Helpful hints drop from the sky all the time, but how often are we too busy, too sure of ourselves or just too stuck in a rut to listen?

Sometimes the universe has to resort to the indirect approach to get its message across. Eventually, we little lab rats respond to the right stimulus, and one imagines God chuckling and rolling his eyes.

Who, for instance, has time to read as much as we want or should? It’s one of life’s simple and profound joys, but we tell ourselves we are too busy. So the universe has to come up with other contrivances.

I’ve been fighting a pinched nerve in my back. I’m better now, but I do not plan on buying another ticket for that particular ride.

So here’s the sad scenario: I get home from work later than intended. Fine. It’s a funny business. Well, I’ll just relax for an hour or two in the La-Z-Boy with some quality late-night TV and at least salvage a little me-time. This is a proven formula for waste, click-click-clicking the night away, but this dumb little lab rat has not learned a more intelligent behavior.

Update the scenario: The bad back and the La-Z-Boy don’t get along. Ten minutes into my planned sloth, the pain is saying just head for bed.

And grab a book.

Guess what? Actual physical pain has given me more reading time. I finally finished Rick Atkinson’s very good Liberation Trilogy, his three books on the Anglo-American effort in Africa and Europe during World War II. I read David McCullough’s biography of the Wright Brothers. I’ve made a modest dent in what I call the shelf of good intentions.

Then my pinched nerve had gotten better, and I started to backslide. La-Z-Boy, cable TV, maybe a snack. Which part of this is healthy or productive?

But the little lab rat brain has seized upon an important truth: It doesn’t have to be this way.

Just turn the TV off.

Some of the stuff on the so-called history channels is OK, but a lot of it is just garbage. History – the study of the way people get things done – is fascinating enough. Its telling does not benefit from obsessions with the most freakish details, inane what-ifs or presenting everything as a hidden secret. For my money, that’s not even good show business. It’s just cheap and pointless.

The other night I came across a show on Pearl Harbor. It was drivel. Then I had a thought.

Four decades ago the BBC went to great expense and effort to lay out the story of World War II. It was well received, and it was even aired in the United States. That wasn’t all that common back then.

Now brace yourselves, children. “The World at War” was a 26-part documentary. It had footage from the war, interviews and a narrator (the great actor Laurence Olivier). That was it. No re-enactments, no made-up dialogue, no graphics fancier than maps with moving arrows. And no Hitler’s Jurassic Park or other idiocy.

It’s simple. It works. It still works. It shows how good TV can, or could, be. It’s on YouTube.

Just turn the TV off. The little lab rat can learn after all.

Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter: @Jeff_Fox