Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Remember when TV was worth watching? Me neither

State of Arizona employees (such as the 19 Minutes cast and crew) don’t typically get Columbus Day off. But State of Arizona employees typically don’t have to work from 5:30 am to 2:30 pm on Sundays, so I had the day away from the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters.

The day off, plus a 16-month old who slept until 10:30 this morning and napped substantially in the afternoon gave me a perfect opportunity to work on my book and go to the gym. So naturally, I took advantage of this opportunity and, building on previous bloggage, gained new insights into What Else Is Wrong With Television Today. And there’s plenty.

Today’s theme: "Why do networks believe we’ll watch them, no matter what the hell they’re showing?" Put another way: "Why do networks abandon the reason for their existence?" Put still another way: "Remember when…"

Remember when you could tune into ESPN Classic and actually see a baseball, football, or basketball game of historical significance? You could see the 7th game of the 1960 World Series (also known as the genesis of the “Yankees Suck” chant), the 1969 Super Bowl (also known as “Before Anyone Cared About Namath’s Drinking”), or the 1981 NBA All-Star Game (also known as “Tall Guys in Tiny Shorts and Knee Socks”). Tune in nowadays, and you’re likely to catch a program called “Classic Now”, a live football game involving Central Michigan University, or vintage televised poker. ESPN, I have some news for you: If it’s happening now, it isn’t a classic, even if it involves analysis by former obscure major league designated hitter Jim Traber. A Central Michigan football game will never rank as a classic, unless Michael Jordan sings at half-time. And there is no such thing as “classic” televised poker, especially with Dick Van Patten as the host. Just call yourselves “ESPN 3” and get it over with.

Remember when most of the Food Network’s schedule was filled with people demonstrating recipes? Rachael Ray made replicable meals in 30 minutes, Emeril Lagasse made impossible-to-replicate meals over the course of an hour and yelled “Bam!”, and Alton Brown explained why your meat thermometer should actually be used to measure the temperature of meat, as opposed to holding down the contact paper in your junk drawer. Those shows still exist, only now you have to wade through hours of a restaurant reality series, documentaries like "The History of Cotton Candy", and a new Rachael Ray series which ostensibly builds on her “$40 A Day” restaurant travel series, but in reality looks as though it’s pieced together by having Rachael voicing over left over B-roll.

Remember when Court TV used to show nothing but trials all day long? Not that I ever watched it, but it was comforting to channel surf your way through it on the way to “Gilligan’s Island.” Most of today, they appeared to be showing a program about a private investigator, interspersed with commercials for something called “Psychic Detective”. I’m still not watching, even on the way to "Gilligan's Island".

Remember when you could watch the Weather Channel and actually find out what the weather was going to be? I figured I could find out what clothes to wear as I was getting ready for work at 5:30 am Sunday, only the Weather Channel had a reporter live on the scene of a tailgate party before the New York Jets game, so they could report on barbecue techniques. Throw the damn hot dogs on the grill until they’re hot and tell me whether I should wear a jacket.

And remember when CNN Headline News showed, um, the headlines? Well, they still show the headlines, only they’re scrolling at a maddeningly slow speed along the bottom of the screen, while the rest is taken up by an unpleasant woman named Nancy Grace, who actually trumpets the fact that she has an exclusive interview with people related to the Natalee Holloway case. More news for you: It’s not really an exclusive if no one else wants to interview your subject. I could interview my landlady and it would be an “exclusive”.

Of course, there are some networks out there that seem to be reversing the trend. The Travel Channel used to be infested with vintage poker footage, but now seems to be adding a plethora of new programs actually on the subject of travel. And the National Geographic Channel seems to have succeeded in showing only programs that take place in locations describable by geographic coordinates.

The final piece of information I gleaned from watching a few hours of television on my day off was that the Pax network, found way up on the UHF dial in most places, seems to have redubbed itself “i”. This development, paired with the existence of the “E” entertainment network, means there are a scant 3 vowels left with which to name TV networks. Reserve yours now while there’s still time. I’m going to turn on the radio.


The Motor Moron said...

You sound like Frank DeFord when he does his "Sports Curmudgeon" alter-ego rants on Wednesday mornings on NPR. Very well done, my favorite comment was the cooking advice to the tail-gaters in New Jersey.

Carol Davidson said...

I'm pitching a show to National Geographic this week... Primate Poker Showdown. Vincent van Patten travels deep into the jungle with nothing but a deck of cards and a cameraman to record the wild and wacky, but heretofore little known, world of gorilla poker. So, you in?