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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Thirteen Channels and Nothing On
My wife and I have only basic cable, and it's Adelphia, for pity's sake! That means that we get channels 2 through 24, inclusive. Here's the rundown:

2 CBS
3 NBC
4 ABC
5 Some Godchannel
6 CBS
7 UPN
8 ABC
9 Some shopping network
10 Community bulletins (text-and-photos)
11 NBC
12 FOX
13 PBS
14 UPN
15 PBS
16 WGN
17 WB
18 PBS or a shopping network, by turns
19 TV guide (the worst channel of all time)
20 CSPAN
21 CSPAN2
22 Some shopping network
23 TBS
24 PCNC (meager Pittsburgh news and local programming)

After you skim out the duplicates and the utterly worthless, it's actually 11 channels of shit, with apologies to Roger Waters. Outside of the 20 and 21, our roster is a wasteland with infrequent oases.

Of course, we could pay $700 to $1000+ per anum for one of the myriad "digital packages," but that's still a high price to pay for programming that is, in the main, crap.

But there was a time, long ago, when 11 channels would have been plenty, because each channel offered at least some programming worth watching. Now we have forty clones of CSI and Law and Order, not to mention 1000 weekly hours of reality programming. What happened?

Well, two things, as far as I can tell.

Thing One: We had the 1996 deregulation of the industry, which led quickly to a race-to-the-bottom of the quality barrel. Despite (actually, because of) the over-touted glory of the free market, industry leaders scrambled to consolidate channel-ownership and to maximize profit at the expense of quality. If the hype was to be believed, the competitive marketplace would blossom into a viewer's paradise, chock full of heart-rending drama and side-splitting comedy. Instead, we get TBS showing the same shitty movie five or more times in a weekend and calling it "choice." Also, networks now fill up increasingly large swaths of airtime with Thing Two.

Thing Two: Infomercials. One could opine infinitely about the horrors of these wretched vignettes of corporate whorism, but I'll say merely this: the kind of mind able to watch a 30-minute commercial from start to finish and then buy the product is no kind of mind able to watch a 90-minute presidential debate and come away informed. Worse, the precedent having been set for half-hour misrepresentations of fact, it's hardly surprising that a "news" channel hit its stride shortly after deregulation with its own 24-hour misrepresentations.

All of this is petty bitching before I get to my real point, and here it is: yesterday morning TBS ran Troop Beverly Hills, a film so misbegotten that I'm not even going to link to IMDB. A film so insultingly stupid that I will henceforth refer to it only as TBH.

I defy you to find me 100 people nationwide who paid to see this drek in its original release. And then I defy you to find a different 100 nationwide who made a conscious choice to watch the film as it aired yesterday. Hey, I don't need Citizen Kane morning, noon, and night, but if you strapped me in Ludovico's chair and made me watch TBH, I would suck the fillings from my teeth in an effort to kill myself via mercury poisoning. If you're going to the trouble of actually putting something on the air, why not make it something that people will watch?

Oh. Tonight's TBS offering was Gone in 60 Seconds. If you missed it, don't worry, because it'll be on again a dozen times this week.

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