When I was a kid, growing up south of Seattle, I watched a lot of TV.
Not just Saturday morning cartoons, but stuff like “60 Minutes” on the local CBS affiliate, KIRO (Channel 7), “Happy Days” (on KOMO, ABC’s Channel 4) and “The Rockford Files”, which ran on the area’s oldest station, KING 5, NBC. I even used to stay up late to watch re-runs of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” on the PBS affiliate, Channel 9. [And to this day, I am convinced that EVERY PBS station runs on Channel 9, regardless of what city you live in.]
But my favorite channel had to be the independent Channel 11, KSTW, especially after my brother and I would get home from school. Every other channel ran soap operas or local talk shows or the news during the day; stuff that would bore me senseless. But I knew that as soon as I busted through our front door, Channel 11 would have something for me.
Keep in mind that this was back in the pre-cable, VERY pre-Netflix days when, if you got six channels, you felt like the entire world of TV was coming into your living room. There weren’t channels devoted just to re-runs of NBC’s Wednesday night lineup from 8 to 10 p.m. between 1965 and 1968. No, our options were way more limited.
Channel 11, however, was a godsend. For my brother and I, Channel 11 was the source of our introduction to everything from “M*A*S*H” to “Leave It To Beaver” to “Hogan’s Heroes” to “The Brady Bunch”. From 3 until 6 p.m., We got an education in television that wasn’t that old, but to our grade-school minds, might as well have come from the 19th century. Because, as anyone who has been nine knows, anything older than 10 years old is prehistoric.
As great as all that old TV was, we were still beholden to Channel 11’s schedule. If we missed that episode of “Gilligan’s Island” where The Skipper hit Gilligan on the head with his hat [OK, that was EVERY episode] at 4 o’clock, we were screwed. There was no way to see it again, until Channel 11 re-ran the re-run, which would be months away, if we were lucky.
And chances were we wouldn’t see that episode again for another year. That’s because twice a year, like clockwork, in the spring and the fall, Channel 11 would completely upend its schedule. Come September, out went Gilligan and in came “The Partridge Family”, where it would remain in daily rotation until the following March. We didn’t like it, but we got used to the new shows soon enough. And we lived with it.
I got to thinking about how watching TV used to be when, a couple of mornings ago, my four-year-old daughter, Maddo, got up early to see me off to work and proceeded to throw a Defcon 5-level conniption fit when she discovered that Disney Jr. had moved “The Little Mermaid” out of the 5:30 a.m. slot where it had been for months. You would have thought I had just burned her zebra blankie right there in front of her in the middle of her Honey Nut Cheerios.
“DADDY! Where did ARIEL GO?” [For those without kids, or who have never been subjected to the Disney Jr. channel, Ariel is the real name of the Little Mermaid.]
I tried to tell her that “3rd and Bird” was now on, and that “The Little Mermaid” had been moved to a different time. Trying to explain to a four-year-old at 5:30 in the morning how a TV network changes its programming schedule from time to time, and often without notice, went about as well as you could imagine.
“Well, Sweetie, “The Little Mermaid” isn’t on right now, but “3rd and Bird” is and you like that!”
“NOOOOO, DAAAAAAAADEEEEE! I LOVE ARIEL!”
Again, I tried to tell that, because of the schedule, Ariel wasn’t on right now. She would have to watch “3rd and Bird”, but she was having none of it. And then I remembered that we have a DVR.
I quickly scanned through Disney Jr.’s upcoming programming and found “Ariel” at 11 a.m. and set it up to record the series. I figured I could start getting episodes chambered up so that, come the next morning, I could put Ariel on and all would be well. She wasn’t happy that she had to wait, and by the time I walked out the front door, she was still a sobbing mess.
Why she was this way was simple. She is growing up in a different TV world than I did. Maddo may only be four years old, but already she knows the awesomeness of Netflix. When she and her sister, three-year-old Little Sis come home, the first words out of her mouth are often, “Can I watch [fill in the blank here] on Netflix?” She doesn’t know what a TV schedule is, or means. She just knows that when she comes home, Netflix is there and so are all the episodes of “H20 Just Add Water”, “Sky Dancers” and “Eloise” that she could ever hope for. There’s no waiting involved.
And when one episode is done, she’s ready for another. I go back to the Apple TV and bring up whatever’s next. It might be another “H20” or it might be “Pochahontas” for the 837th time. All she knows is that daddy can make it happen.
It’s all about control. That’s what Kevin Spacey said in a recent speech in Edinburgh, Scotland. Spacey knows of what he speaks; he was recently nominated for an Emmy for lead actor in TV drama for his part in “House Of Cards”…Which is a Netflix original and exclusive series and you should check out immediately. Netflix made all 13 episodes available at once, and continues to do so with all of its original shows such as “Orange Is The New Black” and “Derek”. Spacey’s speech was probably the most-direct statement summarizing why TV is changing and why my daughter will grow up in a world where the TV schedules I knew as a kid will seem as antiquated as that 19-inch Sony Trinitron my parents had, and which we had to drag ourselves off the sofa and across the living room to change the channel. It should go down as the Gettysburg Address of the TV industry.
“The audience wants the control. They want the freedom,” Spacey said. “And through this new form of distribution, we have demonstrated that we have learned the lesson that the music industry didn’t learn: Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in.”
Freedom. My kids can start watching something on Netflix, or Hulu right now and if I want to take over the TV to watch my Beloved Seattle Mariners lose [again], I can hand them my iPad and they can keep watching from that device. Actually, in the name of keeping the peace, I often end up watching my Beloved Seattle Mariners lose [again] on the iPad more than my daughters watch anything they want.
Thanks to the DVR and streaming services like Netflix, the TV schedule will be a thing of the past. Give them a few more years, and when my girls get home from school, they won’t have to worry about missing anything they want on TV. Or on their iPads. Or on whatever device comes next. There will be no waiting for Ariel whenever the girls demand she appear. And that will be one less thing for them to cry about.
For me, in the lonely wasteland of northern Vancouver Island, my respite from the earnest blandness of Canadian TV was KVOS, proudly broadcasting the Bradies, Get Smart, Gilligan and the Partridges from Orcas Island, the only US station we could receive via chimney-top antenna. And whenever you feel weary of programming Tevo, remember that daddy’s job back then was to climb up on the roof and rotate the antenna during the howling rainstorm so the family didn’t miss another grainy minute of Star Trek.