away to dreamland.
5. HGTV and the Food Network – I lump these two together because they fill the same late night void for me. I used to get what I thought were brilliant ideas in the middle of the night that would lead me to start baking or sanding a piece of furniture instead of going to sleep. Thanks to these two channels, I can live out my insomniac inspiration vicariously, but this certainly comes with risks.
Tuning in to one of HGTV’s travel-based shows, like “Beachfront Bargain Hunt,” makes me so envious for sandy shores that I can’t stop watching. And cooking shows make me hungry, usually for something I either don’t have in the house or something that will be devastating to my girlish figure. But barring those two minor bumps, these channels offer solid late night viewing options that might even help you figure out what’s on the menu tomorrow.
6. All the Murder Shows – When I bring this up, I’m not talking about dramas or procedurals. I’m referring to the true crime shows that feature detailed forensics and grainy photos of freckled kids who grow up to be the sort of guy who’ll stab you as soon as look at you. There is an unending supply of these shows late at night. They’re on the news channels, pseudo-educational channels like TLC, and even have their own channel, Investigation Discovery.
Whether you like your murder scientific and factual or sensationalized and cheesy, you’re sure to find a show you’ll enjoy. Watch out, though. I have had more than one fitful dream where I’m sucked into the murder du jour and that sort of sleep can be worse than none at all.
What late night television treasures have you discovered during a sleepless, late night channel surf?