A good time to catch up on what you’ve missed

In my line of work as a newsletterist, I have made it my duty to watch a lot of TV, and with the long writers’ strike continuing, the pickings have been getting a little slimmer.

In 1992, Bruce Springsteen had a song called “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” and that was a time when the options weren’t anywhere near as plentiful as they are now, especially when viewers are waist-deep in premium subscription services and not just the Big Four of Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO/Max and Hulu. Or maybe it’s the Big Six, when you throw in Disney and Apple TV+. And new ones branch off or pop up nearly every week.

And still, sometimes, there’s nothing on.

Some of that occasional dearth can be laid off to my gluttonous tendency of  swallowing entire seasons in a short weekend, unless forced, generally by HBO/Max, to wait a torturous week between episodes like we all had to do back in the previous millennium.

I recall my first exposure to pay TV coming when I waited in the living room of a high-school-wealthy classmate’s apartment and not really paying attention to the mumble of the TV until I heard a long stream of expletives roar from the set’s speaker.

You can’t say that on TV!, I protested silently to myself. I was stuck in a mixture of outrage, shock and amusement.

Turned out my classmate was a pioneering subscriber to the Z Channel, one of the early forms of pay TV, alongside services like ON TV and SelecTV, which allowed subscribers to see movies, sports and other events at prices that were every bit as high 40 or more years ago as they are now. ON TV charged $50 for installation and $19.95 to $22.50 a month to watch whatever show was on at the time it was on; you couldn’t just drop in when you felt like it.

Of course, this was all spectacular to those of us who grew up on channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13, with the dicey ability to get a hazy 28 that was pretty much educational TV at the time.

I’m not saying the writers’ strike has taken us all the way back to those seven-channel days, but it has had the result of streaming services offering reruns of older series and movies. Classics like HBO’s “The Sopranos,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Wire” are finding new audiences that missed out on the initial enthused reception by audiences of those series.

Over the weekend I took a short hop in the wayback machine to 2021 and watched for the first time “American Underdog,” a film about NFL quarterback Kurt Warner that would’ve been trite and overly predictable if it had been a fiction account of an Iowa farm boy and initially failed NFL quarterback who became a shelf-stocker in a grocery store and an arena football quarterback before the St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil took a chance and invited him to a tryout.

With the Rams’ starting quarterback injured, Warner got the starting job and as an old-timer/rookie, led the Rams to their first Super Bowl title in 2000. Warner was the NFL’s MVP as well as Super Bowl MVP and went on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unbelievable and crazily true.

What I’m reading now

My wife and I took a brisk little staycation over the weekend, and what’s better to read on a staycation than a magazine? I’ve got a pile of books that need reading, but I needed something with more variety and less booklike for reading and what really hit the spot was the Sept. 4 New Yorker—an archival edition—that was filled with everything written by notable writers of that publication going back to the 1930s, and everything about animals.

I particularly enjoyed a hilarious 2009 “Shouts & Murmurs” piece by Noah Baumbach called “Buzzed” about a few minutes in the life of a honeybee all hyped up on cocaine—the piece was inspired by a news article in the New York Times about scientists experimenting with blow and bees.

I also liked E.B. White’s short bit in 1953 on why turtles don’t suffer from arteriosclerosis in old age (once again, as scientists were discovering in 1953 when they were studying turtles’ blood to see if they could find the secret there). White posited that it’s more likely due to how turtles conduct their lives, ranging from “turtles rarely pass up a chance to relax in the sun on a partly submerged log,” to “turtles do not work day and night to perfect explosive devices that wipe out Pacific islands and eventually render turtles sterile.”

There are also articles and stories by Joseph Mitchell, Susan Orleans, Haruki Murakami and many others as well as the cover illustrated by James Thurber.

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email tim@lbpost.com, @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.