As I’ve mentioned several times before — and as longtime readers will easily notice — I tend to watch older movies more than new releases. It’s easier to stay home and watch a movie on my computer or TV than to go to the theatre several times a week. And like any movie fan, I appreciate the options available when it comes to watching movies on TV. After all, Hulu usually doesn’t have much from the last two or three years, and hardly ever anything that’s both that recent and high-profile. Television frequently does, in addition to films of an older vintage.
But watching films on TV has some definite downsides as well. Now, I’ll grant that many of these would be mitigated (though not usually eliminated) with the use of a DVR, which I don’t actually have and am not likely to for some time. But a lot of them would remain the same, and even the others would generally still be a problem on some level even then. So here are my top 10 choices for things that bother me about watching films on TV.
There’s a movie under there although some stations could fool you.
I don’t mean insects flying onto the bright screen while I try to watch a film in the dark. Although that’s irritating, too. What bothers me more though are those bugs I can’t swat: the little icons that TV stations put over their programming for various ill-thought reasons. They get in the way of viewing the movie, and they’re distracting. I can just about put up with the faint “station identification” bug (which also tends to show up with online streaming services; Hulu did it for a while, but stopped, and Crackle still does it). But even that seems pointless to me; I know what station I tuned into, because I tuned into it. Cinemark doesn’t see the need to blare at me “You’re in Cinemark” every five minutes, why does Epix Drive-In? I also don’t need to know what’s on now — again, I tuned in — or what’s coming on next. Even over-the-air digital comes with a channel guide nowadays. If I want to know what’s on or what’s next, I can check on my own. The TV rating I guess they’re obligated to do, but I’d much prefer it if they just took a second before showing the film to display it, and left it off the screen otherwise. Some of the premium movie channels do this, and it works a lot better than blocking up to 15% of the screen every time you come back from commercial. Some stations are worse about bugs than others; in particular, I watched Teen Wolf on the NBA channel one time (yes, really), and they kept their news scroll on the bottom the whole time. I understand that’s the channel’s main purpose, but it’s doubtful anybody was really hoping to keep up on the previous day’s scores at the same time as watching Michael J. Fox in a werewolf costume.
#9: No Pause Button
Possibly the only item on the list which would be 100% solved by a DVR — and which also is a problem when going to view movies in the theatre. Hence why it’s so low on the list, especially as some reasons for wanting to pause it can be served by commercial breaks on a lot of stations. Still, if you need to use the restroom or have run out of popcorn, it’s a little irritating to try and time things for a commercial break or a slow moment in the movies. A pause button is definitely preferable. This is especially true when it comes to interruptions that watching at home makes possible, such as somebody calling you thirty minutes into the movie and wanting to talk to you for an extended period of time.
#8: Ad Content
On most networks, and most free streaming services, you have to put up with commercial breaks. That’s not something I’m overly fond of, but I put up with it, within reason. But sometimes the specific ads are not reasonable. Sometimes you see ads for the very film you’re watching — and more than once I’ve seen those ads contain spoilers. Thanks a bunch. But what really gets me are those ads that just shouldn’t be on the air at all, at any time, for any reason, such as phone sex ads. If I want to watch Terminator 2, I should be able to do so without the television implying I’m horny and desperate. That’s just insulting. I used to wonder if it was better or worse that these ads seem to have no reason for being selected to air during particular movies. Then a few years ago, A&E answered that question for me as I was watching Scrooged. It’s a Christmas movie, of course, and was being aired during the Christmas season. While it’s PG-13, and thus not a “kid’s movie”, it’s not rated R and isn’t something most parents would object to their kid watching. And it started airing at 8:00 PM, prime time. And somebody at A&E had no qualms with airing a vibrator commercial during the middle of it. Somebody really ought to have had qualms. I try to be open-minded about a lot of things, or at least not to make a fuss, but I have to say that when you interrupt a Christmas movie with a group of women discussing being pleasured by a mechanical dildo, you have crossed a line which ought not to be crossed.
#7: Series Scheduling
This is something that I don’t really blame the stations for, at least not in most circumstances. I’m kind of persnickety about wanting to watch movies in a series in order. But it can be difficult to do that if you’re relying on TV for the scheduling. If there’s any attempt to coordinate the films at all, it usually means you’re looking at a back-to-back block of films, which may be more than you have time for in one sitting. Otherwise, you’re looking at seeing Harry Potter 5 on the schedule while you’re still waiting to catch Harry Potter 4, which isn’t turning up anywhere. Last October I wanted to watch Halloween II as part of the season’s festivities, and wound up having to rent it. One of the networks — I think it was AMC — was having a Halloween marathon regularly, but they were only showing the first one, the fourth, and the fifth. The second was nowhere to be seen. Last March, G4 was airing all the Bond films, but I missed the day for From Russia With Love, and since I’m trying to watch the series in chronological order, that meant it was a big wasted opportunity for me. Not the fault of the networks, really, but the difficulties in arranging it all is certainly an irritation.
#6: Video/Audio Quality
This one takes the #6 spot as a compromise. It’s so low because it is, fortunately, relatively rare. But when it does come up it drives me up the wall. In this day and age most films, even most classic films, have been digitally remastered. Colors are bold, whites are bright, blacks are dark. Audio fidelity is restored and you can hear everything clearly. So why is it that when you watch certain stations they’re still using the same old reel that’s been sitting in their basement for 40 years? Dust, scratches, blurry images, staticky sound… I’ve seen some broadcasts that wouldn’t measure up to a private VHS recording. I should never see a movie broadcast that doesn’t at least hold up to DVD quality.
It’s hard to enjoy a film you can’t see clearly.
#5: 0-Dark Whenever
This is more a problem with the premium stations than the regular networks, which fit everything into convenient slots through other abominable tactics. Movies are seldom divisible into neat 30-minute chunks. Solving this problem can be done a few different ways, and I’ll admit none of them are great ways. But all too often the premium stations solve it by completely ignoring it. I’m the kind of viewer who hates coming into a movie more than ten minutes late, so I want to know exactly when a film starts. But that’s difficult when a movie might start at 8:00 or 8:20 or 8:45 or any other time. It’s usually at least a multiple of 5 minutes, but that’s about as good as it gets. Now, a DVR allows a person to schedule the recording if they know it’s happening, but that doesn’t help a bit if you’re surfing for a film to watch on impulse. There have been a great many times when I’ve decided to see what’s coming on and started flipping through a few minutes before the turn of the hour only to find that everything had either started ten minutes ago or wasn’t going to start for 35 minutes. If things would consistently start on the half-hour mark, it would take out a lot of the guesswork. If filler is needed, run a short film or a promotional piece about what’s coming up (Turner Classic Movies is generally pretty good about this.)
#4: Ad Length and Frequency
Of course, the traditional network approach to slotting films in is ad padding. If a film is 80 minutes long, 10 minutes of commercials will round it out to 90 and won’t be too onerous (this would be about 20 minutes of film followed by 2.5 of commercials; not great, but just acceptable). But all too often I find that 80 minute film padded out to two full hours. There have been times when I’ve found myself growing increasingly irritated as I watch ten minutes of film followed by ten minutes of commercials… it pretty much ruins the movie experience. Even a DVR wouldn’t really cure the problem, as even when you have it recorded, you have to actively fast forward through the commercials, which still takes you out of the viewing experience.
#3: Trimming For Time
And the third way of slotting films into neat half-hour packages. Usually coupled with ad padding for extra insult. If a film’s just a bit too long, bring out the shears and just chop stuff away. The professional film editor who was responsible for the theatrical release didn’t know what he was doing, right? Now, sometimes this can be pretty benign; an expert at trimming films can shave a few minutes off the run time just by taking a second here and a second there from transitions. But usually entire scenes go missing, and you wind up missing out on part of the film. A lot of times I’ve watched a familiar film on DVD to discover something I never knew existed. One of my favorite films is a great example; the DVD run time for The Blues Brothers is nearly an hour longer than most network run times. If you’ve only ever seen it on TV, you haven’t really seen it.
Even worse than editing for time is editing for content. The premium networks are usually good about this, but the rest are a mixed bag. When something is cut for time, it’s usually something the editor at least thinks isn’t terribly important (whether they’re right or wrong about that is another question). But with censorship, the question of importance isn’t important. If it’s too crude, lewd, or violent, it goes. Maybe it’s cut wholesale, or maybe it’s dubbed over with more innocuous dialogue. Depending on the ineptitude of the censors, this can sometimes create a whole different form of entertainment from a familiar film; TBS is particularly notorious for some of their edits.
“This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!”
But while it can be fun to laugh at these idiotic edits, I’d much rather just watch the film I settled in for. If a film isn’t suitable for your network, you shouldn’t be airing it at all.
I thought about showing a picture of what I mean, but that’s not a Google image search I particularly want to try for, and making a custom one would be more work than it merits. Because you all know what I mean anyway: that evil bastard hybrid of advertising and on-screen bugs. The advertiser’s answer to commercial-skipping DVR players. Where bugs at least usually try to be unobtrusive (though I don’t feel they succeed), popover ads are designed to be as obtrusive as they can be. The goal is to get your attention, after all. I’ve seen some that take up the entire bottom half of the screen, making it impossible to watch the film. Even the premium channels sometimes do this; I’ve seen Starz do it with ads for Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Is there anybody who is actually persuaded by these things to watch the other program? It only discourages me. For one thing, if I’m watching a movie, I don’t want to watch Spartacus: Blood and Sand; I want to watch my movie. That’s why I tuned in. This isn’t just simple, it’s elementary. It’s the most basic reasoning possible when it comes to television. Let me watch what I tuned in to watch, or I won’t tune in. And for goodness’ sake, if you do that to advertise Spartacus, why wouldn’t I expect you to similarly ruin Spartacus by putting up a popover ad for something else? All you’ve succeeded in doing is convincing me to not watch your programming. This isn’t successful advertising. It’s anti-advertising. Advertising should never highlight bad service. The service you provide is airing content. If you put up an ad over the content, you’re providing bad service — for the sake of the advertisement. It’s utterly counter-productive, which makes it perplexing that it’s become so pervasive.
Naturally, what bothers me may not bother you, and vice-versa. And there are certainly more potential irritations out there. So chime in on the comments, and let me know what bothers you when you’re trying to watch a film on TV. Or, conversely, if that’s your preferred way to watch, feel free to say why as well.