I monitor what my kids watch fairly stringently. I look things up on commonsensemedia.org and have vetoed a couple of shows on the grounds that they’re inappropriate. I feel like a troll policing them so rigorously but there’s so much more television now. We have satellite, and for example you could, if you were so inclined, watch SpongeBob from dawn until dusk. There’s an East coast and a West coast feed of Nickelodeon, which means that SpongeBob starts at 6 a.m. ET, and goes off at 9 a.m. ET. At 9 ET, the West coast feed starts up and runs for three hours. When the West coast morning feed ends, the East coast afternoon feed starts up. Seriously—All. Fucking. Day. I actually put my foot down and flat out banned that irritating little anthropomorphic rectangle of cellulose.
I despise this asshole
My kids never miss a show, either, because they can set up anything to record at any time of the day or night. It used to be that if you wanted to watch “Donny & Marie” or “Gimme a Break!” you made sure you were home when the show was on. It sounds sad to say we planned our lives around the TV schedule, but to some extent we did. Somehow it doesn’t seem sad to me, because it meant that those shows were special—we weren’t just staring at whatever happened to be in front of our eyes, which is often what my kids appear to be doing. They don’t really care that much about watching “Austin & Ally” or “The Amazing World of Gumball.” They’re just watching it because it happens to be on. They may have picked it, but it was picked from a list of perhaps five other shows. It’s almost like they pick the thing they don’t want to watch least, if that makes any sense (“I don’t want to watch ‘Kickin’ It,’ I don’t want to watch ‘Lab Rats,’ I don’t want to watch ‘Adventuretime’…guess I’ll watch ‘The Regular Show’ since there’s nothing else on.” If there’s nothing you really want to watch just turn off the fucking TV).
They also never miss any part of a show. Thanks to the pause button, they can stop a show at any point, and start it back up where they left off. Never will they know the stress of trying to hurry up and pee because there’s someone yelling from the room with the TV, “The show’s back! Hurry up!” I’m convinced that the people who scheduled the commercials figured out how long it takes the average person to go to the bathroom, and made it so the commercial break was one 30 second spot short of that window.
With the DVR and fast forward, watching commercials is also a thing of the past. With the possible exception of the Super Bowl, people don’t really seem watch them anymore. When we were kids, commercials even played a role in influencing our vernacular. Who didn’t imitate Clara Peller, saying, “Where’s the beef?” at least once between 1984 and about 1990? Other than shit like Stompeez and Stufeez (and may I say that I don’t know who invented those things, but I hate that person or people with the blinding heat of a thousand fiery suns), a few lame toys, and (oddly) ads for insurance companies, there don't really seem to be that many commercials on the shows my kids watch. Mostly they air promos for upcoming shows on the same network. Or, if it’s Disney XD, a video of the cast members of every single Disney XD show singing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” which never fails to embed an earworm in my brain that takes days for me to get rid of. So, you know, thanks for that Disney XD.
They’ll never dig the TV guide out of the Sunday paper to see what’s going to be on this week. The TV guide may, in fact, have been the whole reason you got the newspaper on Sunday. That way you knew what the ABC Afterschool Special would be on Wednesday, and when the football game was on. TV guide had the most comically simplistic crossword puzzles in the history of crossword puzzles with clues like “a four letter word for ‘an accessory to hold up pants.’” My kids have never seen a paper TV guide. They know only the onscreen satellite guide that they can access with our remote.
Or you could look in the paper. Notice all the channel listings fit on a single broadsheet page.
They will also never know the pain of not being able to receive a channel. Where we lived there was a channel 20 (which is, of course, on UHF, which is another concept they’ll never understand—a TV set with two channel dials), the transmitter for which was on the other side of a tall high rise building that just happened to be on the corner of our block. The building blocked our reception of channel 20, which of course was the channel that showed cartoons like “Kimba the White Lion” and “Speed Racer” after school. I didn’t realize until I was an adult and bought a couple of “Speed Racer” DVDs for my kids just how astonishingly lame that show was. The closest my kids will come to this is that our satellite package doesn’t include The Game Show Channel or something (not that they care about The Game Show Channel, but if I told them it existed, and we didn’t get it, they would, in the way of children, be outraged at being denied access to it).
My kids won’t have the option to watch a favorite show on a different channel owned by the same network, but then, they probably won’t have the need, either. Sometimes our local station would be showing something else in place of one of our favorite shows. My mom and I were devoted to “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island” every Saturday night (no, we didn’t get out much). Occasionally our local ABC station would be showing something else—I don’t know, a Jerry Lewis telethon or something. In a pinch, we could watch ABC on the Baltimore channel (which, surprisingly we got, even though we couldn’t get channel 20, which was four miles away as the crow flies off of River Road—go figure). So we could watch, but it was a bit unsatisfying. Sure, we got to see this week’s episode with Guest Stars Barbi Benton and Charo, along with Gopher and Isaac Your Bartender, but it always looked as though there was an unlikely blizzard on the Mexican Riviera because of all the static. Channels don’t preempt regular programing as much as they did back in the day.
Of course, TV is now 24/7 and there are 984 channels. There’s no such thing as “not on the air” which means that the national anthem playing at 2 a.m., or turning on the TV on Sunday morning and seeing a test pattern don’t ever happen. If my kids wanted to get up at 4 a.m. and watch SpongeBob, they could. Which again to me seems to take some of the “specialness” away from TV. My generation was the one for which TV became a given, but for my kids’ generation, it’s the one for which it will become completely taken for granted, just another dementedly jabbering block of plastic that takes up space in our homes.
I guess where I’m going with this is that I think it’s kind of sad that TV has no magic for my kids. They can watch whatever, whenever. As a perfect example, take “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in my house. When I was a kid, once a year Dolley Madison (or possibly Mounds and Almond Joy) would sponsor its airing on CBS, and my dad and I would watch it religiously. We checked the TV guide to find out when it would be showing and when it came on, by god we watched. Now we own it on DVD, and if they were allowed (THEY ARE NOT) my kids could watch it any time during the year, and 450 times between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and completely ruin it for themselves by overexposure. This is why I have it hidden where they can’t get at it and only pull it out on Christmas Eve, when we watch it as a family. Once per season, the way God and Charles Schultz intended.