The fall season…

There was an article this afternoon running on AP that blared the headline “TV cliffhanger: New season in jeopardy amid virus shutdown.” It turns out the fall season of network television is now officially in jeopardy. Which is definitely an issue if you are somehow involved in the entertainment industry.

Once upon a time, I’d have probably been in the ranks of the concerned. Fortunately, most of my favorite television is two decades old. If it does happen to be newer, it’s seasons and seasons deep into its run and there’s a better than average chance I either own copies of every episode or can fish them off the interwebs somewhere. Even if that weren’t the case, having fallen in love with Game of Thrones taught me that two years between seasons is a “perfectly reasonable” amount of time. 

The trouble with Coronavirus crippling the television industry, isn’t necessarily that so many shows might end up delayed or lost forever. The real nightmare scenario for TV in the Great Plague era is that these delays in scripted television may loose a new and terrible age of unscripted “reality” television upon the land. I can’t imagine any way to make contemporary television more irrelevant to my life than to cram even more Housewives of Wherever or Kardashians in Quarantine onto the airwaves. 

Nostalgia television…

I’ve largely taken a pass on the latest trend towards nostalgia television – Unless you include that one time I skipped senior year Russian history class to watch Walter Cronkite in the CBS anchor chair during John Glenn’s return to space on the shuttle Discovery, I just haven’t found it all that compelling.

Last night I did tune in to see what the Conner’s had been up to after twenty years off the air. I approached it with some trepidation, because even at the hight of the original run’s popularity, I hadn’t been a diehard fan of the show. In the end, though, this reboot won me over. The set piece comedy against the backdrop of a kitchen and living room that are as familiar to me as the ones I grew up in offered a trip down memory lane that I’m happy to take.

Maybe I haven’t entirely missed the boat on this trend towards nostalgia… Now if we could just convince someone to pick up a new season of Buffy, I’d climb fully on this bandwagon.

Picking easier…

With of the ludicrous cost of cable television I’ve toyed off and on for about a year with cutting the cord and trying to cobble together a collection of streaming services that would get the job done. After some exhaustive research, the real problem became the fact that to get all of my non-negotiable programming I was going to end up needing essentially all the streaming services.

I’m grudgingly forced to admit that cost not withstanding, cable is just the most convenient way of getting what I want. Getting those 40 channels means I end up paying for 300. As much as I hate writing that monthly check, I’m resigned to the fact that I’m just going to go ahead and keep paying for the convenience of having it all piped in through the same service.

For the better part of a decade I’d been living with my old 40-inch 780p plasma screen in the living room. Its picture quality didn’t justifying the full HD experience and I’d always resisted handing over the extra $10 a month for HD channels. The 58-inch monstrosity now residing in my living room, though, made standard signals look like absolute rubbish. So I gave in and took a Saturday side trip to my “local” Comcast storefront.

I have to confess the swap out to HD boxes all around was quick and easy. The truth is, I’m tremendously impressed with the picture quality that’s getting sent over the wire. I’m impressed enough at least to keep paying the bill until a real industry disruptor comes along.

I set out last weekend to make my life cheaper and easier and was forced into a choice between the two. Under those circumstances I’m going to pick easier just about every time.

Pixel envy…

Unlike with some other electronics, I’m not a slavish devotee to having that latest and greatest television set on the market. I bought a highly rated Pioneer 42-inch plasma back in November of 2007 (read about the hilarity that ensued) and have been lugging its heavy carcass around with me ever since. It was state of the art eight years ago and still does a reasonable job, but if I’m honest, it’s getting a little finicky about what peripherals it plays nicely with and the picture quality is suffering. The old girl has seen better days, but considering how often she’s been crated, toted, and banged about, I’m a little impressed she still works at all.

I was willing to keep going along with it until last month when I bumped up the sizes of the set in the bedroom and discovered just how much better the viewing experience was on that new unit. If you’ll forgive the pun, the difference between a new smart LCD and its old, dumb predecessor was quite the eye opener. Sadly, it also means I’m just starting to peck around to decide what features a new “primary” screen should have… which means that sometime in the next three months I’ll have settled in on my actual requirement.

Now that 42-inchs feels like something fit for the bedroom, there’s little doubt that the replacement will be bigger – and I’m sure better in every single way. Still, I hate this part of the process – and wish just a little bit that I wasn’t wired quite as tightly into the compulsion for researching everything nearly to death. It tends to take the fun out of those “spur of the moment” purchase decisions. Still, it will be awfully nice to be able to sit down to watch something and not need to fiddle with every single setting under the picture menu to dial in a decent picture.

I’m afraid I’m about to succumb to a serious case of pixel envy. And you damned well can’t fix that with more cowbell.

The nine o’clock hour…

HBO has provided the valedictory hour for my weekends since a guy named Tony ran north Jersey and the Barksdale crew controlled the corners in west Baltimore. With tonight’s season ender for Game of Thrones I guess I’m back to casting around for something at the nine o’clock hour to punctuate the end of the weekend.

I should probably be a responsible adult and use that extra hour to get something closer to eight hours of sleep, but somehow I know that’s not going to happen. I haven’t really looked at what HBO is rolling our for the summer or fall seasons – and the Walking Dead are still to far away to contemplate.

Worst case scenario I find myself a good book to fill the extra time. As much as I like reading, allocating one hour a week to get lost in the flickering glow of a really good drama feels like something I’m actually going to miss.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Well, it seems like the question really answers itself at this point, doesn’t it? But since I know nobody is going to let me get away with a simple “it’s self explanatory,” here we go…

1. The common cold. We have machines that can scan the human brain. We can replace human heart valves with pork parts. We can perform knee replacement surgery on dogs. But do you know what we can’t do? We can’t cure the common goddamned cold. Are you effing serious? Through the miracle of modern science, the best we can do is dope someone up on decongestants, antihistamines, and nasal sprays so that they’re too stoned to care how bad they feel. WTF, science? What have you been doing for the last 400 years? I think it’s amazing that you can cure a disease that one person in 100 million will actually contract, but it would be even better if you could track down a cure for the thing that 5 billion of us will catch once or twice a year.

2. Daytime TV. After two and a half days of not doing much of anything besides sitting in front of the television, I can say with some authority that TV pretty much sucks between the hours of 8AM and 8PM. I’m sure there are some people out there watching, but I can’t understand why they would think there wasn’t something better to do with their time… like sleeping, or possibly gouging out their eyes with sharp sticks. I’m thanking the old gods and the new that we live in an age of Hulu and Apple TV.

3. Being “medicated.” I despise the feeling of being medicated – that feeling you get when you’re taking lots of meds that make your head feel like it’s full of cotton and not necessarily attached to your body. Maybe I’m not describing it right, but regardless, I don’t like it. I’m not a billionaire, I’m not an athlete, and I have no practical skills like welding to fall back on. My brain is what I’ve got going for me and what keeps me from living in an overpass-adjacent cardboard box. When it’s not firing at full speed, well, I’m sure it’s bad… I just can’t quite articulate why at the moment. Stupid brain.

Mission Complete (minus nine)…

The great heroic project of our age is more or less finished. For all practical purposes, I’m calling the effort to transfer my DVD collection to hard disk mission complete. With the exception of nine disks that I’ll need other software to rip and encode effectively, I managed to bring down the curtain three weeks ahead of my self-imposed deadline of the end of the year. As far as those couple of outliers go, well, I’ll get to them when I Screen Shot 2012-12-11 at 5.12.24 PMget to them. For the most those few disks are fairly oddball titles that you’d really only want to watch once or twice in a lifetime anyway. Still, I have them, and it would be nice to go from finished to really finished eventually.

So, you’re asking, what’s the tale of the tape? Weighing in at a grand total of 1.21 TB (1210 GB), I’ve got 123 movies and 1380 separate television episodes, and 1185 songs available for streaming to every television and iDevice in the house across my own network. Put another way, that’s 10.5 days of back-to-back movies, 44 days of television, and about 3 days of uninterrupted music. That’s certainly not the biggest personal audio-visual library out there, but I’m proud of my little collection. That should prove to be more than enough to keep me entertained during the impending apocalypse.

It’s alot like having a 24/7 commercial free television station that plays only content that you know you’re going to like. I had a real geek-out moment there when I realized just how awesome it really is. Using the Apple TV interface makes it very similar experience to actual channel surfing. When you get bored with one show you can switch immediately to another and then back again even on a TV in a different room. Basically, it’s what TV would be if television wasn’t just an avenue to put eyeballs on advertisements. It’s possible that I’m in love.

In the interest of keeping things safe and sound, I’ve got a redundant copy on site and an offsite backup ready to go into rotation. It might seem like overkill, but iTunes, as we all know, sometimes does funny things and this isn’t a process that I want to go through a second time. I’m not there yet, but I think I’ve taken a big step towards making cable television pretty irrelevant in my life.

Sadly there are still several large boxes of CDs stashed in the basement that need to be ripped since I seem to have lost alot of content dragging it from computer to computer over the last five or six years. Since I seem to have finally stumbled on a solution that’s is going to stick, it might just be time to go ahead and rebuild my audio library while I’m at it… but that’s a project for a later date. I don’t think I can stomach seeing any more shiny plastic discs just yet.

As expected…

I didn’t have high hopes for my test run with the indoor antenna. Since I live 40 miles from the nearest TV transmitter and there’s plenty of hills and trees in that distance, the antenna was a hail Mary play. Being that I’m only out $7, it wasn’t too costly an experiment. Unfortunately, the antenna failure led me to contemplate Plan B… kit the two small TVs in my bedroom and upstairs living room with Apple TV boxes and stream content as needed. Sadly, Plan B has also hit a snag. A snag in which both small TVs are so old that neither one has the required HDMI port. There are ways around that, of course, but none of them are particularly good. So that leaves us with Plans C and D.

Plan C is to replace the TVs – probably a $400 total expense since I’m looking at the sub-32″ class for both units. Add the two Apple TV units and the startup cost should be right at $600. Getting rid of two cable boxes would get me off the hook to Comcast for approximately $20 a month… so in 2.5 years, option C pays for itself, except for the part where technology has improved in the interrum and upgrades need to be made. Plan D, of course, is to do nothing at all and just learn to enjoy the pucker every time I get my e-bill from the cable company. I know what I want to do, but maybe after Thanksgiving the numbers will start to look a little more palatable.

Something corporate…

I’ve spent the last 90 minutes waging my own personal war against Comcast… the company that we all love to hate. If it weren’t for basically needing to have high speed internet, I’d cut the cable all together. Sadly, there just isn’t a viable alternative to cable internet available here in the back woods of Cecil County and I’d end up paying as much for internet alone as I do for the cable/internet bundle.

Up until I made some changes, I had 300 channels of which I watched maybe a dozen with any consistency… something about paying for something I’m not using just rubs me the wrong way. Since my TV is usually parked on some combination of History, Discovery, and Fox News, cutting way back on the number of channels just seemed like the thing to do. As far as I’m concerned, they ought to pin a bright shiny medal on the guy who finally cracks the code on unbundling television channels. Let me pick five for $20 and I’m on it before the ink dries on the deal. Still, I managed to cut my bill in half tonight and I have the funny feeling that I’m not going to miss much even after “losing” two thirds of the channels I had been getting. With Apple TV, Netflix, and Hulu lined up to fill in the gaps, it’s possible that I’m well on my way down the road to ditching cable television completely just to make a small personal statement regarding my thoughts on the services they offer.

Is anyone else out there using Comcast for internet only? As always, feedback is encouraged.

Newsroom…

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about television. Outside of a few shows that I follow religiously, the set usually just runs as background noise. Most people have favorite TV shows or series, but there are probably fewer of us who have favorite TV writers. Still, I’m glad to see one of my favorites making a splash next Sunday night with Newsroom on HBO. Aaron Sorkin’s writing is, well, just dreamy. I loved the super-fast dialog and walk-and-talk’s on West Wing. His characters, for me at least, reach a hard to replicate level of believability for television. If the trailers for Newsroom are to be believed, it looks like he will hit the mark again.

Sure, Sorkin is an evil genius, notoriously hard to work with, and has an ego big as all outdoors, but damn, the man can write. He can suck you in and make you feel the story. Even when you don’t agree with the politics of the characters or even like them very much, he manages to find a way to invest you in the story and in the lives of the characters on screen. Not a handful of other screen writers manage to hit that sweet spot, but he does it more often than not. Plus, he’s writing for an HBO audience now which means the show won’t have to be dumbed down or cleaned up enough to be acceptable to the broadcast networks.

I’m not usually gushy about television, especially a show that hasn’t premiered yet, but I’m going into it wanting to like Newsroom. Come on, I can’t be the only person out there looking forward to seeing the news media through Sorkin’s slightly warped and monolog-ie perspective, right?