April 16, 2014

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Remember TV Guide?

The name is still there, but it's questionable whether the magazine is.

When I was visiting my dad a couple of weeks ago, I noticed his television had been upgraded to include a few additional channels.  A few hundred, to be exact.

Part of that upgrade included a new remote which, when prompted correctly, allowed you not only to switch to different channels, but also seek out their schedules and program information.

We used to have a magazine which helped us do that. It was called TV Guide.

While lots of newspaper supplements still provide that service, TVG was the most comprehensive, and largely accurate (even though it was plotted out a couple of weeks ahead of time), source of program information on television.

It also was one of the best magazines about television in general. It was appropriate to say you read TV Guide "for the articles", which were good.

It was also my annual Christmas present from my grandparents, who were very formal in identifying their grandchildren.  The annual subscription renewal was in the name of "Master Todd Baucher", which meant the address label read "T. Baucher Master".

But it wasn't just TV nuts like me who read the magazine. TVG was, for years, one of the top-selling magazines in the country.

Where did it go wrong? I think most people like to blame Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation purchased the magazine from founder Walter Annenberg in the late 1980's.

But Annenberg was probably every bit as conservative as Murdoch, and that didn't affect the magazine's content when he ran it.  Murdoch did spice it up, making it more "tabloid" than before. But he kept the magazine's bread and butter, its program listings.

The latter is where the problem arose, in the '80's. Whereas TV viewers once depended on the magazine for the latest listings for local stations (the magazine was published in numerous regional locations across the country), the explosion of cable outlets made the job of documenting program information more difficult.

In the late 1990's, the publishers invested in a cable station of their own, which now is more about programs than it is about program listings. Suddenlink is one of the cable companies which dropped it from its lineup this year.

News Corp. sold the magazine in the early 2000's. It was then that the new owners transformed it, probably forever, into a People magazine-type celebrity publication rather than a source on television programs. Its listings are now very generic and not localized.

I haven't had a subscription to TV Guide since the late '90's. I don't get the interactive program service my dad has, but I don't watch TV (sorry, Roger) as much as I used to. My information about program listings comes largely from the newspaper Sunday TV insert as well as the program listings on thenewscenter.tv.

But, like lots of baby boomers, I miss the magazine that told you just about everything about television.

Even if it's still around.

 

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