The New Television: Flipping out

Jan 6, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Many analysts, myself included, have predicted that new TV technologies will dramatically alter our culture and lifestyle. However, no one could have forecast that they would begin to erode the brains of the very people who deliver them.

Of course, I’m only half serious, but industry officials last year had more slip-ups than a Russian dance team. Gaffes. Technical miscues. Embarrassing behavior. It seemed like every time you picked up the remote, or your favorite industry publication, you came across something strange but true.

As we begin the first full week of 2003, let’s look back at some of the year’s oddest moments in “The New Television.”


HDNet, the 24-hour high-definition channel, announces it will add “Hogan’s Heroes” to its lineup. The 1960s sitcom about a World War II POW camp was produced long before HDTV was available, and it’s hard to imagine anyone running to buy a digital TV so he can get a better view of Stalag 13. However, maybe the decision is oddly poetic. We all know how Bob Crane loved to play with new TV technology.

Oops, I did it again

TiVo, which has been frequently criticized on privacy issues, issues a press release saying that its customers replayed the Britney Spears Pepsi commercial more than anything else during the Super Bowl. The digital video recorder service wants to prove that TiVo owners actually watch commercials. However, Rush Limbaugh and others blast TiVo for releasing the data, saying it violates their customers’ privacy.

That’s OK, they really wanted to see the Britney spot

Soccer fans go ballistic (and you don’t want soccer fans going ballistic) when TiVo fails to record a crucial World Cup match. At the last minute, ESPN decides to move the game from ESPN2 to ESPN. So TiVo owners who programmed their recorders for ESPN2 instead get a snappy broadcast of billiards.

Maybe they need Viagra after watching Britney

Despite the Britney press release, CNW Marketing Research issues a study saying that TiVo owners seem to favor prescription drug commercials.

Hey, William L. Petersen could use a diet drink

CBS chief Leslie Moonves predicts that product placement on TV shows will increase due to digital video recorders. However, Moonves adds that you shouldn’t expect to see it on “CSI.” “How do you do an autopsy and have a Diet Coke next to it?” Moonves asks incredulously.

And she even eats less than Calista Flockhart!

Creative Artists Agency, which represents some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, signs the fictional Lara Croft as a client. Some people scoff, but the video game character exhibits more facial expressions than today’s Botox-treated actresses.

Maybe the rev on “7th Heaven” can cleanse their souls

WB chief Jamie Kellner suggests that DVR owners who skip commercials could be accused of “stealing.”

Pie in the sky?

DirecTV, the satellite TV service, catches fire for counting 360,000 subscribers before they signed up. (The company had to readjust its total numbers when the practice was discovered.) CEO Eddy Hartenstein says dropping the group from the overall total helps “because carrying those extra subscribers was dragging down our revenue per user.” Yeah, it’s hard to get revenue from a subscriber who hasn’t subscribed yet.

An Armey of one

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, declares that he will support the DirecTV-EchoStar merger. “These companies have obviously determined that consumers would have access to more services through the combined company,” Armey explains. The lawmaker apparently believes that proposed mergers should be decided on what the companies “determine” is best. Armey’s argument doesn’t fly; the federal government rejects the deal.

The `nude’ television

DirecTV begins showing the first five minutes of adult pay-per-view movies so anyone can see them, including young children. The satellite TV service drops the practice when Electronic Media asks about it.

Maybe he should have asked Trent Lott for help

The Rev. Al Sharpton criticizes EchoStar for not adding the Word Network, a religious channel targeted to African Americans. Sharpton, who charges EchoStar with serving up “electronic watermelon,” leads a protest in front of the home of EchoStar chief Charlie Ergen.

Is that how he got Jane out?

Vanity Fair reports that Ted Turner forced the ouster of ex-AOL Time Warner chief Gerald Levin by yelling at him during a meeting.

She must not have seen the 2002 New York Mets

Wink CEO Maggie Wilderotter says Liberty Media will make a sizable investment in her interactive television company, which was purchased by Liberty in the spring. “When you pay approximately $100 million for an asset, you don’t do that with the intent of not making it work,” Wilderotter explains.

Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions.com. He can be reached at Swann@TVPredictions.com.