Not What, But How, to Watch

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This is my newest TV, all 18 inches of it. Why yes, that is a VCR underneath it.

I was not particularly paying attention to the conversation at work the other day until Gilly spoke up: “All we had to choose from was three channels,” she said.

She was speaking, of course, of television, and she made this remark in response to Kara and James, who were probably discussing sharing passcodes for different streaming services. Something that had to do with getting television in probably a rather illicit manner.

I’m there with Gilly: back in my day there were three channels. And, as she pointed out, no remote. We had to walk uphill, both ways, five miles, to change channels manually on the television set. Which sometimes was black and white. Can you sense how very deprived we were back then?

I don’t know what three channels Gilly had access to, in her British homeland, but here in Ancient Gunnison we could get ABC, CBS and NBC. The notion of other channels wasn’t even a notion at all. Had you teleported young me to this future that is currently the present, I could hardly have imagined it.

It was a big deal even getting PBS into town. My parents participated in a multitude of fund-raisers to bring “Educational TV” to our deprived area. It probably arrived about the same time as Sesame Street, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year while simultaneously mourning the loss of the heart and soul of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.

[Caroll Spinney, who for almost all of those 50 years managed both Muppets, recently died, and here are interesting factoids to go along with that: he died on the same day as Odo (actor Rene Auberjonois) of Deep Space Nine; and his apprentice who is now Big Bird is a man whose last name is Vogel, which is German for “bird.” That’s fun, hm?]

I was too young to feel much deprived without my fix of Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood before E-TV arrived in Gunnison, but as a young adult I felt very left out when Fox launched a network and everyone in the country started talking about Bart Simpson. All I knew of the show was what I saw on t-shirts. I never really did develop an affinity for Bart and his family, not even after they — finally — arrived in Gunnison.

I suppose I ought to be grateful for this lack of TV channels, and not for reasons that would sound good, like: it forced me outside, where I learned to love nature and exercise. No, my less-than-high-minded reason is that when Paramount debuted its network (also not available in Gunnison) and featured a new Star Trek series (Voyager, which ultimately turned out to be rather awful), we could only access it via videotapes smuggled into town via some obliging mules.

This resulted in a tape-passing network, operated right under the noses of the good citizens of Gunnison on Main Street, first through the book store and then through Pat’s Screen Printing. That I worked first at the book store and then at Pat’s Screen Printing is entirely coincidental. Nothing to see here; move along.

What not having UPN available as a local option did was nothing short of providing my entire network of friends. This tape passing served as the genesis of the Holy Order of Qapla, and the people I met or reaffirmed my association with through this group are still my friends. Even if everyone is responsible for their own TV viewing now.

And let’s just discuss this TV viewing, which rarely seems to be done on a television set anymore.

Most Thursdays I have a coast-to-soon-to-be-coast lunch with my HOQ friends, one of whom is in D.C., one near Chicago, one in Greeley and soon one in California. From time to time, as befits as group that coalesced around television, someone has a TV program recommendation. But every recommendation comes from a different streaming service.

Now, while I was once on the vanguard of television, back when there were three-four channels, this is no longer the case. I don’t even know that I was technically part of a vanguard then, because my TVs were always small, no stereo sound, sometimes still even black and white. (I completely missed the joke in one M*A*S*H episode because they dyed everything red, and all I saw was gray.) But I was always up on my episodic television, a religious adherent of TV Guide and pretty fair trivia player.

Now I have no idea what’s on any channel, including the original three, never understood pay-per-view or on-demand services, and only sort of grasp this concept of streaming. Lynn, much more with the times than I, has an Amazon Prime account, and she uses this to watch PBS shows that she could also see with our Dish subscription. (She calls it Poldark; I call it “Brooding by the Sea.”)

So it took probably a year after Fred recommended The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel before we gave it a try. And then we could watch the entire “season,” a word I use loosely, although it might make Gilly feel right at home since British shows seem content that six episodes constitute an entire season, in one big binge. Or over the course of at least three weeks, which is how long it takes me to watch six episodes of any show whether it’s available via streaming or not.

But since then Fred has recommended other shows on services we don’t get, like Netflix. Matt likes shows that ought to appear where I can see them, except that CBS decided it could make more money offering some of its content on a subscription rather than over its regular air. “All Access” if you want to pay cash. Now Joe is touting some show that comes from HBO. Add in Hulu and Sling and NBC Gold, which Lynn does pay for so that I can watch some of my Grand Tour bike races (but not all of them — that requires a subscription to Fubo) and now Disney Plus, Philo, Youtube TV, Crackle . . . James Corden did a joke about this one night and threw in some random words, guaranteeing his audience they wouldn’t even know which ones he made up.

Each of these services likes to tout its low cost. I believe CBS All Access is $6 per month. Prime works out to $10. Netflix is probably about the same. But by the time I pay $10 per streaming service so that I can watch each of the shows recommended by Fred, Matt and Joe, I am back to the 100-plus dollars that marked the point at which I could no longer stomach paying for the full range of Dish channels and scaled back to about a quarter of the channels for half the price. (I believe we’ve established I’m never very good at math.)

Life may not have been better, back in the dark ages when Gilly and I could only watch three channels each, but it certainly was easier. And far less expensive.

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