Posts Tagged ‘tv’

Broke Ways

27 September 2011

Dear J-

Watch enough TV and eventually you begin trying to fit your life into its strictures. I’m far from the one who’s got the “kill your TV” bumper sticker going and not quite a rabid defender of the vidiot box, as we did spend a significant amount of money on both the TV and the recurring cost of the TiVO but this summer rather than watch reruns or surf around trying to figure out what worked for us we spent the evenings separately reading the feeds we’d set up in our RSS readers. And we talked. Granted, most of the talks were about things like “did you see that” or “I shared that with you yesterday, how come you haven’t read it yet?”

Now that the fall TV season is back, though, and we have the TiV”O for terrestrial TV, we try to have it all: reading and watching, a house divided falls against itself. No, not quite that dramatic. What ends up happening is we have too many choices for entertainment now and while I’m busy fiddling with my various tumblr accounts, theVet’s waiting for me to finish so we can watch TV or vice versa. The danger with TV is that the shows that I thought I’d love pale in comparison both to what I’ve been reading over the summer and what my expectations were. For instance, 2 Broke Girls has an interesting hook and a decent premise but is let down a bit in the execution: the lines are so wooden that I’m having a hard time believing the actors as the characters they play.

Besides that the show is filled with stock characters and stereotypes which hurts the watchability: okay, we get it. She’s bitter and jaded but that just concelas a heart of gold; she’s naive and spoiled but sweet. Together they are an unstoppable force. There are a ton of these odd-couple stories everywhere you look but the problem with TV is that I end up believing it for half an hour or so at a time and then end up confused that my life isn’t mirrored on the screen. Once that half hour is up, though, I go back to realizing how much better real life is and head back to it, smug and satisfied.



TV Watcher

5 January 2011

Dear J-

There’s an article in this month’s Technology Review regarding the impetus and development of Google TV; the article’s tone is fawning and awe-struck, like it’s the logical next solution in content delivery, plucky upstart Google come to free us from the chains of cable and networks. Within days of launch the broadcasters blocked feeds from their websites to Google boxes, just as Hulu have blocked streaming video to Boxee in the past, rendering Google TV little more than a portal for YouTube on the big screen. Leaving aside the myth of Don’t be Evil* for a moment, not realizing that networks would block an internet-connected box with no direct revenue stream back to the broadcaster is amazingly short-sighted for such a splashily-marketed product. The article dips into various ways that the broadcast networks could profit but doesn’t give any concrete details — “in time” and “with hope” don’t get you there. The article does mention the differences between “push” TV (broadcasting on a set schedule, like watching over the antenna) and “pull” TV (user finds and receives the material, like Netflix).

If someone wants to build a better mousetrap they’d better heed the lessons of the past. People love TiVO with an unholy passion because it broke the dominance of the broadcaster; anyone with an irregular schedule or narcolepsy welcomed being able to watch what they wanted when they wanted without having to mess around with VCR timers and blank tapes — such was the magic of time-shifting. The second win of TiVO was skipping over commercials, which more than the ability to skip over the umpteenth repetition of particularly annoying ads also cut down the actual program time to something you felt less guilty about wasting. The last win — live TV pausing and caching — is more subtle and less used but no less amazing. All these are significant advantages that pull TV can easily offer with the added benefit of not having to schedule recordings. And just as significantly, all these go out the window for sports, which are generally watched live or on broadcast delay (puasing would be a nice feature to have but not essential, and the only time recordings make sense is to time shift, or if you want to relive classic moments). Perhaps the most significant lesson is to make it simple (call it the grandma test) and reliable; nothing enrages the consumer faster than missing a favorite show or being unable to hook up the TV without a service call.

Deprived of the guaranteed eyeballs-on-ads of live, push TV, how does a broadcaster make money on pull TV? There’s the Apple/iTunes model of a la carte service: if all you watch are a few shows then that’s not a bad deal, though $40 per show season starts to add up quickly for the consumer. That’s the key, though; you need to line up content providers before you can think about being successful. Add PVR functionality to the Google boxes — use flash memory for reliability — and make software that doesn’t require patching from v1.0 to work. That takes care of content in the interim. For the pull content, partner with someone who’s already there — Blockbuster or Netflix — and convince the networks that offering a better spread of current-run programming at a flat rate (rather than having to wait for DVD release dates or arbitrary delays) creates consumer goodwill. Last, make it social: what are my friends watching? Can we talk about it? No one’s going to want to sit in their living rooms with a keyboard on their laps sending text messages back and forth, but find a way to direct them to like-minded folks after the show.


* The unofficial corporate motto is “Don’t be Evil” meaning that there’s a way to make money without taking advantage of people. I would argue that the benign neglect of marketing to companies and not the end user is itself an evil purpose: not caring that the end-user experience is all it can be and ignoring past precedence is pretty arrogant.

Stupid Me

29 December 2010

Dear J-

There’s things that are shockingly easy, like falling off a log or breathing, and then there’s crap like nursing your anger and letting it grow — stoke that particular fire, make sure it doesn’t burn low by finding fault in everything. I know that when I’m tired I make poor decisions and, besides which, every little thing will seem either insurmountable or incomprehensibly irritating. It’s a bad combination, lack of sleep with selfish desires to just get away from it all. There are days full of activity, like yesterday, when I think I’m never going to have a spare moment to myself and yet looking back there were plenty of chances to take time out if I’d just allowed myself to relax.

Jack Black, who is perhaps the last person you’d think to seek parenting advice from, says that you need a lot of energy to be successful; without it you end up watching a lot of TV together instead. And boy, don’t we know how that goes, and how it ends up — more time in front of the tube than we’d like, slack-jawed and mindlessly munching on something sweet. Even if it is a way to keep her busy and give myself some time is that really the right thing to do? There is almost universal acceptance of a little TV at this age, and no doubt we exceed those limits regularly. I sometimes wonder if I’m already too late, if in the pursuit of time for work I’ve sacrificed too much time for us.

We spend evenings together — dinner, then a bath, then the sleep preparations that encompass songs and books, though it’s almost as though our roles have reversed for that last activity: she busies herself with the million objects in her room while we’re kept busy singing or reading. She learns from habit and routine, and when our solutions include a video soporific to buy us time, that’s what we’re really telling her: we’re too busy for you, go amuse yourself while we take care of X, whether that’s the house, the baby, the meals, or our sanity. They tell us that newborns can’t be spoiled by too much holding; I’ve concluded that pushing your three-year-old away is just as impossible, and why would you want to? We have so few years before she’ll be uniformly embarrassed to be seen with us, and want to keep us out of her life. If we refuse the invitation now there’s no sense in mourning our distance later.


P.S. We should be flattered and not aggravated that she loves us and wants to spend time with us. That means taking the whole package as it is, crazy though it may seem. You may have wondered why there have been so few pictures of Calcifer and part of it is that he spends much of his day strapped to us, often me when I’m around because I’m not around much. The other part is because figgy has proven to be the more interesting subject lately, always in motion and demanding the lion’s share of the attention. Babies are nice, and I love having Calcifer around, but figgy keeps my viewfinder and mind occupied; funny how even when she was a baby you could already tell what craziness lay ahead.

Idiot Box

13 July 2009

Dear J-

I read an article this morning regarding the overall failure in viewer interest this summer; shows aren’t drawing as many viewers, at least for the four major networks.  Considering summer usually ends up being a dumping ground for the major drama reruns, the not-quite-ripe plots, and B-grade reality shows, it’s a bit of an insult to think that absent an Olympics, the numbers should hold steady year-round.

However, much ink has been spilled on the success of “reality” (make that “unscripted”) television strangling network dollars for dramas and scripted fare; although there is no substantial proof outside of timeslot, I’m still bitter that Veronica Mars was apparently replaced by The Pussycat Dolls Present.  Bitter, perhaps, but I understand at least:  viewership determines longevity, and script quality has gone downhill.  For all you may deride them, reality shows bring in viewers — it will be interesting to find out whether So You Think You Can Dance, one of the better competition shows out there (talent is immediately demonstrable, content is compelling) can find the same share and ratings against fresh plots of old stalwarts like CSI when it finds a slot in the fall lineup.  Viewers lure advertisers; advertisers keep networks afloat.

Networks are also quick to pull the plug on all shows — Pirate Master, while mildly compelling, represented the kind of reality show expected in summer:  silly, gooey, and not at all serious; we’ve been burned by hour-long dramas cut down after less than ten episodes, too, though:  Drive, Runaway, Threshold — and though the networks owe us nothing, I suppose, the number of loose plot threads lead to an invitation to watch the remaining episodes that goes unfulfilled.  Reality shows also become torpid on their own ego (watch how fast Hell’s Kitchen and Celebrity Apprentice went from compelling to unwatchable this past season).  Finally, though, the recent scripted shows that do get heavy investments in my time and network dollars — Life on Mars and Harper’s Island — both wound out their final episodes on strangely dischordant notes, almost as if to taunt us that we’ve wasted our time and thought on television, of all things; then again, it isn’t called the idiot box for nothing.


Block Party

11 July 2009

Dear J-

One of the latest batches of books contains the recommended Making the “Terrible” Twos Terrific (John Rosemond), which is written to help you understand what must be going on in that churning period between twenty-four and thirty-six months. Much of it is common sense — in developing your sense of independence, there are several milestones — sleeping alone, potty training — that must be achieved without crushing that independence. Therefore, in outthinking a two-year-old (it’s harder than it looks, honestly), you have to appeal to them feeling grown up.

The book is liberally sprinkled with Rosemond’s strong opinions — daycare, an evil to be avoided at all costs; co-sleeping might as well be an invitation to years of therapy. We’re not innocent of any of those (it did take a few days to break her of needing to sleep with us, and we continue, as we have for nearly two years now, to keep her in day care. The one that we’re most guilty of, though, is the TV watching — he claims it’s deceptive in being able to keep children calm, and giving you a break. Indeed, it’s more like creating a zombie (interaction drops to nothing, slack-jawed staring does not count) for the time it’s on, and then an amped-up monster is on your hands the rest of the time.

T3 Pantograph 4308 -sm

He goes on, in fact, to recommend that all toys invented after 1955 be taken out of the house and replaced by simple ones (Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, LEGO bricks, and wooden blocks) that spark imagination. So I tried the blocks today; he may be on to something here (there was still some TV, but it was much more limited than typical in this house), as figgy was enthralled with the destruction of the soaring structures I’d set up. Good for me — keeping me involved and interested instead of the semi-comatose state I slip into after the umpteenth iteration of the latest obsession (WALL-E has replaced Kung Fu Panda); good for her — excited by the world around her instead of the world in the little black box.


Work Saw

4 June 2009

Dear J-

Today, my supervisor turned to me and asked me in the meeting what I thought of how things were going; either I wasn’t paying sufficient attention (likely) or I’ve somehow become competent enough to be adjudicated as a contributor.  That’s yet another avenue of loaded phrases; problem personnel are labelled “individual contributors” and quietly shuffled off into the corner where they’re given just enough to be busy, but not enough to be important.

One of my coworkers said that the way things work in the company, failures hang around you in a palpable miasma, while successes are fleeting and quickly forgotten.  It makes sense, then, the way we’ve been structured — the public pillories, constant reminders of dire punishments, and the overwhelming fear of failue poisoning everything we touch; since no one wants to be that guy who screwed that up, no one takes responsibility for their actions, instead seeking refuge in the deniability of the crowd (“everyone saw it …”) or the culpability chain (“my manager/hairdresser/horoscope told me …”).

Oddly enough, we watched Saw IV the other night — theVet said no, but with precious little new content on TV now that the seasons have gone on hiatus until the fall, there’s little alternative.  It’s not about the grisly nature of the traps for me, though; III and IV have both had a progression of puzzles, sort of like a bloody, sadistic Indiana Jones pulling a thread of clues.  The devices themselves all seem to have the same generic theme, though:  how much is your life worth?  What would you sacrifice to see it so?  The only application to work is in the most abstract concept, but perhaps the question could be rephrased as how important is your career — how do you choose to respond to challenges?


TV Time

19 April 2009

Dear J-

Thinking about TV again tonight — for one thing, the two hours we spend each night with various shows — or casting about for such — could no doubt be spent in more productive pursuits; for one, I’m going to need to start setting up my application (to say nothing of studying for) my PE exam before much longer, especially if I’m going to pretend to be prepared for it. I wonder if it would be more efficient, or at least more restrictive to buy all your TV. Let me explain.

The way that most TV delivery services work now, whether antenna, cable, satellite, or IPTV (U-verse/FiOS), is sort of a buffet-style model; you pay a flat fee per month and you get access to a set menu of channels. Folks who pay more will get a few more dishes to choose from — let’s say they get a steak and ribs bar — but the basic concept is the same: some people will always get the mac and cheese, and other people may get the clam chowder, but there’s usually no way you’ll get to sample all the dishes under the heat lamps, unless you have nothing better to do.

Two hours a night — 120 minutes — translates to right around three or four shows, assuming a few one-hour dramas and half-hour sitcoms after the commercials are skipped via DVR. That works out to roughly twenty-five series being followed over the course of a season, eight months. So what’s cheapest? Fifty dollars a month at the buffet works out to $400; twenty-five shows at twenty-five dollars a show (looking at the iTunes store, here) is $625. But what if you’re willing to wait until the DVDs come out? Netflix is only $20 a month. And what if you’re willing to roll your own hardware? How long would it take to pay off a MythTV box, assuming you’re willing to put up with the broadcast channels?

There’s now a surfeit of delivery methods for television; from that first early glimpse of videos from afar via the Internet I had back in 1995, we can now get complete episodes the day after they’re broadcast, for free. Internet-exclusive content — not just star blogs, but also webisodes explaining background stories and sometimes exploring deeper plot arcs are now becoming the norm. Scheduled shows are on their way out, I suspect; the question is how much more complexity in the content boxes we’ll be able to tolerate.


Bad Traveler

24 March 2009

Dear J-

I’m learning all over again what a terrible traveler I am:  having a TV in the bedroom is an evil idea (from an early age, we’ve only had the luxury of bedroom TVs in hotel rooms, and that unexpected combination of bed and veg made for that special treat of a few extra minutes, er, hours of tube time), I end up not sleeping, and I am apparently on track to clog every single hotel toilet from here to Boston.

Before you try to tell me that with familiarity will come the need for less TV, consider that in 2004, I spent six weeks living out of a hotel room in Ann Arbor; not that I needed all that much impetus, but I spent every night finding something strange on cable I wouldn’t normally watch.  The World Strongman Competition became something worthy of extended debate and consideration, well into the wee hours of the morning, waking me up (ESPN was having a marathon) with taunts that I was missing some absurd feat involving makeshift weights.  Yesterday I became convinced that if you play your cards right, you can watch Family Guy all day long.

I do like watching local channels when I travel; tuning in to the local NBC station and watching Edie Lambert is like coming home, but yesterday I watched the mayor of Sacramento have a bit of a Kwame Brown moment, moving silently downstreet in a dark SUV while a reporter eager to make his bones chased after him wailing “Mister Mayor~~”  I like watching what other cities consider important; being in San Diego for too long you start to lose trust in municipal government, and either confirming or denying those suspicions makes for compelling TV.


Everything reminds you that it’s not home, after all.  The toilets are just that much less powerful (that and with the prevalence of new designs, it’s now not apparent how long you’re supposed to hold the handle down:  a gentle tap, or long studied concentration?  The furnishings are similiarly out of some bizarro universe where chairs go to be recovered in worldwide fabric rejects (seriously, embroidered plaid?), tables come up to your chin (I know I’m short — the Mustang reminds me of it, but the furniture just taunts me with it), and mysterious switches baffle and confound.

Time passes slowly in the room; activities that would take minutes in the real world stretch out to hours in the land of green carpets and cherry-toned wood.  I begin to suspect that it’s some sort of interdimensional prison, where vaguely familiar names from the past (JG Wentworth, anyone?) are dredged up to torment you in moments of TV-induced weakness.  One more night, bad traveler.


TV Shows

10 March 2009

Dear J-

Who would have guessed that, of all the people in the room, Tom Green would be the sanest-sounding one out of the Celebrity Apprentice contestants?  Here I have to confess my deep and abiding love for the so-called reality shows — from Murder in Small Town X to the Amazing Race, what makes it through our TiVo filters to land on the screen often involves a voyeuristic view of people acting out without masks.

There are the serious TV critics who decry what must seem like weeds popping up, how everyone and anyone can be famous for the price of humiliation — doing things in front of a camera that you might not want the world to see.  But it’s not so much about watching folks air their secrets for me as it is recognizing the traits I see in myself:  sometimes the TV’s a mirror, warts and all.  We do watch scripted shows, but there’s little I can identify with, especially the navel-gazing shows about show business (it is with no particular pride that I mention that we fall asleep in front of 30 Rock regularly).


TV Junk

31 January 2009

Dear J-

In recent weeks figgy’s discovered the old devil TV — it used to be just a box with lights that blinked on and off not so long ago, and now it’s become a great soporific.  As she continues to become more aware of her world, things must be just so:  blanket right over there, toys lined up and ready, books preferably strewn haphazardly (covers bent is just fine).  The charm of her knowing what the remote is for soon becomes replaced by the begging for a few minutes of TV — My Neighbor Totoro is getting pretty regular rotation lately.

Our short history is littered with good intentions — her first cold, we took her into bed for a couple of days and then she assumed it was on a permanent basis.  Two nights of crying — earplugs helped — allowed us to disabuse her of that notion.  Yet we’ve gotten through the weaning process (we decided that teeth are nature’s way of telling you it’s time to discontinue) with minimal drama, aside from the decision that bottles were not an acceptable substitute, so I’ve got confidence that though we may find our way into every single parenting trap along the way, figgy will be able to lead the way out.  Well, most of the time, at least.