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Channel surfing in the absence of Channel 4

Simple, really.

If you break your arm -- the one with your writing hand at the end of it -- you suddenly learn how to do a lot of things with your other hand.

So there were hundreds of thousands of local homes with Time Warner Cable -- and therefore, routinely without all the shows broadcast on LIN-TV stations.

Nevermind, for a moment, the disappearance of Channel 4 news. Not only could other channels' news broadcasts take up the slack, I know some people who might willingly pay a $5 monthly fee if they could be guaranteed they'd never have to see one or two Channel 4 personalities again.

It's the CBS prime time and late-night powerhouses whose lack was felt most acutely -- no "CSI" shows or "Survivor," or "The Mentalist," or "NCIS," or "NUM3ERS" or "Criminal Minds," a whole menu of forensic smart-alecky shows with movie production values, not to mention Letterman and Craig Ferguson. And none of it easily available with just the click of a remote.

You can watch some on YouTube now. And CBS has made some available on its Web site. And, all else failing, there were always rabbit ears to be hooked up.

But the corporate brawl effectively destroyed the familiarity and passivity of the American TV experience -- all that programming whose abundant gush into living and bedrooms we click on and off the way we turn on tap water or a bedside lamp.

So with one arm broken -- and in a cast -- so many of us have been forced to use the other arm. We're forced into worlds we wouldn't ordinarily inhabit regularly on a bet.

I'd been happily ignoring NBC's emergence as the Sci-Fi network, for instance. And when it comes to a revived "Knight Rider" (as bad a network idea as you can have), it's a policy I plan to continue.

But I've also been contentedly sampling Jay Leno in a way that I haven't since Letterman started on CBS.

And I've been watching a lot more of NBC prime time than I ever thought I would.

Take Monday night at 10 p.m., an also-ran NBC time slot if ever there was one considering that across the dial lie not only "CSI Miami" but "Boston Legal," which, in its final season, has taken a credo of "who gives a flying fig?" into new heights as a prime-time art form.

But with the big LIN/Time Warner battle raging, so many of us locals not only found it surprisingly easy to watch Christian Slater in "My Own Worst Enemy" but also to add it to the DVR list in the future for as long as it might last.

It's a doppelganger idea but a good, if complex, one -- interestingly written and freshly imagined. A cold murderous spy and assassin volunteers for a program in which his spy-brain can be turned off and he can become just a happily married dude with two kids and a job that takes him not to Russia and Paris but to Akron, Ohio.

His spy half knows all about the created middle-class half he hides in. But it's the discovery of his spy life by his clueless domestic middle-class life that gets the show going.

In other words, as far as "My Own Worst Enemy" is concerned, it's middle-class "normality" that's a weird invention, not a world where people kill and blow each other up at the drop of an eyelid.

Nice premise -- in effect, you're not really a guy driving your daughter's soccer team in a minivan, you're a globe-trotting James Bond bedding gorgeous spies and then dispatching them to eternity when they pull out their guns.

Under ordinary circumstances, not even the promise of a singing, dancing Katie Holmes would get me to return to "Eli Stone" after a couple of dispiriting visits when the show was "new." But with a broken arm in a cast, you just have to learn sometimes to button your shirt with your other hand.

So I'll be there for Katie, just as I was devotedly for Christina Applegate in her return last week in "Samantha Who?," only to find that the young star, whose breast cancer resulted in a double mastectomy, was struggling with second-rate sitcom boob jokes in scenes that were clearly filmed before such serious life events overtook the real actress at age 36.

The show was moderately funny and crass in all the familiar sitcom ways.

But it was also extraordinarily poignant in a way I'd never have expected it to be.

What "Samantha Who?" made apparent from its premiere is that Applegate has turned into a remarkably gifted comic actress. She is no longer "Christina Who?"

But who'd have expected that we'd now be seeing in such a gifted young woman one of the most accidentally moving plights in all of television?

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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