HOW TO WATCH TELEVISION, PART 1
Whaaaat? Now he's going to tell us how to do something we mastered 30, 40, 50 years ago ?!?
uh, yes, I am.
First let's get real about what we are talking about. It's not your Dad's television anymore. In fact, it's not even a "television" - it's a display device capable of replicating images from many different sources. Everyone in this readership has at least a broadband box (cable, Sat.) and a Blu-ray disc player hooked up to theirs, but from now on we are just going to call it a "T.V." because it takes less keystrokes than "display device".
So current political debates aside, nothing is more irritating to my ears than - "There is nothing good on T.V."
Prime Time T.V. has never been better, but more later regarding content.
First we need to get the environment right. Some people tell me they don't watch much T.V. Their loss. But this illustrates the old, but true, adage - "You don't know what you don't know". If you are not set-up properly to take advantage of what is available you may not, indeed, be inclined to partake.
That's what this column is all about, fixing that problem.
Experienced in the proper environment, T.V. viewing can change the quality of your life .... north. My girlfriend and I track about 30 primetime programs per week plus three major sporting events (PGA golf, Football and NASCAR). Add to that two or three movies a week. If you have an optimized viewing environment and know how to use a DVR, why not make the most of it. The content can be educational, musical, comedic, serious drama or just plain mindless entertainment that is cathartic to a tired brain after a tough day at work.
About that environment. Yeah, it needs to be a "Home Theatre" or something very close to it. All the usual stuff - 5.1 surround audio, as large a screen as space (and budget) allow. Room lights need to be on the remote and if it can be arranged, a table or two in the mix so that dinner and dessert can be time shared with viewing time. 30-minute situation comedies go good with white wine. Seating should be arranged so that no one is too far off axis. If you have one of those "ancient" plasmas, you can widen the viewing field a bit. Chairs/couch not too comfy - you want to stay awake for what you set-up to enjoy!
Now that we're settled in, what to watch.
I stand by my previous statement, things have never been better in TVland. As new series appear and some of the old standards are retired or are "vacationed", the mix just gets better. MANY primetime shows, if lengthened a half-hour would rival the production values and acting prowess of most movies now in commercial runs. As an additional plus, they hold the cliff-hanger allure of what will happen in next week's episode.
HAIL the almighty DVR!
Absolutely essential to the full enjoyment of the "T.V. experience" is the proper utilization of your DVR. It's existence has changed everything about home entertainment. First, of course, get one if you don't already have one. Broadband providers all have one in their best boxes, or a Tivo will do nicely. Ability to simultaneously record multiple channels is a must. Since most all of our video diet is HD, (time) capacity is also a high priority. Since I calibrate displays one or two nights a week, I see pretty much everything out there. Suit yourself, but for my money (literally) Comcast's Xfinity has them all beat by a good margin.
Just one of the advantages of having a DVR is that you can "series record", automatically recording your selected program whenever it is available. New episodes only or all, including repeats? Your call. Another advantage is that you will never miss something you want to watch due to time conflict. I watch a lot, I mean A LOT of programs but never have there been more than four scheduled at the same time. The #1 advantage of a DVR has to be the ability to BLAST through commercials at light speed. About 25% of a primetime hour is dedicated to commercials - more on the best rated programs. That means one hour programs are now 45 minutes. Two hour episodes are now an hour and a half and ... well, you can do the math. For me, it means the possibility of four primetimes instead of three in my evening viewing window. It also means MUCH less irritation during a three hour NASCAR race!
Now that we are "series recording", a nice little DVR trick is to save up about 3 or 4 episodes of a given program and watch them back to back in one setting. The continuity makes it seem like a movie and takes the stress out of the two-parters.
A note about program sourcing. Why go this far and not get the advantage of the best stuff out there? Rhetorical question - of course you should. I have friends with nice theatres who are missing the likes of "Vinyl", "Game of Thrones" and "Girls" because they don't get HBO. HBO costs less per month than one visit to a commercial theatre on anybody's packaged programming and they are arguably the best content available, with 43 Emmy nominations just last year alone. Don't forget they brought us Soprano's, Deadwood, True Detective, The Wire and dozens more award winning shows. Point is, don't be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to feeding your "TV nest" with the highest quality content you can enjoy. You will soon have a backlog on the DVR and be able to pick and choose, assuring an enjoyable evening every night you care to.
Just as with movies, tastes vary widely, but if you've not seen the current faire, I can recommend a starter kit - "Vinyl", "Elementary", "Madame Secretary", "Nashville", "NCIS LA", "NCIS,", "Blindspot", "Last Man Standing", "The Good Wife", "Shades of Blue" .... but I'll stop there. If these were the only shows I could get for my $200+/month cable bill, I'd be happy. But of course there are dozens more primetimes and a plethora of sporting events bringing the cost of enjoyment per viewing hour to a dollar and change - far less than the total cost of $10+ per hour you'll part with for a trip to the Bijou.
Fluff up a pillow, get comfortable on the couch and enjoy the great content that is there for the taking and delivered in the best package possible.
Next time, we'll explore the nuances of AM radio!