Picking Those 57 Channels

We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past dawn
There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on

Bruce Springsteen wrote that, more than twenty years ago. In once sense, nothing has changed. At any given moment, my cable TV box will offer me reruns of several drama series that I watched when they were new, some movies that started twenty minutes ago and which weren’t that funny the second time I saw them, and a couple of marathons of made-for-cable shows that might be fine in small doses but mostly which I didn’t bother watching when they were first on.

However, in the two decades since Bruce got his fifty-seven channels, digital video recorders have exploded in ways that VCRs never quite did. No one would record a movie that was coming on in case they might be bored later. For one thing, if you were recording one thing on the VCR, you couldn’t watch another. DVRs changed that. TiVo in particular recorded things on speculation; you rate shows, and TiVo guesses what you like and records similar programs in case you’re interested. Sometimes I record movies I’ve seen once or twice; sometimes I record movies that I always meant to watch but never got around to watching.

That leads to a second question: which are my fifty-seven channels? I’ve got CNN and ESPN, like everyone else, but I barely ever watch CNN, and while I’ll flip to ESPN out of boredom, I rarely stay to watch.

There are some channels that have original programming I like. That accounts for USA Network, TNT (“We know drama!”), and SyFy. Admittedly, the original programming only covers 10-15 hours a week, so there are still lots of reruns of various Law and Order franchises or Castle, but it’s a start. There are also several movie channels, of varying quality. Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics are the best known, but sometimes, “Classics” aren’t what you want, and AMC in particular is emphasizing original programming now.

That leaves an interesting set to consider:

  • Universal HD
  • Sony HD
  • FX Movies
  • MGM HD
  • HD Net Movies

At least four of those are alied with specific studios or families of studios — or at least rights to large libraries of films. The nuance, though, is that the last two aren’t included in my basic cable package; they’re in an add-on tier of HD programming on my AT&T U-Verse service. I’m not sure why MGM costs extra when Sony and Universal don’t, but c’est la vie.

After about three weeks of having MGM HD, HD Net Movies, the Smithsonian Channel, a few obscure channels, and dozes of regional sports channels, I’ve decided that even though seven dollars a month for that add-on tier isn’t much, it’s not money well spent. But I’ll keep mining the other movie channels for a few movies to keep on hand for boring times.


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