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Stop the gimmicks, just let me watch TV

POSTED: May 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Years ago, when I was working in television, we were just getting into electronic graphics. We had a little gizmo that would flash someone's name up on the screen at the directed time.

We still made use of slides. A guy would make slides of a reporter's name and the call letters and channel number of the station using a hot-type press with white letters on a black poster board.

The day they inserted my personalized slide into the film chain, I thought I had arrived.

That entire apparatus is probably now being used as a boat anchor on the Flint River.

But television has developed a love affair with graphics. The people down at the TV stations and networks obviously think we can't hear. Because they want to flash lots of words at us.

If you can't hear, they have a thing called closed captioning. I found out about this the last time I bought a TV. It was turned on and it took me two weeks to find the button to turn it off.

When a politician or some other public figure is holding a much anticipated live news conference, they put a little countdown clock to tell you how long before the event will begin, right down to the second.

If they don't show up on time, they flash up "Awaiting News Conference."

I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but video of an empty lectern with dozens of microphones in front of it is a sign that you're waiting for something.

They also put a little thing in the corner to tell you it is "Live."

When I was a kid, we used to watch that test pattern with the Indian head in the middle of it while we waited for cartoons to come on. But in the last 30 years, no self-respecting TV outfit has shown a tape of an empty podium. Then, when the guy finally starts speaking, they start paraphrasing him on the screen.

"This is a bad piece of legislation," says the politician. About 20 seconds later, or as soon as somebody can type it in, they flash on the screen, "Calls legislation ‘bad.'"

The most annoying thing on news and sports programs is the crawling text. I have a hard time watching what's on the screen and trying to read what's on the crawl.

Some ball games, particularly early games, have scores that not many people are interested in, like Slippery Rock vs. Bowie State.

Now, before someone hauls off and writes me, those are two fine schools, they just don't have many alumni down here.

They used to limit the flashy stuff to news and sports programs. Now, if you're watching a regular program, they try to "tease" you into watching the late news.

You'll be trying to watch to see who got shot, or danced well, or was voted off the fat farm, and they flash up, "See Monica's new hairdo at 11," or some such drivel.

With 500 channels of cable TV, it seems like someone would find room for a graphics-free network, where you could do what you wanted to do in the first place, watch television.

If they do, maybe they can advertise it in the flash or crawl of one of the regular channels. In that case, I hope they run it twice so I can write it down.

I'm not as quick as I was in the days of the test pattern and the Indian chief.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays in the print edition only and Sundays.



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