Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Television Goes to the DOGs

I was going to use today's entry to review this past Sunday's "Knight Rider," but what's the point? Here's your review: It blew. Some things deserve to be relegated to a segment on VH1's "I Love the Eighties."

Instead, I present a screeching diatribe about my least favorite trend in television. You know, something peppy and cheerful.

Suppose you settle in to watch your favorite program, which undoubtedly must be "Deal Or No Deal," given how often it's on. Suppose that as the program runs, a voice pipes up periodically to say something like, "You are watching 'Deal Or No Deal.'" And then a few seconds later it says the same thing. Then it does it again. And again. And again.

Annoyed yet?

Well, too bad, because it doesn't stop there. Suppose the voice also periodically reminds you of what network you're watching. Suppose it also tells you what's on next ("Another 'Deal Or No Deal' because you demanded it!"). Suppose it also tells you what's on in a week. Suppose it also tells you what's on the news at 11. Suppose the voice continues to "inform" you of all this throughout the entire running time of the show.

Networks haven't done that yet (give them time), but they have kindly provided us with the visual equivalent. They're called DOGs, Digital On-screen Graphics, also known as screen bugs, and they're those little whozies in the corner of the screen. At least, they used to be in the corner of the screen. Lately, they seem to have no bounds.

Watching the afore-mentioned "Knight Rider" (ugh), I was treated to the following: an inexplicable red rectangle in the lower left at the beginning of the show (what IS that thing?); a helpful note telling me (warning me, perhaps) that I was indeed watching "Knight Rider," which is handy in case I suddenly morphed into the guy from Memento or something; a keen graphic telling me about "My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad," which I presume is a show and not just the network's collective boasting; large graphics for other NBC offerings, like "Quarterlife" and some others that I don't remember off-hand just now (good advertising); and finally, plenty of notes from the local news team about how something or other is going to kill me unless I watch their awful broadcast, which I did not.

It couldn't have been too lethal, whatever it was, 'cause I'm still blogging.

To be honest, all of this rigamarole was more entertaining than anything in "Knight Rider," so I guess I should be grateful. But I'm not.

Back in the dark, dreary days known as the nineties, having a network identifier on screen made a small amount of sense. It let you know at a glance what station you had tuned in with your rabbit ears and rotary dial.

But now, almost everyone has either cable or satellite or a DVR of some sort, and they all have more menus than any human being could possibly wade through, and if you're too thick to figure out what channel you just turned on, they tell you at a glance. The tiny rationale that justifies a DOG's existence is gone.

So why are they still there? I think they are there because we let them be. I can't believe they're actually effective marketing tools: they've only ever made me want to run screaming from whatever they're flogging. But we viewers accept this pointless defacement and so it continues.

It probably started with MTV. Remember back when MTV ran music videos? I know it was a long time ago, but think hard. Each video had a helpful little graphic at the beginning and the end telling you who the artist was, what the song was, what album the song appeared on, maybe even the name of the video's director. Nice. Anyone who ever caught a song on the radio then waited in vain for the DJ to tell them who was playing it, knows how useful that was.

Then sports telecasts began to grow extra graphics intensive, with scores and clocks and all sorts of crud all over the place, some of it helpful, most of it not so much.

Then the news. Hoo-boy, did the news ever take that ball and run with it. The perpetual crawl on the 24-hour news channels that began in the first Gulf War and took firm hold in the wake of 9/11 is now a permanent fixture.

We've grown used to all this junk on our screens. There's very little of it we couldn't do without.

Don't stand for it anymore. Call up the networks and tell them to take that defacement off your screen. Call your cable company or satellite provider and say the same. Call the FCC. Call the Better Business Bureau. Or just do what I do.

I taped a strip of cardboard across the bottom of my screen. With all the DOGs littering the picture, it's not like I could see that part of the show anyway.

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