Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The commercials made me do it

by Michael Dymmoch

I don’t do cable. There are only three non-premium channels I can’t get with my rabbit ears, and I don’t have time to watch them. I don’t have time to watch all the programs I’d like to see on WTTW and WYCC.

Recently I broke down and ordered the first four seasons of The Dead Zone. The commercials made me do it. Ion TV is running episodes three days a week and WLS runs them late on weekends. The Canadian-made series stars the geek from The Breakfast Club, Anthony Michael Hall. It isn’t The Wire, but it’s a guilty pleasure of mine—fun to watch. The Canadians seem to have great production values for those series that make it down here—good writing, acting and editing. Years ago it was Night Heat. Now it's Da Vinci's Inquest and The Dead Zone. As on Law and Order, lots of great actors get to star or guest star. David Ogden Stiers, who did such a great job as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III in the final seasons of M*A*S*H*, is a regular on DZ. Adam Beach (Law and Order) did a stint in season 1 as an Indian shaman; Gerald McRaney (Simon & Simon, Touched By An Angel, Deadwood) portrayed a Vietnam vet/politician on another episode.

What finally drove me to spend money for the DVDs was the commercials. Not just the twenty minutes of interruptions to the flow of the story, but the little flashing decal commercials that the stations superimpose OVER the program after the commercial breaks. Maybe I’m just getting old, but it’s too much trouble to screen out all the visual noise.

Anyone else still watching “free” TV?


Anonymous said...

I'm still watching free TV because I don't have much time for it, and between the net and netflix I can see whatever I want from cable.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad they're putting out DVDs of television shows. Some wonderful production values in HBO's Rome and Showtime's The Tudors. But even old shows I used to love like Quantum Leap or Remington Steele that are great to have the chance to see again. It's great to preserve the new shows like The Wire or to get caught up on currently running shows that require knowledge from the beginning like Heroes.

Sara Paretsky said...

Michael, my guilty pleasure is M*A*S*H, and I bought DVDs of the series for exactly the same reason. The original episodes run 24.5 minutes, so 5.5 minutes of the half hour was ads. The reruns run 17 minutes, and a lot of time, they take out key dialogue that either is funny, or makes sense of what look like nonsensical segues. And I, too, hate those pop-up commercials. I've never watched the Dead Zone, but I like Stiers, so I'll have to check it out.

Tony D'Amato said...

The commercials subtract so much from the shows that at the end the score is approximately zero. But the DVD's -- ahhh! The Sopranos was the best ever (though some episodes dragged badly). Sex and the City was, I think, the cleverest. I'm watching on DVD the first season of Mad Men, an unfunny soap opera for men. Yet the acting is so over the top as to make the whole thing very enjoyable.

As for Sara's well-taken point about reruns: some years ago I saw for the first time the rerun of "On the Riviera" just to see Danny Kaye's best and favorite performance of "Ballin' the Jack." Well, the neanderthals cut it. I wrote a complaint to the Chicago Tribune that was published as a letter to the editor. Well, a month later, they did a re-run of the movie and this time, lo and behold, Danny Kaye in his ultra-smooth rendition of "Ballin' the Jack."

And earlier than that was a rerun in two parts of "Where Eagle's Dare", one of the best adventure-dramas ever made. Here I was tied to my chair wondering what was going to happen next. Well into Part I there was a commercial break. And the commercial was a teaser urging you to see Part II the following night. In the
commercial were scenes from Part II that gave away the plot you were watching in Part I. This is my all-time best example of the worst commercial of all time.

Mad Magazine once had a piece that showed how you could blend the commercial into the show itself by just some clever alterations of dialogue. Here's one of my own that any of you great writers out there are free to incorporate in your next book:

DETECTIVE: What are those
little donut shaped things coming out of his gut?

FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: I believe they're Cheerios.

DETECTIVE: You mean those scrumptious breakfast cereal things that go snap crackle and pop?

FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: No, they just lie in the bowl and sop up milk.

DETECTIVE: He must have been shot in the morning while eating breakfast.

PATHOLOGIST: Not necessarily. Those clever little O's are good any time of day. Snacks, in-between-meals, snacks, you name it.

DETECTIVE: What's that little piece of cardboard in the goop?

PATHOLOGIST: Now, that's really interesting. It's from the back of a Cheerios box in which twelve of these coupons you mail them in and get an Indiana Jones DVD for free!

DETECTIVE: And one of our suspects is from Indiana!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

TV has been rejuvinated for be with the invention of the DVR. I rarely watch anything live. I use the first 20 minutes of a scheduled show to do something productive and then I fire up the DVR and skip the commercials.

Now if they had a way to do away with those little pop-up distractions you talk about, I could concentrate on the show.

R.J. Mangahas said...

I love the Dead Zone. But yeah, it's fun to catch up on shows I haven't seen in awhile. Sara's right about the re-runs though. They often cut out extra bits. The other thing that drives me a little nuts though is when a show uses particular songs, but the songs have been replaced on the DVD versions. A great example of this is one of my all-time favorite shows: Married...with Children. It's opening theme, Love and Marriage (and yes, I listened to Sinatra before the show came out), has been replaced on the DVD's by some Muzak sounding imitation (a bad one) of the song. I'm sure it has to do with copyright, but still.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Amen, anonymous.

Sara, Dead Zone is a little Stephen King (Duh!) but fun to watch for the plotting as well as the guests.

Wilfred, Check out the DVDs--no pop-ups; no edits; no commercials.

Tony, Ever thought of auditioning for Boston Legal?

r.j., Copyright issues, alas, are keeping entire shows off DVD.