Monday, July 9, 2007

Do Not Forsake Me...

I can tell time.

But I wonder about others at times.

My first job was at a small radio station in southeast Georgia. My first duties at that job was to work a Braves games.

Back then, working a Braves game involved listening on the network to ensure that everything sounded correct, then, at the right time, start the intro. When the intro ended, if everything was done correctly, you'd hear Pete Van Wieren or Ernie Johnson start their greeting, and the broadcast was underway.

You needed to be able to tell time ... and to know the correct time ... for it to work properly.

During the game, we'd have to play commercials. We had a guide that indicated which break was ours. Between innings, either we'd let the network commercials play or we'd play our local commercials. And, our local commercials needed to be either 30 seconds or 60 seconds (we played multiple 30 second commercials) for it to time correctly.

Pete or Ernie would say something like "After two innings, it's Los Angeles 3, and the Braves 1" (since the Braves were often behind early and often back then) and we'd start our commercials. After the commercials ended, Pete or Ernie would start back, talking about the first 3 batters coming up, or a scoring change, or something. The point is, if everything was timed correctly, it sounded smooth.

And, because baseball has no clock, the players wouldn't stop playing at the top of the hour so the station could give a legal station identification. No, Pete and Ernie would watch the clock themselves, and as close as they could get to the top of the hour, they'd pause for station ID. And, because it might be a sudden thing, they'd give more than 10 seconds for station ID.

After all, you could listen and know when the third out was happening, and know that they'd describe the play, and you had enough time for the announcer to give a scoring wrap (that was the cue) to have your commercials set to play. With station ID, you only had enough time for them to say "Let's pause for station identification on the Atlanta Braves radio network." And that's not long. So, the 10 second break was actually 14 seconds.

So, things sounded smoothly for station IDs and for commercial breaks, if it was done right. There was never any commercial ending, and Pete be in mid-sentence. That sounds really bad. And we didn't do it.

Why didn't we do it? Because it sounded bad. And we were professionals. $1.80 an hour professionals, but professionals nonetheless. We took pride in doing it right. And in order to do it right, we had to know what time it was, and be able to tell time.

Nothing hard, really, when you think about it. Just a desire to do things correctly.

What brings this up?

Well, apparently some TV channels can't tell time. And haven't been able to tell time for a long time.

You see, what I'm about to describe may sound like a TiVo issue, but it's really not.

A long time ago, I recorded some movie that was coming on late at night. It was many, many years ago, and I was recording it on the VCR.

Now, in order to do that, you have to have your VCR's clock set right.

Well, mine was.

If I was watching TV, and I noticed the time was off, I'd set the time.

Now, by "the time was off," I mean I kept my wristwatch the correct time. I'd take whatever steps were necessary to keep the time correct. To the second.

So, when I noticed the time on the VCR be off at all, by a second, I'd set it. And, yes, I'd have to set it about once a week. Sometimes twice.

The point is that it was never more than a second or two off of the correct time.

Anyway, that night, I set up the VCR to record a movie, based upon the information I had.

Okay, it was Thelma and Louise. Don't laugh. I had heard it was a good movie and wanted to see it. So, I recorded it and watched it.

When it got to the point where they clasped hands and Thelma (or Louise) hit the gas, the movie stopped. Actually, the recording of the movie stopped.

Now, my VCR was set to the second. Or within a second. So, I'm assuming the problem wasn't on my end.

Fast forward to 2007. Technological advances mean that we should be able to do thing even better and more efficient. Or at least, correct.

VCRs have been replaced by TiVo. But dumbass movie channels are still dumbass movie channels.

Because TiVo synchronizes itself ... including its clock ... every day. It gets data from the networks about what's playing when, and for how long. Okay, actually, it just goes by the starting times of the various programs, but determines the length based on that. For example, if High Noon starts at 11:30 and the next program, The Bravados, starts at 1:30, then at 11:30, TiVo starts recording, and records for 2 hours.

Well, on this past Friday, that's exactly what happened. At 11:30 AM, TiVo switched to AMC and recorded High Noon. And, at 1:30 PM, it stopped recording High Noon.

Since the movie is 1:25 long, it should fit in a 2-hour slot. Only, AMC plays commercials. They used to not, but have for a while now. And, they decided that for that 2-hour slot, 35 minutes of commercials wasn't enough.

You see, I've never seen High Noon. I'd seen that it was on, and had watched a bit of it, but always decided that I wanted to watch it from the beginning, and watch the whole thing. So, I'd never seen the beginning. Or the ending.

Well, this weekend, I had the opportunity. TiVo had it as a suggestion. So, we watched it.

Or most of it.

It began with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara outside an Irish cottage, then walking the trail to the little house.


Oh, that was the ending to The Quiet Man, which had aired before High Noon. That wasn't a good sign.

But, still, the movie was less than 1:30, so there should be no problem with a 2-hour slot, right?

Yeah, right.

You see, after 2 hours, when Gary Cooper picked Grace Kelly up, and a wagon pulled up, the famous TiVo "ding" happened, and we had the opportunity to keep or delete the movie.

I don't know what happened next. Did Gary Cooper say or do something meaningful? I don't know because ... TiVo missed the ending!

Only, I don't think it was TiVo's fault. The time was set correctly. It was AMC being AMC, playing way too many commercials and not being able to read a clock.

Technology is a wonderful thing. Unless you have idiots running it.


  1. Basil, I feel your pain! We love our TIVO but we have learned to go to options and add 10-30 mins more on most everything, simply because the programs are not set with the correct time! Many times we have recorded movies and it would ding, as you say, before the ending! Happened just other night to me.

  2. Been there, suffered that. I had to give up recording movies on TV after seeing all but the last five minutes of several - and then having friends fill me in before I could manage to rent the films to see for myself. Now it's "On Demand" for the win.

    Incidentally...tag, you're it. Eight things meme. They did it to me, I did it to you.

  3. You struck a nerve with me. No one in America is more annoyed at commercials of any kind than me right now. We are bombarded 24/7 by commercials at every medium. Fox News, which I watch so much it's unhealthy, seems to be the worst. And radio is out of control. Who decided that to sell cars, you must have a commercial where you scream at the customers? I listen to XM in the car. Great for music, no commercials. Thing is, I listen to talk radio. And talk radio has commercials just like terrestrial radio. And on XM, commercial breaks can literally last 10 minutes. And how many people actually listen to commercials? I cannot get to the button fast enough when any sort of commercial comes on. And at home, with TIVO, I usually start watching a program 10 minutes in, so I can rewind and watch the show while fast forwarding through the commercials. In short, I too become enraged at the endless sommercials, everywhere. Enough already..

  4. Eight Things Meme...

    Monday memeday, apparently…
    David at Third World County has tagged me with the “Eight Things About Me(me).” Although I’m very pleased to know I’m his favorite yak, I’m curious as to how many shaggy quadrupedal blog...

  5. It's getting to be commonplace for some programs to vary from the top of the hour beginning/ending. Some programs last for 65 or more minutes these days...the commercial break gets inserted about 5 minutes before the hour...the program resumes and goes straight to the next program without commercial break around 5-10 minutes after the hour. I've noticed it on ABC (Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives). I also noticed this on some cable channels with movies ending/beginning with no commercial break.
    You would think TiVo would have the accurate information about the timing of the broadcast, though...

  6. TiVo, like you, is totally dependent on what they're told. If I see in TV Guide (or on TV Guide Channel) that a program runs from 11:30 - 1:30, I'd assume as much. TiVo isn't any more important to the TV networks than you or I am. My dollar is important, but I'm not. And neither is TiVo. So, they don't care if they tell them accurate information or not.

    It just frosts my butt that folks that are supposed to be professionals don't care about the little things. That shows just how unprofessional they are.

  7. I remember thinking it very odd ten years ago or more when everything on TBS began at five minutes past the hour. The idea being, I suppose, that you would have to watch whatever came on next because you'd have missed the beginning of everything else.

    I find this all kind of interesting. I've worked on a number of television commercials and on one episodic tv show and, in both types of production, time is of the utmost importance. Commercials are timed to the tenth of a second.

    The fact that this gets ignored by programmers in the middle of the night does not surprise me but it does annoy me a bit, given how much attention I have to pay to time as part of the same industry.

  8. Thomas, it's nice to see that there are still professionals in the business. One thing, though. This wasn't the middle of the night. It was the middle of the day. High Noon came on at 11:30 AM, just before noon!

    I guess the person running the production board was watching Price Is Right on the monitors instead of watching the clock.

  9. It's called "human error". Suff like that when life and limbs are on the line, say in pacemaker/defibrillator manufacture, keeps me in business.

  10. When it happens sometimes, it's an error.

    When it happens consistently, it's negligence.


Please choose a Profile in "Comment as" or sign your name to Anonymous comments. Comment policy