Tag Archives: Television

My DVR is full and I don’t care

My DVR has been about 96% full all summer. I recorded the last two weeks of Letterman shows, and the first week of Colberts (plus the Tim Cook interview), and set them to never auto-delete. Verizon, bless its heart, sends me an email with my monthly statement that says “We know you’re suffering and we wanted to reach out our helping hand, in the form of a DVR upgrade.”

The thing is that I haven’t really noticed a problem. Just a few years ago, zero free space would have required immediate attention (like that spot on the housing of my toaster oven that gets a little meltier every time I use it; thanks for reminding me, I’ll put that on the list as well). Having to do without it has illustrated that I don’t really need it any more.

The difference at this point in 2015 is that the final few holdout shows that I watch have become available on-demand…and I can watch everything on the screen of my choice. I’m watching last night’s “Project Runway” (the kid’s edition) (look, any version of PR hosted by Tim Gunn is worth watching) (seriously) on the good TV in the living room, via the Lifetime app. PBS has upgraded its streaming app. I still watch “Antiques Roadshow” on Monday nights because that’s my habit, but I’m not even aware when anything else airs. “South Park,” “The Simpsons,” and “Bob’s Burgers” have been on Hulu forever.

CBS (“Late Show,” “Big Bang Theory,” “The Amazing Race,” “Mom”) was the only real problem. Full episodes were available if you visited CBS.com from a browser, which wasn’t great for casual sofa viewing. Then CBS All Access appeared. Should I spend six bucks a month for it? Maybe, given that it’ll serve about thirty hours of monthly programming that I look forward to every week. Even if I cheapskate out on that, the CBS channel on Roku offers those shows for free…and without commercials, even.

It’s a little miraculous. I spent a week in LA recently. Ten years ago, I would have spent my last night at home playing a six-dimensional game of “Sophie’s Choice,” deciding which shows I’d forego recording to ensure that there’d be space for others. Then I set up a Slingbox, and could watch this stuff from my hotel room.

This year, though, the thought of missing out on TV didn’t even enter my mind. I was looking forward to the final episode of the terrific “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” on PBS, set to air on the Monday night of my trip. Yup, I watched it via streaming on Tuesday. And if I’d missed it, PBS would have been happy to spool it for me after I got home.

So what keeps me subscribing to cable? Nostalgia?

I used to say “Well, ‘Turner Classic Movies’.” But I can get that from a Sling.com subscription.

Even my desire for cable programming is hanging by a thread. If I went cold turkey — no TCM, no Lifetime, no Food Network — I’d miss seeing some of my favorite shows, for sure, but the original programming on Netflix et al is outstanding. To say nothing of how much I look forward to new YouTube videos posted by Tested or Ben Heck

Sometimes, when we decide to make even a minor lifestyle adjustment, we try to engineer a “nothing but upside” solution. That can prevent us from considering options that are overall positive, but require a cut or two. I changed my cable lineup a few years ago and was miffed when I discovered that the new, less-expensive package did not include BBC America, despite what the customer service rep assured me. But by the time I got around to getting it straightened out, I’d gotten over not seeing Graham Norton or Top Gear.

(I like “Doctor Who.” I’ve only been an intermittent viewer, though. I generally just buy the Christmas episodes.)

I think I’ll be keeping my basic subscription, if only to retain access to streaming apps (which require verification of a cable package). But I’m going to take a good look at my cable package again. And, as profoundly weird as this might seem…I might return all of my cable boxes.

Project Runway: Tim Gunn ‘hated’ season 14 | EW.com

Project Runway: Tim Gunn ‘hated’ season 14 | EW.com

(Via Entertainment Weekly.)

I don’t have an eye for fashion (as those of you who’ve seen me on podcasts already know). Tim says that the designers’ efforts were lackluster. I’ve enjoyed this season so far. The only difference I’ve noticed is the lack of flakes and freaks (the ones who either get eliminated in one of the first challenges, or go on to win the whole thing).

Season finale this week! I’m recording another special “Project Runway”-themed Ihnatko Almanac on Thursday with fellow fan Merlin Mann.

Never raise a question that you can’t answer.

Come to think of it, that’s a fundamental thing that they teach trial attorneys: if you aren’t absolutely sure of how a question is going to be answered, don’t even raise it in the first place. But I was thinking of the “Lost” series finale and other TV series in which Big Questions and Ongoing Mysteries are meant to be front and center.

I’ve read enough of the response to the finale to grasp that the show’s creators never got around to answering a whole bunch of questions. Most of these questions begin with the worse “So what was the deal with…”


“What was the deal with the Dharma Initiative?”

“What was the deal with all of the time-traveling whatsits on the island?”

“What was the deal with all those people who were on the island, like, forever, before the plane crash people or even the Dharma people arrived?”

“What was the deal with those recurring sets of numbers?”

et cetera.

Compare and contrast this with two epic TV series that I actually watched from start to finish. In “Babylon 5,” you found yourself wondering “What’s the deal with the Vorlons and the Shadows?” — two ancient and godlike alien races who were behind every conflict among the younger races and seemed to have a lot of shared history and animosity. The deal with “The Shield” was the final fate of Detective Vic Mackey, one of the LAPD’s most effective street cops and its most corrupt (one would hope).

In both of those shows, the producers made it clear to the audience that these were important questions. And when both shows ended, their producers left the audience with clear answers. The series finale of “The Shield,” particularly, stands as the example of how this sort of thing ought to be done.

I’ve probably seen about ten or twelve episodes of “Lost.” It’s not enough to pronounce the series to be good or bad. But it’s enough to know that the producers kept dangling those questions in front of us week after week, like a woman with a squeaky toy on a string trying to lure a cat into a travel carrier for a trip to the vet. If you don’t let us have the toy at the end…you don’t want to be the person who opens that box and lets us out.

It’s so unnecessary. The show’s producers were interviewed on the Creative Screenwriting podcast a couple of weeks ago and while talking about the technique of writing scripts for television, they explained a term that’s often used in the writers’ room while they’re breaking a story: “Let’s just hang a lantern on it and move on.”

They explained it thusly (I’m paraphrasing): “It’s when we’re getting bogged down in a tortured and interminable explanation of something that just doesn’t matter and that the audience shouldn’t even care about. Like when we realized that we needed to explain how a beacon was jamming radio signals underwater. We came up with all kinds of technical explanations of how this would work until we finally just had a character say ‘It doesn’t matter how it’s happening; all that matters is how we disable it.’ We’ve just ‘hung a lantern on it’; we’ve told the audience ‘yeah, we know this doesn’t make sense, but it’s really not worth getting into’.”

They could have done that with (say) Dharma. They didn’t. Even in just the episodes I saw, the producers were making it clear that the Dharma Initiative was a very big deal and we were right to want to know what the deal was with that group.

I have to say that I loved the finale. I didn’t watch it, but fan reaction seems to underscore the correctness of my decision not to watch “Lost.” Watching this entire series was clearly going to be one hell of a major time commitment and (speaking only for myself) if the producers didn’t deliver hard and satisfying answers to every question that the producers themselves seemed to insist was important, well, then there was a serious risk that I would have defenestrated my television. Right about now, I’d be left wondering why I didn’t spend those 100+ hours on a more rewarding enterprise, like directing and staging a production of David Mamet’s “Speed-The-Plow” with an all-Roomba cast.

My “Lost” Algorithm

Finally! The immensely-satisfying payoff to years and years of waiting!

For “Lost” fans, it comes after sitting down and watching tonight’s series finale, in which All (or at least “Enough”) is revealed about just about everything.

For me, it comes after hitting LostPedia the day after the finale airs, and getting the whole thing in like an hour or something.

I missed the first few episodes. Even by then, the eager and enthusiastic reports coming in from many of my friends made it clear that I’d never get caught up until the first season was released on DVD. And I couldn’t watch the second season until I had watched the first. All told, I could jump in during…I dunno…the start of Season Three? At which point I’d sort of need to commit to watching every new episode every single week of every season, wouldn’t I?

“…Or I could just hold off until the whole series is done and dusted, and then read the episode summaries,” I thought.

I instantly knew that I had hit upon a winning solution. It was just like Thomas Edison’s “Eureka” moment in the development of the electric light bulb, when he leaped from his chair and shouted “Of course! I’ll just have my huge team of researchers laboriously try every possible concept, and then take all the credit once they happen across the right one!”

Yes, you’re right. “Lost” is a marvelous television event, the likes of which we’re not likely to see again. Yes, I know, it’s all about the journey you take with these characters. Joseph Campbell, blah blah blah. Look, I made my peace with this decision way back in 2004. That’s when I realized that in all honestly, the only thing I actually cared about was the simple answer to the question “So what the hell was the deal with the island?”

More (What…More?!?) on Jay and Conan

I’ve often hypothesized that there’s just something in the Y chromosome that urges men towards Super Bowl football-fan behavior. Something that compels us to invest body and soul into a conflict that we have absolutely no part of, to obsess over stats and trivia, pick a winning team, and wear the team colors.

And when a man defies the statistics and has no interest in football, then that genetic predisposition finds different ways to express itself. The time and passion that men invest in their Super Bowl picks I invest in my Academy Awards picks. The fact that I sat down to blog a little about Jay and Conan and wound up with…

(Cutting and pasting it into my word processor for a word count…)

Holy jumping Zarquon.

Well, it doesn’t matter how long that post was. The point is that I’m here in my Conan O’Brien replica blazer, shirt and tie, with a giant foam-rubber blue card on my hand, shrieking at the screen and enjoying it.

Reading back yesterday’s post, I’ve spotted a problem: I assumed that Leno had a free choice to take the 11:35 slot or decline it. Much of the coverage of Le Scandale reports on NBC’s contractual position with Conan. He has a longterm contract for Late Night, there’s a huge buyout penalty if they cancel him, he’s contractually entitled to be the host of The Tonight Show…but his contract (apparently) has no language mandating that The Tonight Show has to run at 11:35.

The network’s negotiating position (it’s certainly nothing more than a strategy) is that they can simply move his show without breaking their contract and suffering any penalties.

Today I started wondering if there isn’t a similar failure in Jay’s “Leno Show” contract. I imagined that NBC offered Jay his old slot back and he accepted. Is it possible that the sheet of paper they slid across the table to him merely showed the amount of money the network would sue him for if he declined? Does Jay’s contract demand that he continue to do The Jay Leno Show at any time of day that NBC puts it on the schedule?

Maybe Jay thought “I’m not going to go through a year of legal action just to defend my decision to turn down a job I really, really want.”

I dunno. That scenario doesn’t make much sense. As anyone who’s ever hired a home contractor can sadly attest, a contract is only as strong as the participants’ desire to actually stand by their promises.

Hell, I’m sure Conan can tell you all about that. You know a network is in trouble when its behavior can be compared to that of a guy with a pickup truck who spends half a day tearing your kitchen apart and then runs away with your $8,000 deposit.

Stop it stopit STOPITT!!!!

Annoying commercials are like…concussions, I guess. The danger lies in repetition. Once? Twice? You can pretty much get away with it. But your tenth or eleventh will leave you in a frightful mental state.

I have been repeatedly concussed by this Verizon FiOS commercial. Watch it. Let’s see if you spot the same annoying problem that I do:

Okey-doke. The Dad is impressed by the digital HD picture and sound and he says “Wow!” Then the Mom. Then the kid.

Then the dog! Pause for atomic laffs and yucks.

At this point, there have already been four “Wow!”s. And the joke’s over because hey, it’s so impressive that even a housepet is floored by the idea of “I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry” presented in 720i HD and has been moved to respond as a human being would.

And then the cat says “Wow!” Five!

Then a flea on the cat!


I think you’ll agree that this is a lot of “Wow!”s.

And y’know, the joke was finished two whole “Wow!”s ago, as soon as the first non-human creature said it. It could have been economized to just three. Husband, wife, cat. Or: parent, child, cat.

(The media is so saturated with talking dogs that a talking cat is automatically funnier.)

(Actually, I’d give the animal’s “Wow!” to a squirrel or a raccoon whose face is pressed up against the window.)

(No! The FiOS experience is so wonderful that a dozen backyard creatures have gathered there on the sill. Squirrels, mice, woodchucks…and they all say “Wow!” together, in high-pitched voices.)

But that’s not the point. The point is that this commercial can air six times an hour or more.

I have FiOS service (cable, internet, and a landline which I only have because it’s part of the package). By the fifth airing, I’m about ready to turn off the cable box and read a book.

Yes…it’s that annoying. I swear!