This week’s Alliance Review column, dated Sept. 16, 2010:
Once upon a time, if you missed a TV show, you missed it forever. If you’re over a certain age, this is the edict by which most of your boob-tube-related life was lived.
Growing up, I equated Tuesday night with “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley,” followed by my personal favorite, “Three’s Company.” John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt — I remembered all their names without Google, so indelibly were they etched on my prepubescent psyche — defined the swinging singles life and made me wish that I could one day live in a cool apartment complex where witty neighbors dropped by unannounced and all problems were solved in 30 minutes, minus commercials.
It was a real letdown when I rented my first apartment and lived next to a couple of nocturnal steelworkers whose fights were exceeded in volume only by their vociferous making up, and above a snarly old woman with curling chin hair and a penchant for coughing phlegm out her kitchen window. Mrs. Roper, she wasn’t.
Friday night meant “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “The Incredible Hulk” and, if my parents fell asleep on the couch before my bedtime, “Dallas,” with its heaping helping of oil, sex, intrigue, sex, high-pressure business deals, sex and sex. Who shot J.R. was the least of my concerns amid all that boudoir intrigue, I assure you.
But if I missed an episode of any of my favorites, there was no catching up — no YouTube or network websites, no DVR or season compilations on DVD. The only way I would see it again was if I caught it as a rerun later, but the chances of that happening were about the same as the odds of Phil Davison delivering a sane, sensible speech to the Stark County Republican Executive Committee.
Oh, sure, I grew up in the infancy of video recorders. Our first unit weighed in at about the size and weight of a manhole cover and featured a series of red-and-white switches under the front panel to record live TV. But these early devices were designed by people with advanced degrees in engineering exclusively for other people with advanced degrees in engineering; any recording of a show that you actually intended to tape was strictly coincidental. Despite my best efforts, I almost always ended up with something off Channel 17, the religious channel that my mom would make me watch whenever I said I was too sick to go to Mass.
Nowadays, the video recorder is as passé as charcoal briquettes and cursive handwriting. In its place is the DVR, which stands for Dummy-Version Recording. This means that even dopes like me can manage to record a TV show while out of the house doing something frivolous, like getting a surgical sponge removed from our intestines.
Unfortunately, as with all modern technology, the DVR has solved one problem by creating another: which unwatched shows to keep, and which to delete. This seemed like a ludicrous concern when I received my first unit, which could hold the digital equivalent of the Louisiana Territory inside its metallic innards. But by the time we swapped cable for satellite service a year later, we had populated all that space quite nicely, and anything new that was recorded meant an older show was taken off oxygen support and allowed to slip away.
The new DVR device has even more space, but I’ve filled it up to 90 percent of capacity in only a few short months. Now I’m left with the difficult decision of which shows to keep and which to jettison. A week’s worth of unwatched “Jeopardy” from last May? Gone to make way for “The Event,” whatever that is. An episode of “Secret Life of an American Teenager” that my daughter never watched over the summer? Save it — she might still want it. “Queen + Paul Rogers,” a concert that my wife accidentally set to record in perpetuity? We have five copies already, with more to come.
June was a big month for DVR at Casa Schillig, likely because it’s too nice outside to watch much TV. But it was also too nice in July, August and so far in September, too, so a bunch of oldies from Turner Classic Movies molder away on the service.
I hate deleting shows because it’s so final. Just because I haven’t gotten around to “Terror Train” or “Freaks” doesn’t mean I never will, especially with Halloween coming. It was a lot easier when I was a kid and we only had two VHS tapes to our name, which meant 12 hours max of recording time, instead of three days’ worth or whatever the embarrassment of riches is that we have today.
But it was easier still back in the time when you watched a show when it was first on or not at all. If you happened to be distracted by two beautiful roommates or your fun-loving neighbors at the same time as that first-run episode of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” — well, that’s what summer reruns were for.