WHAT ARE YOU BUYING WHEN YOU BUY A CABLE OR STREAMING TV PACKAGE?

How many people actually know what they are buying when they buy television services?

It used to be that you bought a television. What you got when you tuned in was whatever was broadcast from big towers on top of tall buildings — free. It usually came from the tower placed atop the tallest building or a mountain where you lived.

It cost nothing. You paid for the television and the broadcasting was for everyone, courtesy of the FCC.

That’s how it was supposed to be, anyway. What you actually got was something else. Unless you happened to be positioned perfectly to get clear pictures from the signal tower, you might or might not actually get the channel you wanted to watch. Or anything at all. Signals were weak, too. So you got “snow” and “rolling.”

If you had a big antenna on top of your house, that could help, but it was a lot of years before television had the kind of resolution we have come to accept as normal. “Free” signals have not kept up with the quality of reception we expect.

In fact, since the 1980s, we have mostly given up free television. Cable TV arrived. With a sigh, we exchanged free television for cable companies who could give us clear reception at a price — replacing all that snow, rolling, and rabbit ears. All we had to do was pay the bill.

With cable, you could see clearly — as long as the cable worked. You paid a price for this service. Initially, not a huge price, but it got bigger and eventually, huge. Ultimately, the price for cable television was bigger than the price for electricity, trash collection, and sometimes, heat.

They lured you in with “specials” for 3-months, 6-months or a year. And when the “special” ended, you got a bill so enormous, your heart nearly stopped.

Suddenly, along came streaming packages. Streaming — wi-fi — was the stuff that made our computers work. It turned out it could also power television.

Instead of trying to compete with wi-fi-based services, cable companies kept raising prices while customers said: “Screw this!” and dropped their cable packages. Despite all evidence to the contrary, cable companies are still convinced most users will hang onto cable because they are too stupid and/or lazy to make the change.

They are wrong. Of course, since they are still the only ones allowed to offer wi-fi, they can keep raising those prices too. I’m sure they’ll keep getting their piece of our asses forever.

Even old people like us refused to pay hundreds of dollars for inferior packages. Ironically, AFTER I dropped Charter (Spectrum — the absolutely worst cable company of them all) offered me a good package at a reasonable price. I said “NO” because I’m not playing their game anymore.

I know them. They’ll offer me a bargain and next year, raise the price by $50. Been there, done that. Not doing it again.

So I bought YouTubeTV which is not only a moderately-priced platform but includes MLB and our local sports TV channel so we can watch all the baseball everywhere AND our own team (the Red Sox) too. What’s missing? HBO and Comedy Central. I miss HBO because of John Oliver — but it’s the only thing we watch on HBO and for $15/month, that a lot of money for one very good show. As for Comedy Central, we can watch it on the computer for free. I hate missing John Oliver, but it’s a small price to pay overall.

What are we buying? We are buying a platform that includes channels, just like when we bought a TV and got channels. The channels come in LIVE — just like “real” television. We can save shows (an unlimited number of them) but we can’t fast forward through them to skip commercials as we did on the DVR. That’s something we thought we’d miss but it turns out we don’t miss it much. Instead, we go to the bathroom, the kitchen, turn down the sound and actually talk to each other.

YouTubeTV is a platform, not a channel. It isn’t Netflix or Acorn. It’s more like cableTV than an individual channel.

Each channel is an individual channel that comes in over the platform. Live. You aren’t buying a “channel.” You are buying a live platform consisting of many signals.

What do you get? All of the networks for your area and a bunch of other channels, depending on your location. We are in the “Boston area” and get that package. We have friends in western Massachusetts who get a slightly different package.

Regardless, it’s a big package. A lot better than what we got from Charter including a lot less junk. More watchable channels. Lots of sports. TCM. Plenty of movies including Sundance, TBS. A variety of news channels. If you hate something (Fox news comes to mind) you can turn it off (we turned it off). A few kid things we turned off.

There’s also a connection to YouTube (regular) so you can watch some very old movies that you can’t find anywhere else via your computer, too. I’m really happy with it.

If Netflix gets any more expensive, I may decide to ditch it. It hasn’t gotten better — just more expensive.

You also get five family connections. We’ve only used three: me, Garry, and our granddaughter. Owen isn’t sure they watch enough TV to bother with it.

It has taken Garry a while to realize that TCM is not a separate channel but a channel that is part of the package that is YouTubeTV, that all those channels are part of one platform. That it’s like getting an entire cable package. For $40 a month. Including baseball.

Oh, happy day!

THE CASE OF THE OVERPRICED CABLE PACKAGES – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — The Case of Overpriced Cable Packages

We’ve been overpaying for cable since cable was introduced. We don’t have a choice here. We don’t get any choice except Direct TV or Spectrum (Charter). We can’t use DirectTV because we are surrounded by trees and the signal can’t get through the woods.

The super high-speed stuff you get via telephone cable is unavailable. Not enough people for them to bother to connect and they are expensive too. Meanwhile, as more and more people are cutting cable, Spectrum keeps raising their prices. They provide the cheesiest version of any device we need — for which they charge the highest possible price … and now they’ve raised wi-fi rates, too.

We can’t do without wifi anymore. Too much is attached to the internet, but we had already cut down to the absolute minimum package we could get from Spectrum. I had to renegotiate last week because our “free” HBO wasn’t free anymore and they raised the price of wi-fi by $20 and removed a $10 discount they’d been giving us, which made it now $30 more — just for wi-fi.

We hemmed and hawed and ultimately got it down to what was supposed to be the same as last year’s price, but with an additional $7.50 for HBO.

The bill came in last night.

$154, which was a $25 increase from the last year. $35 was just for renting their junky equipment.

Meanwhile, YouTube — now a subset of Google — is offering a huge selection of channels for $40/month — INCLUDING Major League Baseball as well our local baseball channel. Which means that Garry can actually watch the Red Sox live and still watch every other game being played. It’s got three ESPN channels, Fox Sports, and so much more. It is a sports loaded package, but it has all the networks, TCM, Sundance, and a bunch of other channels I don’t even recognize. We already have Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Acorn from before.

I can add HBO to Netflix if we want it. The problem is that we only watch one show on HBO — John Oliver. Otherwise, we don’t watch HBO at all. Yes, they have movies, but so does everything else and Garry like old movies better. We already have more stuff to watch than we have time to see. So we’ll wait and decide. I love John Oliver. I’m just not sure I want to subscribe to the channel just for that show.

The bill did it for me. I can get everything — much more than Spectrum offers — for $40 a month. It will drop our bill by more than $50/month.

I don’t get it. From a business standpoint, it makes no sense.

All cable companies know people are dumping them right, left, and center. Instead of trying to get competitive, they raise prices. They can’t believe this is good business.

It’s counter-intuitive and it gave me that final push to just give up. I hate changing utilities. I’m trying to keep life simple … but I’m also trying to survive on a fixed income. If they want $154 this year, what will they want next year? $175? $200? It will never stop and by the time they realize that instead of raising prices, they should be lowering them, they won’t have customers.

So Monday, they will come to collect the DVR boxes. By the end of next week, I will have just the telephone and wi-fi. I’m sure somehow they will find a way to raise the prices on those too, but I can’t fix everything.

YouTubeTV is a big package. That it includes MLB and our local NESN channel. This along means substantial savings for us because last year I had to buy MLB and we were blocked from seeing the Sox play live because our cable package didn’t include NESN.

Now we get both. For $40/month.

So that’s it for cable. By next week, it will be all streaming.

The case of the overpriced cable package had to be dealt with. Spectrum didn’t leave me a choice.

AND, THE OSCAR GOES TO … BUT, DO YOU CARE? – Garry Armstrong

I’m part of the new “lost generation”.  I grew up loving movies when there were more stars in Hollywood than in heaven.

I plead guilty to reading fan mags about stars like Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper (Mom named me after “Coop”, her favorite star), Ingrid Bergman, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and many other Tinsel town legends.

I remember “Photoplay” pic layouts of Alan and Sue Carroll Ladd at home. Ladd, with his million-dollar smile, was mowing the lawn, playing with his dogs and hugging the kids, Alan “Laddie” Junior, Alana and David. It was so cool – “Shane” really had a home and family in swanky Beverly Hills.

There was the “Movietone” photo platter with William Holden — home at his ranch with horses and neighbors – smiling and eating hot dogs at their backyard barbecue. It looked so real. A day in the life of Hollywood superstars. I believed it all.

It was the naiveté of a pre-teen movie fan. Yes, I wanted to be a movie star when I grew up. I used to see  – every week –3 double features, cartoons and coming attractions at the local and first-run movie houses near my Jamaica, Queens home in the ’40s and early ’50s.

The Academy Awards were bigger than the World Series even though I was a  true Dodger Blue fan of  Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer.

I started watching the Oscars in black and white with Bob Hope hosting and still in his prime – complaining about being shut out from acting awards by Ronald Coleman, Cary Grant, and James Cagney. It was standard Hollywood humor we all knew, understood, and loved.

During those early 50’s telecasts of the Oscars, it was terrific when the cameras panned the audience to show Greer Garson, Gloria Swanson, Gene Kelly, Spencer Tracy and all the other luminous stars from the golden age of the silver screen.

Previous Oscar-winning movies

Fans used to mull, for weeks, who’d win the major awards. Would Cary Grant finally win after being overlooked for decades? Would newcomers like Paul Newman, Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Steve McQueen get more attention than the “old guard.” Who was more exciting? Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas or Clark Gable (Gable had passed away in ’61 but was still hugely popular).

There were the larger than life heroes like John Wayne who’d never received an Oscar despite half a century of stardom. How about Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Barbara Stanwyck?  Were they still TOP stars?  There was the fascination with Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Loren, Kim Novak, Mamie Van Doren, and Diana Dors. What would they be wearing on Oscar night?  How much would they “reveal?” How much jewelry would Liz Taylor wear?  Could Burton stay sober?

One of my favorite Oscar moments came in the ’60s when Sidney Poitier became the first Black actor to win the coveted “Best Actor” award. Poitier opened the door for Denzel, Wil Smith and so many other minority performers previously relegated to grossly stereotypical roles.

2019 lead Oscar actresses

The Oscar show was must-see viewing for the stars as much as the films and performers vying for the industry’s top awards.  Hollywood pioneers like Cecil B. Demille, Adolph Zukor, Jack Warner, and Darryl Zanuck could still be seen and heard. I especially loved seeing legends from the silent film days like Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton and others who were there when the curtains first raised on “moving pictures”.

There were wonderful impromptu moments like David Niven almost being upstaged by a streaker. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas delighting us with a nifty song and dance number.

Shirley Temple, Margaret O’Brien, Mickey Rooney, and Judy Garland — staples from their youth — were still vital and enjoyable to watch and hear.

Where have all the stars gone today (insert “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” melody here). I don’t know most of the folks who are stars unless I’ve seen them on “Facebook” ‘news’ items.

I don’t much about most of the movies up for awards. I know some are about superheroes, trendsetters in new diversity movies and a rash of “coming of age” flicks that draw blanks at this address.

I know about the industry controversies including Harvey Weinstein and the “Me Too” movement. Diversity for all those excluded since the first Oscars — nine decades ago during the prelude to the great depression. I know this year’s Oscar show will be minus a host.

Maybe that’ll be a plus?

The magic is gone — along with the stars who made the magic. The show is far too long with winners taking too long to thank everyone including their dog walker.

All that said, we’ll still watch. Until we doze off.

Why? It’s the stuff dreams are made of …

MORE TOP TELEVISION THEME SONGS – Rich Paschall

Western Division, Rich Paschall


While westerns may have fallen out of favor in recent decades, there were a lot of them in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.  Many brought great theme songs to television and I will offer you my favorites here.

If I could not recall the tune without finding it online, I could not consider it for my Top 10.  I did uncover quite a few that I had forgotten.  Perhaps you can suggest more in the comments below.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Lone Ranger had a great theme, but it was actually Gioachino Rossini‘s Guillaume Tell, better known as The William Tell Overture.

Gene Autry and Ray Whitley wrote Back in the Saddle Again, not to be confused with the Aerosmith tune, Back in the Saddle.  Autry’s 1939 song was so much associated with him that it seemed logical to use it for his 1950’s era television show.

Roy Rogers Show. Dale Evans wrote Happy Trails which was used for the Roy Rogers radio and later television show in the 1950s.  The show starred Rogers and Evans who were married and extremely popular country and western stars.  The song was released in 1952 and has been covered by many artists.

TOP TEN COUNTDOWN

10. The Wild, Wild West.  Nope, not the one by Will Smith for his movie version of this television series. This one is a classic.

9. The High Chaparral. The television series began on NBC in 1967 and had a theme that invoked the great outdoors. This music would have fit nicely into many of the great western movie epics.

8. Bat Masterson “Back when the west was very young…” a cool guy used his cane rather than a gun. I could sing along with this one every week.

7. Wagon Train. Wagons Ho was actually the third theme for this show. The season one (1957) theme gave way to another in season two and that was changed to an instrumental version as the season went along. Season three introduced the theme you probably would remember.

6. Zorro was “The fox so cunning and free.” The Disney produced show premiered in 1957 and only lasted two years but the song lives on.

5. Have Gun Will Travel. The Ballad of Paladin. This was actually the closing theme, written by Johnny Western (a stage name, perhaps?), Sam Rolfe and the show’s star, Richard Boone.

4. The Big Valley  This western was not only in a big valley, it had a big name cast led by movie star Barbara Stanwyck.  The theme was by George Duning.

3. Maverick  “Who is the tall dark stranger there?”  Well, the cast of Mavericks kept changing.  Initially it was James Garner and after 8 weeks a brother played by Jack Kelly came along.  There were  4 brothers and a cousin (Roger Moore) by the time they were through.  The theme was by David Buttolph and Paul Francis Webster.

2. Bonanza, by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.  These two were well acquainted with hits, including the famous Mr. Ed.

1. Rawhide.  The hit tune sung by Frankie Laine was famously covered by the Blues Brothers in their first movie.

See also: “The Television Western,” rjptalk, Sunday Night Blog.

WHERE THE HELL ARE MY CARKEYS? – Tom Curley

First off, this isn’t a blog about “Senior Moments”. You know, like when you get up and go into another room and the second you enter the other room you can’t for the life of you remember why you’re there.

drz.org
drz.org

The annoying part is that the only way to remember why you went in there is to go back to the room you started in. As soon as you do, you immediately remember why you got up in the first place.

“Oh right. I really have to pee.”

No, this blog is about memory and memories. Why does my brain work the way it does? Why do I remember some things and not others?

Let me explain.

I went to college. I was a biology major and pre-med. I took lots and lots of science courses; biology, physics, math, and chemistry. I got good grades. All A’s or B’s.

I learned lots of stuff. I knew calculus. I knew what a derivative was. No, not the financial thingies that caused the global crash of 2008. But equations that started with dy/dx, or something like that.

Notice the past tense in these last sentences? I “knew” all these things. Today, all that information is gone! Vanished, like I never took any of those courses. Actually, I do remember that there was something called the “Krebs Cycle.” It had to do with respiration or metabolism. I know it’s something we all do that’s very important. If we don’t do it, we die. But that’s all I remember.

Yet, with no effort at all, I can recite all the words to the theme song to the 1960’s TV show Mr. Ed!!!

mr ed
Youtube.com

“A horse is a horse of course of course, and nobody can talk to a horse of course. That is of course, unless the horse, is the famous Mr. Ed.” I could go on to the second verse.

But I won’t.

Hell, I can even recite the words to “Car 54 Where Are You?” And I didn’t really watch the show that often!

Youtube.com
Youtube.com

“There’s a hold up in the Bronx,
Brooklyn’s broken out in fights.
There’s a traffic jam in Harlem that’s backed up to Jackson Heights.
There’s a scout troop short a child.
Khrushchev’s due at Idlewild.
Car 54 where are you?”

 

I swear I wrote those from memory. They flowed effortlessly from my brain, like crap through a goose. I didn’t Google them.

Which brings me to my next point.

We live in an amazing age. We have all the knowledge of the world literally at our fingertips. Any question you could possibly think of can be googled. It’s gotten so easy that you can type the most rambling of questions and still get the right answer.

For example, a while ago I got into a conversation about time travel and it reminded me of a movie I’d seen a long time ago. It was about an aircraft carrier that went back in time to just before Pearl Harbor. I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name so I typed the following sentence into Google:

“There was this movie a long time ago about an aircraft carrier that goes back in time to just before Pearl Harbor and ….”

google-search-screen

At this point, Google popped up “The Final Countdown.” It listed the cast, the plot, and where I could buy it. All before I could finish typing a full sentence! Wow!

imdb.com
imdb.com

It made me realize something. I could use the internet to bring back all that science knowledge I once had!

But I don’t.

I use it for far more important stuff. Mostly, finding out the name of the actor my wife and I are currently watching on TV. We know we’ve seen him or her on some other show. But we can’t for the life of us remember either his/her name or the show’s name. Google it! Go to IMDB!

“Oh, right! She was the head doctor on that show we used to watch back in the ’90s!”

“Right! She was married to … what’s his name?  He was on … what was the name of that show?”

Back to Google.

So in the end, I still don’t know why my brain works the way it does. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the Kreb’s Cycle.

en.wikipedia.org
en.wikipedia.org

When I started reading it, I actually remembered most of it. Although I gotta admit. It was pretty dull. Mr. Ed was a lot more fun.

Hmm. Maybe I do know why my brain works the way it does.

TOP TELEVISION THEME SONGS – Rich Pachall

Comedy Division, by Rich Paschall

sitcomsonline.com

This was a tough category to narrow down.  Even just considering comedies over the years you can compile a massive list.  There really have been quite a few good ones.  When tossing songs from consideration, I found I had to let go of some of those jingles that are more of a novelty than a good song. That would include things like Car 54 Where Are You? and The Beverly Hillbillies. For this same reason, I eliminated a few of my favorites like Gilligan’s Island, Mr. Ed and The Addams Family.

Cartoon themes could easily have been a component here, but I liked too many of those and think I may have to produce a Top 10 list some day.  I will hand out an honorable mention to The Simpsons for this category, however.  The long-running prime time series, now in its 30th season, is known by just about everyone with a pulse.  So you certainly know the opening theme.

We can also give an honorable mention to a closing theme.  While the opening tune for All in the Family may be well-remembered, the closing had a completely different song, Remembering You.  The tune was written by Roger Kellaway with lyrics by the show’s star, Carroll O’Connor.  If you search YouTube, you can find a performance by O’Connor singing the song, and not as Archie Bunker, or just hit the link here.

10. WKRP theme.  The fictional radio station was quite a hit in the 1970s, along with the theme by Tom Wells and Hugh Wilson.

9.  Making Our Dreams Come True, from Laverne and Shirley.  The Happy Days spin-off had a theme by the same pair that gave us the Happy Days theme, Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox.

8.  I Love Lucy. The tune was not written by Desi Arnaz, although his orchestra played the famous theme. Eliot Daniel wrote the music but was not given credit at the time, since he was under exclusive contract to another studio. The lyric by Harold Adamson was only sung by Arnaz on the show one time.

7.  Movin’ On Up, from The Jeffersons. The All In The Family spin-off produced a great opening theme by Ja’net Du Boise.

6.  Where Everybody Knows Your Name, from Cheers. Yes, this popular tune makes the top of some lists. The song was performed by the composer, Gary Portnoy, and was so popular he recorded a longer version for release after the show began. It also earned him an Emmy nomination.

5.  The Muppet Show theme by Muppets creator Jim Henson and Sam Pottle.  The prime time puppet show was way beyond Sesame Street.  The little ones may not have gotten all the jokes, but the show was always fun to watch.  The openings varied each season, but the music was the same.

4.  The Andy Griffith Show theme by Earle Hagen, Herbert Spencer, and Everett Sloane.  It’s Hagen that is doing the famous whistling.  Sloane wrote words and Griffith later recorded that version, with him singing instead of the whistling.

3.  Welcome Back, Kotter by John Sebastian.  The former Lovin’ Spoonful singer did not have much of a solo career until this number 1 hit song in 1976.  The television series was a hit as well.

2.  Happy Days by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox.  The song perfectly fit the nostalgic TV series set in an earlier time.  The original opening was Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley but was soon replaced by this original theme song.

1. Those Were The Days from All in the Family.  The tune by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse was so popular that Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton, the stars of the show, performed it for each studio audience.

See also: TOP TV DRAMA THEME SONGS

TOP TV DRAMA THEME SONGS – Rich Paschall

Non-Western Division, by Rich Paschall

You have clearly been waiting patiently for the coming of my next top 10 list.  Well, wait no more.  I have diligently gone through the memory banks to produce a list for you.  After compiling a hefty amount of TV theme songs, I find that I had to limit the category.  Out went the novelty songs like The Addams Family and Gilligan’s Island.  Out too were the game show themes.

We could not include your cartoon favorites or even the great pieces written for news broadcasts or special events.  The Olympics theme that NBC gets to overuse with each Olympics is a stand out piece introduced in 1984 and easily recognizable now.  I could make a case for a hundred songs if I did not find a “theme” for this list of themes, so drama shows is the category. Comedy and Western top tens will come in the following weeks.

Now I admit I do not watch a lot of television shows anymore, aside from sports, so most of these will not be of recent vintage.  But it is uniquely my list and may include a few of your favorites.  Please add to the list in the comments below.

Getting an honorable mention is the theme from MASH.  You may say that it is a comedy, but many considered it a serious show with some dark humor tossed in.  Also, the theme song, Suicide Is Painless, was actually written for the movie and wisely used without the words for the television show.  Along with the series, the theme has reached iconic status.

Another honorable mention goes to the Star Trek themes.  Many will tell you that the second series, The Next Generation, improved upon the original song, scripts, and special effects.  I still like the original series with William Shatner chewing up the scenery at every chance.

10. The West Wing theme.  The show gave us a White House that was not chaotic and actually rather “presidential.” President Bartlet was the strong and compassionate leader we could love.  The theme shouted Americana and represents a grandeur of the office.  Composer W.G. “Snuffy” Walden won an Emmy for the work.

9. Twilight Zone theme.  The one you all know was not the original theme.  The first season had a different, more ethereal style theme. The famous one was a couple of short cues CBS had commissioned of Marius Constant as “work made for hire” and spliced together.  Have you ever gone “do do do do, do do do do” to something strange?

8.  Believe It Or Not, The Greatest American Hero. The unlikely hero of this show (William Katt) gets a superhero suit, but no instructions. The recording by singer Joey Scarbury stayed 18 weeks on the Top 40 and made it to number 2 in August of 1981.

7. Hill Street Blues theme, by Mike Post who also co-authored Believe It Or Not. The 1980’s cops drama was a critical success and ran 7 seasons.  Released in 1981, the song spent months on the pop charts.

6. Rockford Files theme, Mike Post teamed up with yet another person to pen this tune. The 1970’s detective drama starred James Garner and ran 6 seasons.  The theme was Post’s first theme to reach the top ten.

5. Hawaii Five-0. The tune was written by Morton Stevens who also added some episode scores for the original series.  A hit version by the Ventures climbed the pop charts in 1969. The iconic tune was reused for the current series.

4. A few notes in and you will immediately know the music for the spy thriller Mission Impossible. The show is pretty dated now, but still fun to watch. Here Lalo Schifrin plays his famous composition:

3. Doctor Who theme. The current theme is an updated version of the original but is still pretty good. Can you imagine the Doctor travelling in the tardis to any other music? Here are all the versions, just in case you need them.

2. Perry Mason theme. For some unknown reason, this did not even make some lists I reviewed. I think it fits the show perfectly. It was reused in a series of Perry Mason movies long after the television series. The movies also starred Raymond Burr as the lawyer who never loses.

1. The best television theme was the classic tune by Henry Mancini for Peter Gunn. The private detective series featured jazz music like any good film noir detective movie of the 1950’s. The music was also recycled in the Blues Brothers movie. Mancini won an Emmy Award for the music and a Grammy for the album.

Sources:

Believe It or Not, Wikipedia
Peter Gunn, Wikipedia

Next week: Top Television Theme Songs, Comedy Division