We have Comcast Digital Cable at home and DirecTV at our cabin in Sewanee. Between the two of them, I reckon that makes about 500 channels of crap. In a moment of navel-gazing, I wondered if cable has possibly taken over my free time.
The answer is, of course, yes. But at least with TiVo, it doesn’t have to happen during real time. And it is understandable considering my history with cable TV. Allow me to elucidate. (Or hell, don’t. Here’s a link to a Jessica Alba site if you’d rather. You’re welcome.)
The first contact I ever had with something like cable was when channel 17 in Nashville was basically Ted Turner’s TBS. It was all Braves and all-Gomer Pyle all the time. In the mid 70’s Ted signed free agent pitcher Andy Messersmith. The dude’s name was so long that it took up the whole back of his jersey, with the “M” on his left shoulder, “essersmit” across his back and the “H” on his right shoulder. It looked horrible and baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in and demanded that the Braves do something to fix the ridiculous sight. Turner refused to shrink his font, so commissioner Kuhn suggested that Messersmith put a nickname on the back of his uniform.
Remember, this was 1976 when the league was full of real characters with foot-high afros and flashy gold chains. Some teams had enough different uniforms to field an entire starting lineup of Geranimals combinations and the Chicago White Sox even had uniforms with short pants. (Bad, bad idea.) Lots of players were using their nicknames instead of their real names on the back of their jerseys, so Turner and Messersmith went along. Ted declared that Andy’s new nickname would be “Channel” and his new jersey number would be 17. After a few starts with that ridiculous billboard for TBS on his back, Messersmith just changed his jersey name to “Andy.” But the Ted Turner marketing legend was born.
The first person I knew with honest-to-God Viacom cable was my high school girlfriend. She had the cable box which was about the size of the yellow pages and sat on top of the TV with a dial that had 23 channels on it. No remote. Not many choices. Really expensive. But man, was it awesome! I remember falling asleep on her couch and waking up to ESPN and the sound of a foreign accent saying, “And that’s a rollicking uppercut to the chops!”
“Oh cool, a boxing match,” I expected as I opened my eyes. Nope, this was early ESPN and they didn’t quite have the same inventory as they have now. What I saw was some strange combination of rugby, football and “Smear the Queer” which I now recognize as Australian Rules Football. But then I had no idea what I was watching and I was fascinated. It was the first time I ever got kicked out of the room by a woman I was dating for fixating on ESPN instead of her. It was not the last time, unfortunately.
Early 80’s MTV also suffered from the same sort of limited inventory. Rod Stewart had about half the videos in rotation, but it was worth it to see Martha Quinn. Later, I would plan my whole week around scheduled showings of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” mega-video. That guy really has disappointed me.
The years from 1981-1984 was all about seeing boobies on TV. We had a Betamax, and there were only about five Beta videos at Lion’s Head video. So we rented them over and over again. “Young Frankenstein,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Stripes,” “Up in Smoke” and “Life of Brian.” I guess that probably explains a lot about me and my warped sense of humor.
But back to boobies. They were fairly limited in this small video selection, but of course we knew exactly where they were. For consistent boobage, we had to turn to our two premium channels, HBO and Showtime. God bless John Byner and the “Bizarre” show! He was always good for a naughty nurse skit or two every week. And as a bonus, we got to see Super Dave Osborne run into stuff and break some bones. From a droll humor standpoint, I always preferred the “Dave Allen Show” over Benny Hill, but the partial frontal nudity was quite a trump card for a 16-year old.
HBO movies provided grown-up entertainment for me and my friends as well, but occasionally with embarrassing results. I was sitting on the couch with my girlfriend’s father (you know him, Busy Mom) watching “Kentucky Fried Movie” on HBO while she took a shower before we went out on a date. It was uncomfortable enough to watch some of the potty humor with him, but then the clincher came on. It was a short trailer for a mythical film called “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble.” Two minutes of utter debauchery including three naked girls getting whipped by a dwarf and (oh joy!) another nubile young lass getting ravaged in, you guessed it, the shower. When his sweet young Catholic daughter emerged after her ablutions, she wondered why her father was so pissed and suspicious of me. I had her home by 9:30 that night. I won’t post that clip here, but if you want to see what sort of trouble I was in, go here.
1985-1989 In college. No money=no cable. I missed out on the Paula Abdul MTV years, apparently.
When I got out of college, I had to start paying for cable on my own for the first time. So the DogDoc and I made watching cable an additional full-time job to go along with bartending, playing in a cover band and chasing waitresses. Since we spent so much time watching TV, I had to substitute reality TV for reality. That’s when I got hooked on the Real World and Road Rules. “Hi, I’m CeeElCee, and I have a reality TV problem.” I think my addiction to Road Rules comes from the fact that I should have been a contestant, but I was too old by the time it started. “Amazing Race” still awaits me.
1995-1997 was spent watching TNT or whatever the hell channel “American Gladiators” was on. I had no interest in competing on that one, but watching it passed as exercise for me.
1998-2002 were the golden years which I spent focusing on the Oilers/Titans before they started to suck. Saturday college and Sunday pro football made for an easy way to schedule a weekend.
As our 75 year old Craftsman Bungalow started to slowly fall down around us, RUABelle and my viewing habits turned to Home and Garden and TLC. Somehow procrastinating tasks around the house by watching other people fix up their domiciles made us feel better. I do have an envelope full of Home Depot receipts, but I’m not exactly sure what we did with any of that stuff.
Fast forward to today, and the favorite channels around the old Cee household are Fine Living and the Food Network. So now instead of watching other people do remodeling projects while we sit on our asses, we watch other people cook, eat and travel while we sit on our asses. I think that’s progress.
Where are we headed? There’s no doubt in my mind. I figure I’m about five years away from becoming an inveterate Weather Channel watcher. What with all the hurricanes, winter storms and Joe Cantore, it’s already some of the most compelling programming on television.
I’ve heard that the Weather Channel is considered “MTV for old people.” Funny, I always thought that VH1 was supposed to take that space. I guess there’s no room for videos what with the “Surreal Life” and “Celebrity Fit Club.” Maybe I can watch somebody else lose weight while I sit around on my ass.
Pass the Doritos.