As the fall television season gets under way, I am struck by how many television choices we now have. When I started working full-time in 1975, there was a total of seven VHF television channels available to me each evening. There may have also been some UHF channels that you could tune in with that bow-tie wire hanger antenna that came with your TV, but who watched them?
In the 1980s, we added a bunch of cable channels like CNN, ESPN, MTV, C-SPAN, HBO, Cinemax and Showtime. We also added VCRs that allowed us to not only record television shows, but also buy cassettes of old shows. Later, more cable channels came aboard and we added Bravo, Lifetime, Hallmark, Disney and many others. Then came DVDs, and more television viewing choices. Just about every movie and television show ever made became available. Still later, the Internet came along and added Internet television like Netflix, YouTube, Ustream, Amazon Prime and Crackle.
We are now to the point where there are literally thousands of choices when we want to watch television. Missed the first season of Burn Notice? It’s available on Amazon Prime. Want to see Kevin Spacey’s new series, House of Cards It’s available on Netflix. Want to watch comedy? YouTube has 201 different channels.
Because of the bonanza that content producers have experienced selling DVDs of throwaways like Car 54 Where Are You? and My Mother The Car, there is almost no movie or television show that is not available for viewing. So when I had a hankering to see Burke’s Law, one of my favorite shows from the 1960s, it took just a few clicks on Amazon to order the DVDs.
There are some shows that for copyright or other reasons are not commercially available. But even these shows can be found if you are persistent. When I wanted to see the 1950s show, The Millionaire, I found someone on the Internet selling DVDs of shows that were taped off of a television, complete with commercials. The quality is not optimal, but I can now watch John Beresford Tipton give Michael Anthony a cashier’s check for a million dollars to give away to some unsuspecting soul.
So now when I switch on the television, the choices are so far beyond what they were in 1975 that there is a danger of television dominating all of my leisure time to the exclusion of reading, listening to music or having some social interaction with friends and family. Add to that, the time spent surfing the Web at places like Facebook and Twitter, and it’s easy to see why as social media grows, we are increasingly anti-social.
We just don’t have time for real human interaction any more. Baby Boomers grew up with television. The first issue of TV Guide came out the week I was born. So we have a natural affinity for television. The trick will be to avoid getting lost in the wonderland of content that is now suddenly available to us. It will be a challenge, but I’m determined. How about a nice game of chess?