Television went digital in Ireland last October and I was faced with two options. Get a Saorview box or opt for a Sky package. In the end I opted for the latter, getting a pretty basic package -the only real ‘frill’ being some high-definition channels. So now I have access to several dozen channels (I am unsure of the exact amount) and in theory I am spoilt for choice. I have now had Sky for a number of months and a pattern of behaviour has emerged for me. [BTW this is probably no deep insight and may well have been expressed elsewhere and possibly better, but this is my blog and I haven't posted here in months so feel free to read on or not.]. So my pattern. Simply it’s that I rarely watch ‘live’ television any more - not just ‘live’ as in real life sports etc. but I rarely watch programmes as they are being shown – I record and watch later. The primary motivation for this is advertising. I am probably not unique in finding adverts annoying as they break up the flow of a program. I understand the economics behind the adverts and I guess there must be many many viewers who will put up with ad breaks in their favourite show rather than being like me and recording the show so they can fast forward through the breaks. Given the length and frequency of these ad breaks I must assume they are successful in their aim and I cannot deny that some are quite eye-catching in one way or another.
So – apart from the adverts how am I finding Sky. There is an incredible amount of crap – at least what I consider crap. Shows that I have tried to watch a number of times because they are considered so popular. This popularity boggles my mind. The chief culprits are the reality TV shows. I am not going to name names here but there are quite a few. Ignoring the arguments as to whether they are actually scripted or not – I fail to see what these programmes extend beyond one episode. Some of these could be interesting in a way because we are all curious after all but they seem to extend minutiae into dramas of epic proportions The dramatic voice-over is key to this, telling the audience that X has spoken to Y and B doesn’t know about it and there is going to be trouble and this could mean a whole episode based on almost nothing. Which could be realistic enough if this was one single episode but this may be echoed through a whole series…and back to the adverts again but it seems like each ad-break must have a cliffhanger – will B and X ever speak again? – just in case people might not watch the next ten minute program segment.
There are of course repeats – I am not as puritanical as some about this – I often re-watch movies, re-read books and so on. It does puzzle me that there are so many channels that seem to repeat the same things. So one channel is showing old comedy shows, it may well have a +1 version of the same channel repeating the same shows at a different time and a completely different channel shows some of the same shows as if they were only just made. I guess they are just all trying to make money and why risk trying new stuff if there are saps like me who like re-watching the old stuff. Because of the adverts I tape these and because I can record a whole series i have found myself with two copies of the same series. Just to clarify. I see an episode of Series A Episode X is on, I select record series and move on. At some later point of an other channel I see that Series A is on but the episode I see is Episode W perhaps. Often there is no way to tell if this is from the same series or another one so I set it to record the series and this is when I find I have two copies of the same series, as as clever as the recorder is it can’t figure that out. I am kind of stupid like this and is probably the price I pay for dipping in and out of the world of TV. Related to this is when you start to record a series in the middle then you reach the end but the episodes from the start aren’t been shown for some reason. I found this with a series I really wanted to see (and one of those TV gems that come up from time to time) – I got the last few episodes of it and assumed they’d eventually reshow the first few episodes I had missed but they didn’t. Until I night I happened to see the first episode advertised so I set my recorder to tape it but there was only that episode. So I have the first episode and the last few and am missing the ones in the middle. Still I am in for Series 2 right from the start.
Finally there are some gems and some ‘pass the time’ kind of stuff that I come across. Since I would not name the shows I considered crap I suppose I should not name the ones I have come to enjoy – but since this is my blog and my rules… The series I mentioned above is Game of Thrones. I enjoyed the books (and hope they will, at some point be completed). This has been a great adaptation of the books. I have seen other adaptations of books I liked and they weren’t as well done (at least so far). Criminal Minds I also enjoy – it’s one of those ensemble shows like CSI that has some nice rapport between the characters. Like any such show the timelines are pretty iffy and best ignored but they are entertaining all the same. I have started to watch Blue Bloods – a cop show where the whole family are cops (well one lady is a lawyer). It’s pass the time TV worth a look but nothing very special and like the Waltons it seems every episode ends up with a family get together round the dinner table. BBC often turns up with some unusual stuff – I recently watched a Danish TV series called The Killing – this was the third such series but my first time to watch. I did not look at any of it until I had all the episodes (ten I think) and it was enthralling. Slower paced than most cops shows and issues were spread across several episodes. The ending I will say was pretty bleak but I have seen French shows such as Braquo and Spiral that I found excellent and this was just as good. There is an American show based on the Danish one but I have not see it. My other TV is mainly a mix of comedy shows like Have I Got News For You, Mock the Week and QI and the occasional documentaries and wildlife shows.
When I first considered subscribing to Sky I was looking at packages that would include the History Channel, Discovery Channel etc but in the end I opted not to add these to my options. Cost was a part of it, extra channels extra money but the main thing was that some time ago I was given a series of DVD’s about criminals produced by the History Channel and I found it frustrating to watch. It’s something I see creeping into documentaries at times and I, again, blame this on the ad-breaks. I think another consequence of the ad breaks in documentaries is that the events from earlier are constantly being re-stated as if the watchers all suffer from short term memory loss as soon as the ads hit and have to be reminded what led up to the current point. You could argue that if you were to stumble upon a documentary while switching channels it’s nice to know what has been happening but to me it seems there is too much of it, at least it seems that way to me. The final thing that put me off was that there were about five interesting stories but spread out across multiple disks (maybe eleven in all) so a minor character in one story became the major feature in the next, but because there wasn’t really enough material for a full show about the minor character the majority of the show was a rehash of the major character from an earlier story.
I guess I both like and dislike TV – the occasional gems help make up for the spectacular crap and I think parents should use a parental lock for all the reality TV shows.