Smart TV. Dumb Owner.

Posted 03/29/2016

There is a line in a Woody Allen movie; I can’t remember which movie, which actor delivered the line or even what the set up to the joke was.

         But Woody is asking his father a complex, metaphysical question and the Dad in the movie answers, as he shrugs and walks away: “How should I know? I don’t even know how the can opener works.”

         I can work an electric can opener. As long as one inserts the ridge properly against the mechanism that pierces and one presses a lever down hard. I’ve known how to work can openers since the first one appeared in our kitchen in Brooklyn sometime in the late 1950s.

         I also knew how to work a television back then. From the very first one I owned; a Sony 9” (I used to write Sony’s advertising and I think I got a discount on the set, under a hundred bucks). It was a very cool and small thing, the screen looked up at you from a jaunty slant.

         It had an on/off switch, a small circular knob that turned on with a distinct ‘click’, a similar-shaped knob for volume, and it’s slanted sides were pebble-textured in slate gray metal. Easy to grip. On one side was a dial for channels. 2 – 13 and, I think, a further station, just one: VHS. Or UHF. (definitely not UFO) but all that ever appeared on it was eternal snow.

         It had a clever antenna affixed to a groove at the top of the set. You pulled it out and it telescoped to 16” or so. It had a neon orange cap. It also had a handle for easy transport—the thing itself weighted no more than six pounds.

         No remote control.

         It was the TV set that the iconic ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, circa 1968, created a clever campaign around. “Tummy Television”  one ad read featuring a chubby guy, with the set on his…well, tummy, chuckling at some scene, while his wife was sleeping peacefully beside him, in hair curlers. (The set had an earpiece for quiet viewing.)

         “Telefishin’”, another headline went, with a guy in a rowboat watching while fishing. (It was also battery operated.)

         But that might be too much information about something else entirely.

         Today, this day, early spring, 2016, at least six or seven televisions since (with Manhattan Cable TV at first, now Time Warner Cable), I sit in front of my latest TV, my face as blank as the screen.

         I can’t operate the freakin’ thing!

         There are three remote controls—one for the DVD actually, which I can’t operate either. The Time Warner remote itself, the main event, has three dozen or more buttons, 35 of which I can’t fathom what their uses are, what their duties do. I know the channel selector buttons, but there are all sorts of other miniscule buttons that say cable and tv and dvd and whatnot, but they are useless, really. My fingertips, anyway, too fat to press without bleeding into another button.

         Often, the mute button gets accidentally pushed when one of us hops on the bed—(even the dog, when we had one) where the remotes usually reside. It takes me forever to find my glasses and a further forever to find that teeny tiny mute button. Which remote is the mute button on?

         I don’t DVR. I don’t know how. I’m not even sure that’s the right acronym for recording stuff. I don’t want to learn, either. I just want to know how to turn the TV on! Is that so much to ask of a smart  TV? If it’s so smart, shouldn’t it be able to turn itself on and to the exact proper show I want to watch just by entering the room and saying “Modern Family” and not the reruns, either. But no. The Time Warner remote features two important and frosted on-off buttons. Presumably, one to work the cable box and the other to work the tv. Don’t ask. Anytime I press either of them, or both, teeth clenched, what happens is a mystery. What should be the programming is relegated to a small black square, upper left corner, and throughout the rest of this rectangular set, are square tabs for Netflix and Pandora and Amazon Prime and Hulu and yoo-hoo? If I press on any of them, I need a password, which I always forget.

         Nine times out of ten, no matter what I press, or how close to the actual set and box these remotes are pointed to, that same, mimicking, empty  black square jumps up at me. Eventually, if I stand on my head and push said buttons between my legs, inches from the dreaded box and rectangle, the square turns into TELEVISION! Channel One always comes up first—figures, it’s a Time Warner subsidiary—and then, very carefully, I press the touch pad of another remote and the small square picture explodes into all four corners of the screen, all 48” of it.

         There’s a ‘guide’ button, also impossible to read or find without 3.0 magnifying glasses, but it won’t really operate unless you press the itsy-bitsy tv button underneath the main on-off controls. To this end, I miss TV Guide, a periodical I looked forward to finding in the mail in the 1960s. I think it’s still in print, but like everything, it’s different. And more difficult to decipher.

         If I’m lucky enough to get to ‘guide’ I can then whirl up and down hundreds, no, thousands of stations showing all sorts of junk….er, programming. I was a fan of “Downton Abbey” and miss it already, but somehow, season after season, that was reassuringly on Channel 13, just a few stations away from Channel One.

         But if I wanted something on HBO, or Showtime, or even Bravo, I suppose I must admit I am just too impatient to scroll forever to find them. Did you know there is a multitude of HBOs? Growing up in New York there was WCBS, WNBC, WNEW, WABC, WOR, WPIX, and a newly emergent channel 13 (WNET), the intellectual choice. And all so easy to twist a tight knob, with their respective numbers, to get to. No remote. Not even remotely a remote.

         Now, there’s “Twilight Zone” marathons on the ScyFy channel. As a boy, on a Friday night after dinner, it was on just once a week. My mother and sister and I would sit, at 8:30 PM, in front of our Motorola, 12” with a bowl of Wise Potato Chips. Once a week, every Friday night, it was a treat and a treasure. Now, with 48 nonstop hours of it, it’s dreary and dated and depressingly redundant.

         Frankly, I don’t try very hard. I don’t much like television anyway, there are very few shows (less now with Downton gone) that I care to watch. I like “CBS Sunday Morning” though I hear they are phasing out Charles Osgood. Ageism—shame on you CBS! I also watch Fox News at 10 (I know, I know), but I watch it for two reasons: I think Steve Lacey is hot and I don’t stay up late enough for the more dignified news that starts at 11.

         Everything, everyone says, was easier back then. I knew when “Father Knows Best” was on, and never missed it. I made it a point to watch “Dennis the Menace” and “Winky Dink” and “Sonny Fox’s Wonderama”. “Leave it to Beaver”, too. Now, I couldn’t find “Homeland” or “House of Cards” or “Game of Thrones”…or is it “House of Thrones” and “Game of Cards”?

         I can sometimes get to “Anderson Cooper’s 360” (he’s cute, too; sexy. even) if CNN is way up on the channel ladder. And poor (poor, ha!) Oprah Winfrey and her ill-fated OWN network. That channel number is nose-bleed high. Too much trouble, nor does she generously give away cars or interestingly hype books like she used to when she was famous for being famous and not just rich.

         Now, here’s where we get to the part that makes me lazy about it all:

         “Hello, David!” (he’s my husband; we are actually newlyweds, married two weeks ago, but together 29 years). David is, by profession, a project manager, but he may as well be my personal IT slash TV genius.

         “David?” I call out to him from the bedroom, where the TV lives, to him in the kitchen. “The Mike Nichols Documentary?” I know it’s hiding somewhere in this mysterious, ominous, forbidding and intimidating and SMART and black and paper-thin rectangle of a television set.

         He comes in and presses a few buttons, hardly looking, and Presto! Mike Nichols! David is younger than me by a decade, a decade that may as well be a century between the tech-savvy and the tech-challenged.

         He also navigates in the car with his cell phone. (I don’t have to). He goes to ‘Fandango’ for movies (I could do that, but why should I when he’s so willing to help?).

         So,  with David around the house, this depressing appliance—how I am so very outsmarted by the television in 2016—is user friendly! As long as I am not the user. And for as long as I live with a friendly man, my husband, who knows all and does all.

         How lucky can you get?

         Me, married for the first time at 68, to a man who can work the TV.

And do so much more.

         I think I may change the title of this piece to:

         You Have To Go Through Channels to Find True Love.