The Boston Globe's Brainiac blog gets at why I watch so much scripted television and avoid all news programming (though I read nonfiction constantly). Brainiac writer Kevin Hartnett summarizes the work of philosopher Richard Rorty, who argued that fiction can bridge political differences.
To create a more inclusive society you need to expand community boundaries; you can’t use reason to expand those boundaries because reason itself is parochial; fiction, however, has the power to cross communities and make strangers intelligible to each other; and once a community has been enlarged, it becomes possible for the members of the expanded community to practice politics together using shared standards of reason.
Last year Jonathan Gottschall made a similar argument in the Globe's Ideas section:
fiction is doing something that all political factions should be able to get behind. Beyond the local battles of the culture wars, virtually all storytelling, regardless of genre, increases society’s fund of empathy and reinforces an ethic of decency that is deeper than politics.
I agree, and I would take the argument further to say that comedic fiction (which some consider more of a waste of time than fiction itself) is especially effective at building empathy. That was one of my motivations for the Top 100 Sitcom Episodes project. So big, important TV series like The Wire are great, but you can also be a good citizen by watching The Big Bang Theory.
Cross-posted at Robert David Sullivan.