Readers of a certain age will remember, perhaps with the nostalgic fondness that I do, a weekly digest magazine called TV Guide. I recently saw a copy of TV Guide on a newsstand, and immediately thought that it wasn’t the same magazine I knew growing up. It was larger, the pages were in color, and a quick glance told me that it probably contained less about what is on television tonight than the TV Guide I knew—and perhaps for good reason. Countless channels and the realtime Internet makes it hard for a print magazine to compete.
Though I am not much of a primetime television watcher these days, I have a fondness for the old TV Guide. The issues were digest sized, just like the science fiction magazines of the day. The cover was always colorful, but the pages themselves were black and white, and gave off the vague scent of newsprint.
The magazine contained a few short features, but the fast majority of the issue was taken up by the television listings. The listings were just that: lists. A page was divided into two columns. Times were generally listed in half-hour increments, although occasionally, some news program might start five minutes before the hour.
The entries within each time slot were simple, and clear. First there were the channel, various colors white or black ovals contain the channel number, follows by the name of the program in ALL CAPS. The more popular programs might have a short description. You might see something like:
11:00 (9) (13) (19) (26) HAPPY DAYS
Richie (Ron Howard) is tormented by unrequited love. Connie: Mary Cross.
Sometimes, the titles were followed by category: HOLLYWOOD SQUARES—Game; or PTL CLUB—Religion. Movies were listed with their run times: MOVIE—Drama “The Daredevil.” (1972) George Montgomery plays a racing-car driver whose bad luck makes him a patsy for gangsters. (1 hr., 55 min.). Sometimes, at press time, the magazine had no idea what would be playing, and simple report: MOVIE—To Be Announced. Could you imagine that happening today?
I enjoyed reading through the listing, looking for my favorite shows, and seeing if they were new or reruns. Sometimes it was hard to tell.
It’s hard to imagine this is how we used to discover what shows were playing on television. Today, I can ask Siri to find a show, or pop up the guide that comes with the cable service, and search for what I am looking for. Those guides have all kinds of filters and favorite functions, but I almost never use them. I suspect most people don’t use them either.
I wish someone would invent a channel guide that had the look and feel of an old TV Guide issue. It could be a theme that you could apply to your normal cable channel guide, like a CSS stylesheet. It would give your screen the yellow, faded look of oxidized paper. There would be two columns of listings that you could scroll through, and you could customize the channels that were displayed in the guide so you wouldn’t have to see the hundreds of channels you weren’t interested in.
Of course, at the end of the day, the result would be the same. I’d flip through the guide, reading the descriptions, and coming to the conclusion after a few moment that there was just nothing good on television.
Ah yes, I remember TV Guide all too well. I remember it starting to lose relevance, and cohesion, once cable really started getting going and those little grids were no longer practical.