April 27, 1997

May I Have My Television Back?

Okay, you may be detecting a theme in many of these columns by now. No, Iím not going to harp on the JonBenet Ramsey case. (Okay, just one thing Ė did you see her parents put up $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killers? Some cynics see this as just a ploy by the parents to make sure they make some money off their daughterís death should one of them crack and turn the other in Ö but I digress.)

The theme is television. Itís my business, sure. But Iím not talking behind the scenes stuff this week. Instead, Iím upset at what I see on my screen.

Or rather, whatís left of my screen.

See, about 40 percent of my television screen is covered with ratings bugs, network logos, sports tickers, stock tips, weather forecast, and advertisements. Mind you, this is during the programming!

ESPN is an especially egregious offender. On ESPN2, they actually shrink the main action on the screen so they can run a constantly updated score ticker along the bottom of the screen. Mind you, this shrinkage is noticeable, since every time they go to a commercial break, they "unshrink" the main picture to fill the full screen. Itís also fun watching hockey players compete in "shrinky" scale on ESPN2, while a game shown on ESPN is resplendent in its relatively lanky glory. For fun, I switch back and forth between the two, while explaining to befuddled friends "See, ESPN2 is covering the 5-foot and under hockey competition." Itís ugly when every player on the screen looks scrunched up like Theoren Fluery. (Hockey joke! Heís a short player, see Ö)

Now that ESPN has a third channel, ESPN News, with its own sports ticker, maybe theyíll give us a break with the ESPN2 score ticker. Of course, ESPN News is currently seen in about 38 homes nationwide. Maybe youíre in one of them? My friend Cary is Ė he lives in Glendale and heís got the best cable system in the entire world. I feel like copying his channel listing guide, and sending it to my cable company with a note saying, "See? This is how you do it Ö"

My cable system offers three channels of Armenian Home Shopping, while Cary gets the Sci-Fi channel, TV Land, ESPN (1, 2, News), Fox Sports West (1, and crucially for Dodger fans, 2), and many more. I console myself by watching the Belarusian Religious Programming offered by TCI.

Back to "bugs," as theyíre called in the biz. Itís not uncommon these days for about 10 things to be happening at the start of a TV show. First, thereís the all-important rating bug. You know, TV-PG, TV-PG, TV-Y7, etc. (You also know how I feel about this lame-ass system if youíve read my previous columns.) Then thereís the stereo or surround sound indicator. Letís not forget the animated network logo. And the closed captioning logo. Thatís all four corners of the screen, folks. What happened to the program? Can we see that, too?

I know ratings would jump if some network would promise not to intrude with all that junk jumping on and off the screen during programming. Maybe it will parallel the whole smoking on airlines thing, where one company decides to ban it altogether, and eventually, the others follow. I can only hope. Those bugs are really starting to Ö annoy me. (Sorry, a "bug" gag was just too obvious.)

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Colin Campbell - jenolen@earthlink.net
Last updated April 27, 1997