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Channel Surfing Through the Years

by Dish Systems Team

Posted on May 16, 2011

What are your thoughts on the quality of TV programming today? How has it changed, if at all, since you’ve been watching? DISH Systems Essay ScholarshipThe flicker of the TV is a colorful and intoxicating lure to my eyes. Already drowsy in the heat of a shades-drawn summer evening, fixed in my crouched position on the family room floor, I sit, mesmerized. Once, it was evenings, mornings like these, the ritualistic snatching of the remote and eager channel change to a land of cartoons and kids programming, that governed my television viewing habits. Ten years have elapsed since this ceremony first became relevant. I am now a snarky eighteen-year-old , more likely to be seen ironically watching cake-baking shows or wistfully listening to the weather, hoping, like my elementary school self once hoped, for that first taste of summer to appear in the forecast. In many ways, I’ve found the programming to have shifted, within my span of viewing, from the start of the early nineties to what is now the second decade of the 2000's. Imagine, for a moment, you are sitting in front of a television, gray screen glinting in anticipation, an inanimate object waiting longingly for use. It seems the couch on which you are seated is a moderately comfortable, cozy model, bedecked in a faded blue floral pattern and worn from use. As you lean forward, hand trembling, the pitiful squeak of a stray spring serenades you, and your finger alights on the power button. A green flash and you are now immersed. Press down once, the channel will change. First try. News program, highlighting the day’s events. While news shows maintain the same sort of anchor, individuals who consistently project authority and concern as they tell us of the helicopter-observed area fire and the current adorable puppy that can play piano, their graphics have changed. Some traditional news motifs remain, official-looking fonts and brightly colored information bars, but the camera angles have expanded.  There are less of the conventional shots of the desk and more occasional captures of informal, chat show settings. You’re already bored. Skip forward ten channels and see what you get. You’ve happened upon a children’s network, airing their afternoon schedule. Cartoons have progressed from the typical combinations of anamorphic hi-jinks and imported Japanese animation dubs, to cruder, less plot-oriented, more action-focused misadventures. I’ve also devoted less time to watching them, with exception of listless sick days as I surf the channels. You are of the same discerning taste. Let’s go backwards a few channels, find something more suitable for an adult. Soap operas, as per the standard, remain their typical combination of pretty faces and misty lenses, yet, while they have been aired during daylight hours where workers and students are away, their intended audiences may have straying interests, due to the lessened quantity of soap operas and more reality TV, where soap opera-like events seemingly occur in real life. Speaking of reality TV, multiply this channel by three and you’ll find a show airing. Best be quick, commercial breaks pop up suddenly for this sort of program.  Clever you, you’ve caught them mid-action. The sulking adults cling to their youth in tight clothing and fake tans, quarreling in front of exasperated restaurant workers. Reality TV, in itself, has gone from a genre of documentation intended to provoke excitement, fear, and fascination in human nature, to a hybrid of exhibitionism and emotion. Modern shows have yielded satirical cult followings and cultural commentary on the ridiculous nature of the material age, it seems anyone vaguely famous, or with the intention of becoming famous and the drive to appear on television, may one day reach their goal, regardless of the imminent public ridicule. Don’t waste your time with this, if nostalgia hits you can return to the children’s network. You’re a moment too late; you’ve missed the vintage re-airing of a childhood classic. Some new show has come on, featuring colorfully clad preteens and their lax parents. Live action children’s shows have also increased in number, many incorporating those aforementioned sassy adolescents and implausible plots, all for the amusement of children. If you’re done seeing this, the opportunities are endless. Since you’ve been watching for a while, you fickle viewer, it would best for you to take the remote in your palm once more. A single button pressed, and the darkness returns. Silently the box holds a promise of things to come, of undiscovered worlds. This will be your adventure, another day. Quantitatively speaking, the amount of channels has multiplied as plentifully as flowers in a well tended garden. Where there are interested viewers, willing to provide the water and the sunlight, a company will eagerly plant the seed of a new channel. Thus, the range of available subject matter can no longer be contained in a brief overview.  if you have dreamed it, pondered it for a millisecond on your way down a flight of stairs in search of your lost cat, there is a program or channel to service your needs. This is a concept that I, in moments of remembering my not-so-long-ago-youth in an age of twenty channels at most, have trouble accepting. It’s far easier to slip back into those hazy weekend mornings, looking up at the colorful vortex, spell-bound. After the hour had elapsed, having satiated my fill, I could turn off the power and wander away. The television will always wait for the next Saturday. *This essay was written by Kathryn T., a runner-up in the DISH Systems Scholarship Essay Contest. The opinions of the author do not reflect the opinions of DISH Systems, authorized retailer of DISH Network.