Sacramento State Professor Dr. Michele Foss-Snowden is issuing general prescriptions to some of life’s most intriguing problems in her new podcast, “The TV Doctor.”
The podcast’s tagline, “I’m not a doctor on TV, but I play one in real life,” encapsulates the light-hearted, yet informational, tone of the show. For Dr. Foss-Snowden, the podcast was a natural next step following a lifetime of scholarly pursuits.
Her love for television is as much serious business as personal, and has been so since Dr. Foss-Snowden was a little girl. She recounts the instance she once left a sleepover early, just to make sure she didn’t miss ‘V,’ her favorite television program at the time. Or the time her mother used the character Spock from ‘Star Trek,’ to help a young Dr. Foss-Snowden understand what it meant to be biracial.
We spoke with the “TV Doctor” recently and learned more about what pushed her to step into the world of podcasts. Enjoy!
Sacramento Press (SP): On your podcast, you said that TV is your safe space. What does that mean for you?
Dr. Foss-Snowden (DF): So if I’m at a party and I don’t know anybody, and I have to kind of navigate that situation, TV can be one of those things that I use to build bonds with people, which makes me feel safer. And more to the point of the podcast, so much of what I think about the world, and what I know about the world and about myself, have been things that I’ve learned from TV, all the way back from the very beginning. I learned what it was to be mixed from “Star Trek,” you know, and I’m still learning every day. I’m like,” Oh, man, look at that. I have just learned.” And [it] was TV that taught me.
SP: What led you to want to study rhetoric and television?
DF: I grew up on TV. I was a complete TV nerd. Not in the way that like, my mom abandoned me and just let the TV raised me kind of thing, but in the way that I knew that this was a medium that I enjoyed very much. My mom recognized that, and my dad, but especially my mom recognized that and didn’t try to move me away from that. Instead, she saw that I was obsessed with this thing and so she was like “well, since she’s already into it, maybe I can teach her to use it.” So instead of just letting me sit there and watch whatever, it was almost like, homework for me. So then when I reached a point in my student career, where I was needing to find a topic to research, my advisor at the time said, “listen, you need to choose something that you love so much, that you just will never get sick of it. It has to be something that you’re obsessed with.” And so I was like, “well, that’s, that’s kind of easy. It’s got to be TV then.”
SP: What to you, makes a good TV show? What are the elements you look for?
DF: So the technical stuff has to be there. If it doesn’t look good, if it doesn’t sound good, I’m not going to be interested, but really, the thing that will hook me is what is this show teaching me about the human condition.
SP: When you think about shows that teach you about the human condition, whether it’s current or recent, what shows that you think do an exceptional job of that?
DF: Well, my current favorite is “Pose,” because not only is it just teaching us about the human condition, but it’s also got that historical bent to it. The importance of not just explaining about the human condition, but also saying, “here’s what you don’t know, here’s our opportunity to humanize these folks that you may have just been looking down your nose on, or not even bothering to care about this community, this population.”
SP: What do you feel you get from TV, that some people sometimes don’t always see?
DF: I think most audiences in general, see TV as they see it for its entertainment function. And that is one of the functions of TV and I’m not going to dispute that, but they think it stops there. I believe TV also has an informative, and a persuasive function and an ideological function, that because I’m bothering to look at it, I see it very clearly. So when there is television created that ends up being dangerous, or damaging to this population, or this kind of individual, I can see that. I can see, kind of, that more sinister under layer, that maybe the casual viewer would not see or would not bother to see.
SP: Are there any trends in the TV world that kind of make you excited?
DF: It’s actually the opposite. CBS all access is the only way to get the most recent “Star Trek show,” “Discovery.” And so the idea that I have to pay extra to get my “Star Trek,” I’m irritated by that. Did I pay my money, though? Yes, I did, but… I don’t know where that’s going to stop. You know, TV is kind of the people’s medium, where you don’t have to be able to read, you don’t have to, you know, you’re not supposed to have to buy anything. It’s supposed to be the medium that everybody can participate in. And adding this extra layer of access to it is troublesome to me.
SP: What would you say are some of the differences between the work you’ve done in your scholarly career, and the work you’ve done in creating the podcast?
DF: I think podcasting, just as a medium as a format, allows me to be immediate, but it also allows me to take these ideas and present them to an entirely different audience, and I can talk about them in a way that is free from the restraints of an academic presentation.
SP: And you can be vulgar!
DF: Yes, I can! I’m not shy about having wine while I’m recording, whereas wine plus an academic article, probably not a great idea.
SP: I feel like I’d be remiss if I did not ask you what character or TV show feel like speaks to see your life?
DF: I see a lot of myself in Rainbow from “Black-ish,” not just because I worship Tracee Ellis Ross and pretty much anything she does in her life, but I like who she is. I like what she stands for. I’m learning from her, but I also see myself in her.
SP: Are there any topics you’re most excited to explore on the show?
DF: We’re at a moment in the discipline where marginalized voices are starting to be heard more than they have before, but as those voices rise, the voices of the people who don’t want to hear those marginalized voices are also rising, and getting more and more motivated to silence those marginalized voices. So I am not only excited about, but I am adamant about addressing those issues in my podcast.
SP: What are your final thoughts on just who you are?
DF: So, I think in terms of my academic career, I’m exactly where I’ve been trying to be. And now I’m looking around and I have more emotional time, if that makes sense, to devote to these other things that I make that I’m also excited about, but I’m still an educator. I haven’t left that in any way. It’s just that I’m educating using a different format. So that’s why I’m still the TV doctor, the TV doctor here, and now I’m the TV doctor on your favorite podcast platform.
This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
For more information on “The TV Doctor,” visit Anchor.fm/tv-doctor.