Plugged in and plugged up

By Deborah Salomon

Note: The following stands in memoriam for bygone Octobers, when three of the four TV networks debuted new seasons which, except for Christmas specials, ran until May.

Roku. Hulu. Sling. Philo. Fubu. Xumo.

Are these dialects spoken by aboriginal tribes living on remote Pacific islands?

Is Netflix a percussion instrument made from bamboo?

Did you know an Apple app is coming to your Mac?

Dare you cringe at sly ads that link Sling-ing to swinging?

Here’s what I resent: Most “quality” TV entertainment has been commandeered by services that require abandoning cable and signing up for something that may or, as you discover too late, may not carry clandestine favorites. Mine is Ancient Aliens, where a science guy with long, greasy curls professes that Martians with elongated heads engineered the pyramids.

What a relief from non-stop COVID-19 stats.

In addition, my 12-year-old Panasonic flat screen of modest but adequate proportions requires an appendage in order to Sling — as well as a technician to attach it. And a very patient teacher to explain the workings.

That’s OK. I’ve still got The Sopranos and Homeland on demand — superb. Also, some cheesy channel that runs The Golden Girls and Everybody Loves Raymond continuously.

Go ahead . . . laugh. Those are two of the best-written sitcoms ever, after All in the Family and Sex and the City. As for streaming award-winning The Handmaid’s Tale, no thanks. I read the book. I saw the movie (filmed in part on the Duke campus). No offense, but this English major (taught in toto on the Duke campus) judges anything Atwood an assignment, not entertainment.

The new quality TV, alas, has gone the way of Oreos: permutations galore, subjected to hard sell. Resisters feel out of the loop, lowbrow, left awash in New Amsterdam and CSI: Los Angeles. Ahoy, Anderson Cooper, Ari Melber, Joe Scarborough, Alex Trebek. I will not abandon you to Sling with anybody. Because that’s how the ante-up works. First came cable upgrades like HBO and Showtime, whose offerings reveled in F and S words. Then On Demand. Now, the arbiters insist we abandon our current service which provides 200 channels, 165 of which broadcast junk, and sign onto HullaBallo, or whatever, when all I want is ACC basketball.

Lest you think me a hopeless old fuddy-duddy, I learned, early on, exactly how TV operates.

Summers during college I worked as a uniformed and well-trained tour guide at NBC Studios, Rockefeller Center. In the 1950s this and the United Nations tour were musts for out-of-towners. One of the stops on the hour-long “studio” tour was a wall-sized display, with moving parts (controlled by a hand-held clicker), of how TV works: The picture is broken into dots (electrons), which are transmitted tower-to-tower and reassembled on home screens. This involved cathode ray tubes, therefore the early nickname for a TV set: tube.

It was almost rocket science. I was so proud.

Now, all is digital, which sounds related to fingers, but isn’t. Now, screens are so big and picture quality so hi-def that popcorn seems outdated. Sushi, anyone?

Now, made-for-streaming movies and series gobble up all the Emmys. Viewers have become spoiled to commercial-free entertainment with a pause option, for when the cell rings or nature calls.

The problem with streaming the good stuff is that you want to watch it all. And all, available 24-7, is just too much — although binge marathons got a lot of folks through the virus lockdown.

Back in the day I enjoyed waiting a week for the next Mad Men or 24, especially after a cliffhanger. “Who shot J.R?” joined the American lexicon for a reason. The interval gave people time to discuss episodes, predict outcomes. You know . . . morning after stuff, last enjoyed when Sybil, then Matthew, were snuffed out on Downton Abbey.

Oh, the agony.

Eventually, when my Panasonic repairs to the flat screen graveyard, I will replace it with something “smart,” that comes ready-to-Sling, even if I’m not. Maybe I’ll even live to see this handmaid’s idea come true: an electric-style outlet in each room. Plug in the TV and access everything out there with one remote, from this single source.

Impossible? That’s what they shouted at Ben Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, Guglielmo Marconi, Charles Babbage, Philo Farnsworth and Bill Gates. Somebody can do it. Or, as a last resort, we can always task those little extraterrestrials with elongated noggins.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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