Monday, April 21, 2008

Welcome To Turn TV Back On Week

A few weeks ago, I emailed the folks at Adbusters to try and get some information about TV Turnoff Week. The annual effort to get people to turn off their screens for one week a year begins today and extends through April 27, although you'd never have known that at the Adbuster site.
About a week after my inquiry, I got a reply back. The folks at Adbuster apologised for not being more up to speed on this year's event. (They don't even call it "TV Turnoff Week" anymore, opting for the broader phrase "Mental Detox Week.")
The Center For Screen Time Awareness, also big TV bashers, were more on top of things, as you can see over at their site.

Still, I sensed a general lack of enthusiasm from all parties this year for TV Turnoff Week. TV has already taken several good swift kicks to the digital set top box this season. Who needs to be told to turn off TV in a season where the writers strike and the lack of fall hits already had sets shut off across North America?

Surveys have come out recently suggesting that this simply isn't true, that set usage remains high despite the strike and the flood of reruns. Tell that to Global, or CBS, or any network suffering double digit drops in viewership this season. Scrambling back up to year-ago levels is celebrated as a win in network television these days.

Having participated in TV Turnoff Weeks in the past, I always recommend the experience. Far from being some elite, snobbish way of boasting about never watching television, it will help anyone to become a more discerning viewer, to break free of habitual viewing and to use TV in a more rewarding way.

This year, however, TV Feeds My Family declares this Turn TV Back On Week. The medium is getting assailed from all sides and needs a little love and lobbying. An article in this week's Time magazine suggests that the tipping point has been reached and that the computer has now rendered TV sets obsolete. Writes Lev Grossman (in a section titled "Nerd World"), "all of a sudden there's an incredible amount of TV on the Internet." So that's what that writers strike was all about, he surmises.

Grossman isn't advocating that we all just sit around and watch Asian teenagers play two guitars at once on YouTube. He's also pointing the way to the competition, Hulu, a YouTube knockoff backed by the Big Boys at NBC/Universal and NewsCorp. Grossman calls it "a very sweet video player." Episodes of Saturday Night Live, Family Guy, House, Battlestar Gallactica, Heroes, 30 Rock, The Office, The Simpsons and "classic" shows like I Spy, The A-Team and Alfred Hitchcock Presents can be downloaded there (although, dammit, not yet from Canada, although they're working on securing international rights).

Even quirky, short-lived shows like Raines, Firefly, Roswell, Murder One and Journeyman are on the Hulu menu, as is New Amsterdam. There are also tons of reality shows to choose from, including old crap like Temptation Island and new crap like Hey Paula! and American Gladiators.

There are many other ways to watch TV on the Internet, including several illegal ways, as Grossman points out. It is as simple as downloading music.

This is the DeathStar that the networks have long feared, and it is here now. However, if you've been watching any of the pretty damn exciting NHL playoff games in the last week, you are not going to give up your Hi-Def screen from your lap top just yet. Regular scripted TV is back, too. This week before the May Sweeps, traditionally one of wall-to-wall reruns, has never been more packed with new episodes of returning favorites as shows rev back up from that damn strike thingy. Even House returns next Monday night for the first of four new episodes.

As an act of mercy, then, TV Feeds My Family is going to celebrate "Turn TV Back On Week" by doing something we haven't done enough of here: reviewing TV shows. We'll even tell you how you can find them on that old fashioned TV set you still probably have in your family room. You know, over by the Beta player. Or VCR. Stay tuned.
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