Monday, September 26, 2005

The listings missing from your TV Guide

And now, this useful new rule of thumb: At ten p.m., when you’ve retrieved a root beer float popsicle from the freezer, popped a movie in the VCR, and gotten the laptop fired up, your 15-month old – who had been sleeping soundly since she went to bed – will wake up and require you to sing Sandra Boynton’s “Snuggle Puppy”. (Interestingly, this was a tactic that was considered and discarded by FEMA in response to Hurricane Rita.)

And a corollary to that rule of thumb: When this situation happens, don't forget to put that root beer float popsicle back in the freezer.

I have the VCR going - the classic 1998 indie film “Chillicothe”, because you were wondering -- in part because the new TV season had little to offer on a Sunday evening. Actually, the one new series I caught last week (“My Name Is Earl”, as you’ll no doubt recall from a previous posting) was the first real-live new series I’ve caught in a couple of years.

It was a fine half-hour of television, but otherwise, the network TV landscape is postively Saskatchewan-like – flat and lacking in landmarks that make you want to return.

Especially upsetting was the news that the sitcom about a hapless terrorist cell trying to adjust to life in America never made it out of development. But there are several other globular clusters that will be missing again this season from the television universe, and whose absence should be noted:

I especially miss television stations that go off the air late at night. I mean, writing as an insomniac, it’s generally a good thing that there’s TV to be seen at three in the morning – it’s better than watching the helicopters go by on the way to the hospital, and it’s often fun to try to discern the hidden meanings in “Hawaii Five-O” reruns, or at least try to catch the episode where Jack Lord’s hair moves slightly.

But being able to watch Five-O, or QVC, or 1966 boxing matches on ESPN “Classic” at 3:45 a.m. lacks the sense of accomplishment earned by staying up late enough to watch a grainy film rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, followed by an reading of John Gillespie Magee's aviation poem, “High Flight” accompanied by the 1970s-version of new age music. (Just why someone decided that particular poem was an appropriate note to end a broadcast day is still a mystery.) Even more remarkable was being up late enough to watch the station sign on the air.

With the advent of six broadcast networks and hundreds of cable channels, the other big void in the television universe is the phenomenon of truly independent TV stations. It’s what brought the Twin Cities Mystery Science Theater 3000” before it made it to Comedy Central, and its what inflicted “Captain 20” on the Washington, DC area and “Captain Chesapeake” on the Baltimore area. Both characters provided vital continuity between kids features on weekday afternoons. Captain 20 also produced a vital PSA urging children nto to attempt the supernatural feats performed in the cartoons they had just witnessed. And either character, I’m sure, would help me find the hidden meanings in those “Hawaii Five-O” reruns.

On a related note, professional hockey has returned, but no doubt without “Peter Puck”, the animated character that explained the “icing” rule in between periods on Washington Capitals telecasts in the 1980s. A cartoom character that is routinely slapped by a large wooden stick is something that’s sorely lacking on the Phoenix Coyotes broadcasts I now get to watch.

And though the high production values in TV commercials and on television retailers like QVC make them eminently watchable, none of them accomplish the same train wreck-style ‘you-can’t-help-but-watch-it’ weirdness of Carvel ice cream commercials, or the long-departed “Television Auction”, which predated QVC and the Home Shopping Network, and which featured one slime-coated guy describing the items up for sale, and his sidekick (“Wayne”, I believe it was) twirling next to him and showing off the merchandise.

So there will be some blanks on my own personal TV listings. But my movie has ended. And the TV Guide channel tells me I currently have a choice between “Killer Ants”, “Killer Jellyfish”, and “Born With Two Heads”. So things are looking up.

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