Monday, November 22, 2010

What Am I Watching? By Shane Cashion

I'm falling out of love with television. It's true. After thirty five years of enjoyment, I'm getting tired of it. High Def, Standard Def, LCD, LED, Plasma, Direct TV, U-Verse, Dish, Pay Per View, sports packages, premium packages, movie packages, 1080, 480, how many rooms can we get service in, what about the garage; it's all too much.

When I was a kid, we had six channels with three networks. Our TV was carved from the trunk of a Giant Sequoia and it was the only TV in the house. Today we have a TV in every room, like they're home radiators. What's more, they all look alike, sleek black borders on a flat, rectangular screen. The only way to tell them apart is by their size. Ours range from a highway billboard to a child's fingernail. If you're wondering if we're rich, we're not. We got them the same way as most: tricks, raffles, store credits, QVC easy pays, gifts, marriage, and bartering with clients who can't pay for legal services.

Because we have so many TVs, selecting the right cable company or satellite provider is big business. After endless affairs with various outfits, all of which ended badly (threatening letters, slurs, collections, lawsuits, etc.) we finally settled on AT&T U-Verse as our forever provider. The U-Verse rep duped us into buying the premium package. Our channels stop at 9,910. Outside of a handful of sports channels and a few staples, I don't watch any of them as I never know what's on.

Growing up, I always knew what was on. How could you not? There were only six channels. I'll never forget walking home from school in fourth grade wondering who in the hell shot J.R. Was it Sue Ellen, her sister, or had Cliff Barnes finally gotten fed up with being the Ewing's punching bag? And we always had our favorite night of TV. Like so many others, mine was Thursday: The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, and Hill Street Blues. What a line up!

Today, I just incessantly flip channels in hopes of finding something better. For the most part, I stop randomly to watch parts of shows on A & E, Discovery, TLC, History, and The Travel Channel. Of course you can't help but recognize certain shows, like Dog The Bounty Hunter, which has its moments, though the story's always the same. Dog and his crew of cartoon characters chase some "Ice Head" through the seedier parts of Hawaii until a friend or a family member gives the fugitive up. Once found, Dog's sons beat the tar out of the guy while Dog and his wife cuss at him. The show ends with a ride to county jail where Dog listens to the fugitive's story, empathizes with his plight, feels sorry for him, prays for him, and then offers him a smoke as a final peace offering. They always part as friends, and the fugitive is usually grateful for the sage advice he received from a sixty year old man with a mullet called Dog.

When we originally signed up for U-Verse, I was particularly excited about the movie package. With more than fifty channels showing premium movies in HD our options would surely be endless. We'd feel like movie critics! Not quite. After a year of having it, I watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, when I can find it, and nothing else. Jennifer's Body has been on HBO for 311 consecutive days. I'm sure it's not a record, though it should be a crime.

As a policy, I refuse to watch anything not in high definition. The U-Verse channels above 1000 are in HD, and those below 1000 are in SD. Most of the channels offer both, so TBS is in HD on channel 1112, and in SD on channel 112. I routinely catch my wife watching the standard definition version on 112. While I don't say anything to her; inside, I'm having an apoplectic fit. She might as well be watching a black and white TV with rabbit ears! "What are you doing?!!!!!" I scream inside my head.

U-Verse comes with a DVR that allows me to record, rewind, fast forward, send live shows to my cell phone, produce films, and basically do whatever I want. With one simple remote, I'm the Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, I never use it because I can never find the shows I like. Nevertheless, I am amazed at how far technology has come since the days of the old VHS and BETA recorders. I remember when my rich uncle bought one of the early VCRs. Four beefy guys delivered it to his house on a skid. The rest of my family was so jealous that they refused to go see it. At Christmas they played home movies of him without his hair transplant. I wonder if he still has that VCR? I bet he could sell it to those three guys who own the pawn shop in Las Vegas. I like that show too. I wish I knew when it was on.

Above all the myriad things that frustrate me about modern television; it's what it did to my love of sports that bothers me most. On any given Saturday, there are hundreds if not thousands of football and basketball games on. It's too many. Before cable or satellite TV, the networks picked what games I watched, and I liked it. At best, there may have been six games on in an entire day. Now, don't get me wrong, I love being able to watch my favorite teams play, but I used to like to watch the "big games" involving other teams too. Today, I can see just about every game being played anywhere in the world, which wreaks havoc on my attention deficit brain. Because I can't settle on a single game, I just flip channels from game to game to game without actually watching any of them. By the end of the day, I've watched eight hours of lowlights. I never happen upon a game when something exciting occurs.

In the end, I trust I'm just acting spoiled, and of course exaggerating a bit. Truth be told, I have no intention of ever canceling U-Verse, since they are my forever provider, but I am getting sick of trying to keep up with the latest technology only to watch a handful of shows and games from a digital scroll of crappy viewing options.


Unknown said...

I like the additional games I get, but loathe the major networks, now they dumb down their programming and how they try to influence my thinking in subtle ways. I prefer the non-fiction channels on History, Biography and the like, but I too find myself watching less and less television. I get my news from the internet.

Shane Cashion said...

I couldn't agree more regarding the news. I too like the non-fiction stuff. Just last night I stumbled upon a show about WWII on I believe the History Channel, though I'm not certain. At any rate they were showing WWII footage in HD. Pretty amazing to see.

Unknown said...

I've seen that show, Shane. I believe much of the camera work has not been previously broadcast. Indeed, it is fascinating to watch in high def., frightening too.

Bill Kirton said...

I can't comment about the quality of HD because I'm still watching what my son calls 'Fuzzy TV', but I'm with you on the other points you make - especially with regard to sports. I'm almost fanatical about some sports and, in the old days, used to curse the BBC and ITV for only showing a fraction of the matches and events that were available. Now, there's so much that I actually get bored - even when the game I'm watching is OK. So I watch far less, but that means I read even more - so the news isn't all bad. (Although News programmes - a different thing, I know - are so much about manufacturing stories rather than reporting facts that they've become unwatchable, too.)

Chester Campbell said...

I don't guess we'll go HD until our 15-year-old set goes bonkers. We had to get a small box with a winking eye when Comcast went all-digital. It messed up our DVD/VCR so we can only record the local channels, which annoys my wife. Personally, I rarely watch anything but the news and two football teams (the U. of Tennessee and the Tennessee Titans). Watching or reading the news gets me riled over the lack of objectivity. Reporting has become much more subjective since my newspaper days in the forties and fifties.

Jaden Terrell said...

Shane, my husband can probably identify with your feelings about HD versus SD. I'll be watching something perfectly acceptable on SD, and he'll say, "What are you thinking? Why are you watching that?"

I like HD on Discovery and National Geographic, but since our TV is trying to give up the ghost (as evidenced by the curving picture with the blurry green edges), I'm not sure that, on our screen, it's much of an improvement. I do love the nature shows, though. If you've never seen some of the rainforest documentaries in HD, you are really missing a treat.