If you watch a lot of television, maybe you don’t have any friends. On Oct. 28 the University released a new study with conclusions to that effect. After surveying 300 people, the Communications Department found that those who relate to or identify with TV characters are typically lonelier than those who don’t, and they may be using their TV interactions to fill a social emptiness.

As TV/New Media Editor and a big fan of the small screen, when I first read reports of this study it sounded like the biggest piece of bullshit I’d heard in a long time.

Some people are easily captivated by stories. That’s what the whole TV industry is about. TV writers and producers have the opportunity to present audiences with a narrative that carries on for months or even years. They want to give us something we’ll watch week after week, and we want to get lost in something with substance. These two desires are interdependent. And one of the most successful ways to attract long-term viewers is to use relevant and relatable characters.

Perhaps the reason we identify with TV characters and personalities isn’t because we’re miserable, friendless sad-sacks, but because we appreciate high-quality programming. Let’s not undermine the work of the TV writer. These writers set out to produce at least a season’s worth of screenplays, without making them lackluster (“CSI”), outlandish (“Heroes”) or cheap (“The Secret Life of the American Teenager”).

When producers are successful in creating a small-screen gem, we shouldn’t immediately deduce that the show’s triumph is the result of its viewers’ pathetic social lives. I may wish with all my heart that Artie Abrams from “Glee” were a real person so we could be best friends — and I do. Does that make me a depressing loser? Maybe. Does it say a lot about Kevin McHale’s portrayal of Artie and the quality of the character’s writing? Absolutely.

We all know that correlation does not imply causation. And with a test group size of only 300, I can’t help but be a little skeptical. But then I read the abstract. While the psychological jargon reassured me that that study was somewhat legitimate, I still felt pretty defensive until the last sentence: “Results provide new evidence for both compensatory and complementary uses and gratifications of entertainment media.”

Now, I didn’t read the actual research paper (I decidedly refused to pay the $25 fee for access to the paper for a mere day. Seriously, paying for access to a University study? “That’s the Michigan difference.”), but it sounds as though the study wasn’t designed to insult me and other TV lovers. Shocking, I know. Watching television for “compensatory and complementary uses” probably isn’t the healthiest way to fill the void, but I’m sure we can all think of worse things lonely people could do with their time. And if it makes them feel better, who’s to say relating to a TV character is a bad thing at all?

We all remember pretending to be Power Rangers as kids. And while my particular group of childhood playmates spent most of the time arguing over who got to be which color, there was always that one group of kids that had it all figured it out. They didn’t just pretend to be Power Rangers, they were Power Rangers. Maybe they were a little weird, and maybe they were mocked, but who were we to tell them they weren’t actually Jason, Kimberly, Zack, Billy, Tommy and Trini? While my fun was at a standstill until little Robby sucked it up and accepted that he was stuck as the Blue Ranger, they were off enjoying themselves. Long story short, the point is, even if they were identifying with these characters because they were lonely (and they probably weren’t), they were having a good time.

Having a good time — or, the “gratifications of entertainment media” — is what decent television should be about. And if this study has any lasting merit, maybe the industry will realize its power and take it to heart. If lonely people are relating closely to TV characters, maybe watching their pseudo-friends struggle and triumph would instill in them a sense of hope. I’m not saying we need more programming like “Full House,” but watching my forlorn BFF Artie come out on top every once in a while couldn’t hurt and would certainly make me happier.

In the end, who really cares if people are relating to TV because they’re lonely? First-rate work is being appreciated, and people in need of comfort are finding it. Besides, I’m sure original Blue Ranger, Billy Cranston, was a much better friend than little Robby anyway.

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