A few months ago we finally said goodbye to the 20th century and joined the current one when we bought a big flat-screen TV and ditched my beloved VCR for a DVR. When I finally deposited the VCR in the garbage in the basement of our building I thought I heard a faint whirring sound from the tape deck, the beast activating its rewind mechanism one more time for old-time sake, seemingly pleading with me, “Don’t you remember rewinding time and again when watching Magic’s hook in Game 4 of the ’87 Finals?” I gave one final salute but let the elevator door close.
I’ve certainly been enjoying the DVR, even if I still hate not being able to get a hard-copy recording of anything I want. But this “HD” television that I had read about and heard strangers talking about on the bus and subway certainly lives up to its billing. The TV upgrade also led to some new upgrades with our cable package — the pyramid scheme I’ve implemented involving 10 of my close friends is covering the extra cost nicely — and I spend several hours a day, almost always late at night, in the mid 400-range.
It can be a strange place.
Start with my favorite channel, which is occasionally the most hated, ESPN Classic. At nights, forget about catching a replay of a classic SEC battle from 1982 involving Herschel or a memorable ACC hoops game with Brad Daugherty or other famous North Carolina alums. Rasslin’ dominates. For the past few months ESPN Classic has been airing hour after incredible hour of wrestling action from the old GWF. The GWF operated in the early ’90s and was several levels below the WWF and about one step above the show I saw as a kid at the county fair, which was memorable for the evil Larry Zbysko grabbing the mic and telling everyone in attendance that while Zbysko might suck — as the crowd had been chanting — he wanted us to know “Waseca sucks too!” As someone who held similar feelings about our big-city neighbors, this delighted me. The Classic — or The Class as longtime watchers call it — plays about four or five hours a night from GWF. It’s horrible, yet somehow not as depressing as the days when the network aired the same amount of action from the old AWA, concentrating on the era when the federation operated out of a casino in Nevada and had the wrestlers compete in front of a crowd that consisted of mannequins, prisoners and degenerate gamblers who were told by the house their debts would be forgiven if they would attend a card and hold up a sign cursing out Nick Bockwinkle. Occasionally at about 1 or 2 in the morning, the channel shows some of the old “Why You Can’t Blame Shows” or “Who’s No. 1” programs and you’re again reminded, for a brief time, how good the network can be.
At 448 Universal Sports makes its home. Rugby, track, figure skating, other international sports that Americans usually don’t care about until the Olympics come around, and only then if there’s a heartwarming story about a gal from the Midwest who has overcome steep odds to earn a shot at the gold. It’s a fun channel. This past weekend I inexplicably found myself watching at least 30 minutes of a world trophy event in synchronized swimming. Every synchronized swimming event seems like it served as preparation for Harry Shearer and Martin Short’s famous SNL skit and this one was no different, as the teams put on elaborate acts on the deck before even diving into the pool, their made up faces somehow switching between ecstasy and terror. Like diving, synchronized swimming apparently has harsh announcers. If a toe wiggles incorrectly the announcer notices and lectures the athlete.
Up the dial at 452, Fox College Sports Atlantic, where Badger fans can revel in watching Brett Bielema talk about his Arkansas football team. All of these FCS channels in the 400s show a lot of high school football championships — Michigan, California, Illinois and more. These channels were stranger before basketball started, back in September, say, when at midnight — for no reason other than a prankster apparently took over the programming in the control booth at the beginning of the overnight shift — a January 2013 women’s basketball game between Louisiana Tech and Texas Tech might pop up. There was no explanation why I’d often watch if it was a close game, not when a 2-second Internet search could have told me the result of this 9-month-old contest.
The Tennis Channel at 455 is a welcome addition. “Best of Five” offers things like “Counting down the most intriguing, interesting and strange tournaments and matches to ever take place.” If it hasn’t one day the network should just play the Connors-Krickstein match for 24 hours, sort of like what TBS does with A Christmas Story.
Fox Sports 2 lives up in these grounds, although a network that seems to consist mostly of ultimate fighting, NASCAR and billiards isn’t one I’ll visit often.
CBS Sports Network can prove invaluable — like when it replayed the Auburn-Alabama game, which, a decade ago might have been an Instant Classic on ESPN Classic, a spot that today would be reserved for a 35-year-old match involving Jerry Blackwell. It can also be insufferable — Doug Gottlieb, Tim Brando and Jime Rome all have talk shows. Want to hear controversial takes on sports? Do ya? Huh?
GOLTV at 459 — soccer. I’m sure Terry enjoys it.
The Pac 10 and Big Ten networks finally arrived when I had HD capabilities, even though I was paying for them for months. I watched more Gophers football games this fall than I had in the past 15 years combined. I enjoyed the improvements, although I couldn’t be the only one who misses the half-empty Metrodome hosting those games, as memories of Mike Alstott dominating on the turf danced in my head.
At the end of the night — after everything is over on NBA League Pass, which exists in the ritzier 401-409 neighborhood — I’ll take a tour of the channels that might be playing a Law & Order: Criminal Intent and I’ll stop by AMC to see if there’s a decent movie on. It can be good to conclude an evening with a random scene from The Godfather. But often the last thing I see is a bobsledding event or a terrible show involving a slick coach from the SEC recapping the previous week’s highlights and looking forward to next week’s big showdown. There’s really nothing on, I’ll conclude, and it’s safe to go to bed. And there’s no worry about missing anything, because the next day will offer more of the same. That’s life in the 400s.