Thursday, January 31, 2008

Joyner in HDTV high cotton

My buddy at Outside the Beltway suggests that declining ratings at Fox News are due to the network's "inexplicable failure to offer a high-definition (HDTV) broadcast":
It had been quite some time since I’d watched cable news, since I find the Internet much more efficient for information gathering, but I finally turned back to it for the New Hampshire returns and was shocked to find that Fox was still broadcasting in standard def, which looks especially bad on a large screen plasma. I switched over to CNN, which has a crystal-clear hi-def signal, and never flipped back.

And since he tried shade-grown, hand-picked, organic Guatemalan dark roast, he's never gone back to Chase & Sanborn, either.

Looking back, I've always been underinvested -- to the point of near-obsolescence -- in consumer electronics.

For 20+ years, I've generally had little time for (and perhaps unusually low interest in) watching TV, and certainly have never become a connoisseur of superior electronic performance.

I've almost always worked nights, so I'm seldom home to watch prime-time. Popular series (e.g. "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Ally McBeal," "The Sopranos," "24") would be all the rage for years, and I'd only know the shows by reputation, or perhaps seeing the actors and actresses show up as guests on "Letterman," etc.

Being a sort of involuntary guinea pig in a two-decade TV-deprivation experiment, I think I can offer a few general assertions:
  • The more you watch TV, the more you enjoy it.
TV-viewing is a type of skill, or perhaps a habit. The regular viewer develops customs and rituals, he learns to wield the remote adeptly, he can switch between programs or skip commercials with a deft flick of his thumb. Those who rarely view TV don't have that "groove," and sometimes cannot easily relax and enjoy a show.
  • The cleverness of recent TV shows is completely overrated.
The characters are flat, the plots predictable, the dialogue cliched, the productions unrealistic overall. I hear people (including my wife) rave about shows like "Desperate Housewives" or "Grey's Anatomy," then when I finally get a chance to watch an episode, my reaction is invariably, "How could anyone possibly enjoy this crap? I was writing better dialogue when I was a freshman in high school!"

I attribute this differential reaction to my spending decades immersed in a text career, avoiding TV, while my acquaintances -- through steady viewing of TV -- had their tastes and perceptions molded by that experience.

Slightly related: I have one genuinely intelligent friend, about 40, who can cite from memory the plots of entire episodes of atrocious '70s/'80s sitcoms like "The Facts of Life." My advice that he retroactively file suit against his parents for child neglect has so far gone unheeded. That anyone should have part of their memory cells clogged with such anti-knowledge strikes me as a species of irreversible brain damage.
  • Regular TV viewing cultivates an appetite for novelty.
My kids hate me because, despite our family's extensive collection of DVDs, I delight in watching certain favorites over and over. If I've gone more than a year or so without watching "Patton," I'll pop it in the DVD player and watch it again, enjoying it just as much as when I saw it in the theater at age 10. When ordering DVD's from NetFlix, however, my wife and kids never, ever pick some classic flick from the past. It's always new, new, new, and never mind how wretched, wretched, wretched.
  • Commercials are unbearable for the non-regular viewer.
Those two or three minutes of waiting for the story to continue -- it just drives me nuts. Wasted time, and hectored by some fool chattering on about a product in which I have no interest. My wife gets upset if I switch channels during a commercial -- I'm paying a cable TV bill, and when I watch TV, I want to watch actual programming -- but my wife can't stand the thought that, before I switch back to the original show, she might have missed a setup shot and a few sentences of dialogue.

Well, those are a few general assertions. It's not a snob at all. I actually like watching TV, and I'm sure if I had time to watch more of it, I'd find more of it that I'd enjoy. And my assertions about this subject are by no means original.

I was heavily influenced by media theorists Neil Postman ("Amusing Ourselves To Death") and Sven Birkerts ("The Gutenberg Elegies") -- and anyone could probably buy their both of those books off Amazon for less than the cost of a new DVD.

No one actually will do that, but you could.

Testing 1-2-3. Is this thing on?

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