I don’t understand television scheduling (but I am getting better)


Go back a few decades—thirty years would be a nice enough target—and the problems of television scheduling were fairly simple.

Fox had positioned itself as a stable fourth national broadcast network, and most people found their additional television options as a result of HBO and other subscription services. Many of us were familiar with TBS and WGN, but even with cable and satellite providing such those realities hadn’t exploded in quantity or quality when you compare, say, 1990 to 2005.

More importantly, we used VCRs. Yup. VCRs. The latest and greatest technology of the day. And often, when setting things up to record, we needed to overcome two struggles of varying difficulty.

Struggle number one – Getting the damn time to stop blinking. This is actually a joke, but it offers a window into a significantly bigger problem. Most of us had absolutely zero understanding of what was happening when we placed a VCR into our home entertainment setup. It meant more wires in the scrambled and tangled pile stacked up and hidden behind a massive wooden cabinet. It also meant trying to figure out if the right channel was selected on the right device in order to get the right piece of equipment to do whatever it was that we wanted it to do.

That was true for watching shows, recording shows, playing video games and more. Was channel three selected for this… was VCR input engaged for that… connect this cord to that outlet, repeat, and do so in a precise order since signals and such only move in one direction along the wires.

It was fascinating, and almost always screwed up in some way so that every conversation in the living room likely at some moment included the phrase “…I don’t know why, it’s just the way it works…” being uttered as a gymnastics routine of button pushing was engaged to trigger the viewing of last night’s primetime offerings.

Struggle number two – Setting the timer for an extra minute or three or such on either side of a record attempt.

Far less difficult for this struggle—assuming the clock wasn’t blinking and daylight savings adjustments had been made—was setting the darn VCR up to record. But, for the pleasure of being able to fast-forward during the commercials, you needed to make sure you recorded the entire show. The clocks in our homes and on our devices were always off by a minute or two. They were never synchronized. So, for a program on between 8:00pm and 8:30pm, it was very important to record from 7:57 to 8:33.

And, a twist that will shock kids that already don’t understand the thrills that arrived from switching the household phone to a wireless unit, the funny reality of recording on your VCR was more than just getting the times correct. You also needed to make sure the right item… television, VCR, cable box, whatever… was set for the right station. In this portion of our efforts, you could have the VCR on channel three. But forget to set the cable box for the NBC affiliate and that episode of Friends wasn’t going to be there for you when you looked for it.

I laugh about these things because while technology has changed, and in so many ways has improved, the existence of hoops hasn’t changed at all. Have you seen how some shows start at off-times these days? It’s not 8:00pm to 8:30pm for broadcast… now it goes to 8:31pm. This of course can cause all kinds of havoc depending on how many shows you want to record at 8:30 and the limits of your DVR. And, it’s just one of all sorts of thrills.

Last night a few of the local channels from our provider went out. End result was two shows we recorded turning into a half-hour of pleasant music and a message letting us know they were aware of the problem and we didn’t need to call. Technology though provides for finding the lost broadcast… joy… happiness… solutions… are you with me? Find the show, check for other showings, locate the on demand option and there it is. Amazing! Record that baby! (Also, usually, the fast-forward options have been disabled… so, yeah, nice, but maybe not pure joy.)

The reality is, I am getting the hang of things. I understand which televisions are somewhat linked so that the pause and such features are intertwined. I also get how long I can pause it… how many shows I can record at one time… and the ways I can use the older high-definition box from our provider—which was moved during an equipment service upgrade but still working well enough to be left in our home on one of the televisions—as an alternative recording device with a bit of extra storage capacity. (Yes… the “…I don’t know why, it’s just the way it works…” concept of 2019.)

All of this said, I am definitely not ready to start using voice activation for things. If you knew how many curses I utter when trying to get the time to stop blinking, you’d understand that I don’t believe any unit would record the right show just because I asked. Some things never change.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com