Friday, September 7, 2012

F, S, nudity, and the past (and present) of cable

So, the conventions are over--well done, empty chair!--and although the baseball pennant races are scorching hot, I still don't get, and have to rely on what ESPN and Fox deign to broadcast.  Which, this weekend, is Giants/Dodgers.  Can't wait for that: meanwhile fall movies always stink, and the fall TV season hasn't started yet. 

And that means, what?  It used to be, when I was young and callow, there were three main networks: channel 6, channel 8, and channel 13, plus also channel 4, where I got to watch The Popeye and Janie Show every day when I got home from school.  Channel 4 was my favorite, because Popeye and Janie was followed by Cowboy Bob, plus they showed Indiana basketball, and on weekends, showed Sammy Terry.  Ah, the halcyon days of youth, when TVs only had four channels and you had to change them by turning a knob!  ABC?  NBC? I didn't know about any of that stuff.  What I knew was channels. I didn't know Channel 4 was WTTV, for example, a local unaffiliated station. 

Popeye and Janie showed Hanna-Barbera cartoons, introduced by Janie, who was sweet and kind and did lame comedy bits in-between cartoons.  Sammy Terry was the host of a late night horror movie show, which my Mom wouldn't let me watch, which meant I could only watch it when we got a particularly gullible babysitter.  Cowboy Bob was Janie's co-host, then got his own show.  My gosh, those shows were probably awful, but I remember them with great fondness.  Four channels, and you also knew what channels your favorite shows were on.  Monday nights, for example, Mr. Terrific came on channel 6, and then, when it was over, you switched to channel 8 and watched Captain Nice.  Mr. Terrific was a superhero who, like Superman, could fly, but he had to flap his arms really fast to achieve liftoff.  His super powers came from a pill he took, which wore off after an hour, usually just as he was about to catch the bad guy.  Captain Nice could fly too, but didn't like to--he was afraid of heights; he was also weirdly attached to his Mother, who hand-sewed his costume. I tried to get my Mom to buy me Captain Nice pajamas, but she couldn't find them.  Captain Nice was played by William Daniels, who later became Dr. Craig on St. Elsewhere.  I would pay very large sums of money for DVDs of Mr. Terrific and Captain Nice, though I'm sure they were both incredibly lame.  I loved them inordinately when I was eleven. Broke my heart when they both got canceled the same year.  1967--I blame Lyndon Johnson. 

Then a friend of mine got cable--well, his family did--and suddenly he got more channels than 4.  That was really weird.

Now it works like this: the Big Three networks, NBC, CBS and ABC, now number four, Fox having crashed the party.  Fox does singing-contest shows, really dirty sitcoms, and sports--they're really good at football.  NBC does singing-contest shows, pretty funny sitcoms, and police procedurals.  CBS does sitcoms and police procedurals (especially the CSI, NCIS variety where the cops use science to capture the bad guys).  ABC does dancing-contest shows, plus Castle. Nobody on any network shows can say the F or S words, unless it's by a football player who just won the Super Bowl or something. 

USA and TNT have hour long dramas in which the actors can say the S word, but not the F word.  The shows are all pretty good; not Mad Men or Breaking Bad good, not mind-blowingly innovative, but solidly entertaining. Actresses on these shows wear short skirts and high heels, even if they're cops, and get involved in sexy situations, but there's never quite any nudity.  Burn Notice, for example, clearly has a second AD whose job it is to go around Miami getting bikini footage.  My wife and I have set the over/under on Burn Notice bikinis at 14. Per episode.

AMC shows hour long dramas that do, actually, reinvent TV as an artistic medium, like Breaking Bad and Mad Men.  They win every Emmy, every year.  When they're not doing that, they're showing old movies. They can say the S word, not the F word, and also don't allow nudity.  

The History Channel used to star Hitler; now they're more about the paranormal.  Sci-Fi channel unaccountably is now SyFy, and shows Warehouse 13

ESPN shows SportsCenter 28 times a day, as mandated by federal law.  They're also fond of shows in which retired jocks talk about sports a lot.  They also show auto racing and poker, neither of which is actually a sport.

HBO and Showtime also have new shows, in addition to the old movies that are their staple.  On their new series, they say the F word many times per episode, the S word almost as often, and every actress on their shows can count on four nude scenes per episode.  For all that, their shows are often really good, if you get them on Netflix so you can fast-forward the naughty bits.

There are also many many other channels.  Some of them show people selling things on TV.  Some show preachers talking about Jesus, unless they feature Joel Osteen, in which case they show a preacher talking about how Jesus wants you to have more money, which you apparently can achieve by sending Joel Osteen money.  Some of them are in Spanish.  GSN shows old game shows--worth watching for the awful hair styles.

VH-1 occasionally shows music videos, but mostly is about reality TV shows in which incredibly self-absorbed people act annoyingly.  MTV is entirely about reality TV shows in which ditto.  Neither network is really worth watching at all, ever.

Plus there are like twenty sports stations, showing football games between, like, Appalachian State and Georgia Valdosta.  Never ever worth watching, unless BYU football shows up there somehow.  BYU football is on every week during the season, but never on the same channel twice--you have to be vigilant.

We have so many options these days.  So many many options.

I miss Popeye and Janie.   



  1. Ah, the days of three channels! We had to get permission to watch TV, couldn't even turn it on unless Mom approved of what we wanted to watch. When the "approved" show was over, the TV got turned off.

    Long before the cable revolution, I remember when a friend got a *gasp* COLOR TELEVISION. The color was awful, mostly orange skin, but I was quite envious. And of course I'm showing my age, but I remember if you missed a show, you... missed it. No do-overs, unless you caught the lone re-run.

    As far as F, S, etc... I tend to be less offended by an obviously adult show throwing in a few of those, than the "family entertainment" shows that loudly and frequently bleep the disallowed word. Yes American Idol, I'm talking to you.

  2. I remember how excited Ro and I were when she started at Comcast and we got free premium HD cable. We even went out and bought a TV so we would have something to hook up the DVR to.

    Then we ended up watching only three shows: Castle, Bones, and My Little Pony. We had over 900 channels, and only 3 shows were worth watching.