Thursday, May 20, 2010

Watching TV

My spouse and I were watching the final episode of FlashForward this evening. We know it's cancelled, we get why, but we'd watched the whole series so we figured we might as well stick around for the last episode. Somewhere around the last 30 seconds, our DVR tuned in to another channel to record something we'd programmed in, so we missed the final events. We looked at one another for a second and then he said, "I'm sure someone will tell me how it ended." I replied, barely looking up from my computer, "Just Hulu it." Then it dawned on me that television viewing has changed in ways we never could have imagined, and will never be the same.

When I was a child, television was in its infancy, and tv shows were events. Series television was a one shot deal; you caught it or you didn't, and if you didn't you hoped to see it in summer reruns. There was no way to record it, no way to see it again if you really liked it. Good shows or good episodes lived on only in memory, and in the resulting discussions about them. Later, syndication revived some of the more popular shows, and if your favorite was a hit show, you could watch them in syndication. Ad infinitum. The Honeymooners played in syndication for years; I Married Joan not so much.

Movies on television were my favorite. Each week, when the TV Guide came, I would flip to the back to see what movies were playing that week, excited if I found one of my favorites. I scanned quickly for a well-loved horror movie, or one of my cherised Bette Davis movies. It was such a treat. I learned the fine art of synopsis from those TV Guides too. The one or two sentences next to each movie title gave me enough information to know whether or not I'd be tuning in, and a little of what I could expect. Kids today don't have this valuable resource at their disposal anymore. I guess that's why, when I ask them to give me a brief synopsis, I get the whole story. They just don't have the skill.

There are a couple of movie shows that I recall lovingly from my past. Channel 7's 4:30 movie, on every afternoon at...wait for it...4:30. The Early Show, whose theme song,o "The Syncopated Clock" played while the screen showed a clock in a bell jar, came on at 8:00 pm on some local channel. There was the Late Show (with the same theme song as The Early Show) and it's followup, The Late Late Show (hey, I didn't say they were imaginative) which would be over somewhere around 3 am. And the piece de resistance, The Million Dollar Movie, on Channel 9. That was the best, cause they'd show the same movie all week, and all day on Sunday. I watched Rodan eight times in one week, and cried every time they killed the monster.

The Channel 7 4:30 movie would have theme weeks. Western, Love Stories, Horror and Science Fiction. I really looked forward to the Horror weeks, and the Sci Fi as well. Great old cheesy movies like The H Man or The Giant Behemoth would keep me out of my mom's hair while she cooked dinner. I loved those afternoons.

The real events were the big movie releases to television. Saturday Night at the Movies was the show that would hook you up with the most recent movies to television, and it was a big deal when they'd announce their fall schedule. Sometimes, a big movie was such a big deal that people would gather at someone's house to have a viewing party. We looked forward to those shows, and celebrated those television releases just as much as if we were attending a Hollywood premiere.

Television has become something entirely different now. We record; we DVR, we Tivo, we Hulu. Television is at our disposal now, not something we must rearrange our schedules for. The technology finally works for us.

Except this Sunday.

This coming Sunday is the series finale for Lost, and it feels like those old Saturday Night at the Movies days all over again. People are buzzing; parties are being planned. My husband has already suggested we call for a pizza so I don't have to cook. Once again, if only for one night, television will be an event, and the kids will understand its power.

I can't wait.