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The Zombies in My DVR
December 18, 2013  | By Jonathan Storm  | 3 comments

The Walking Dead is not lurching across my TV because too many zombie series are clogging the apparatus. Not shows about zombies, but ones that are zombies -- lying, undead, waiting to rise up at my command.

Things look grim for many of them. This time of year, when dozens of new series have been rolling out, real estate in the TiVo cemetery is running out. And, as Lord and Master of the Zombies, the pressure on me is intense.

Do I finally let go of the well-reviewed, four-part PBS documentary America in Prime Time, now more than two years old? Or do I just say, sorry Andy and Andre, your new Brooklyn Nine-Nine should maybe be called Brooklyn Sixty-Three, and it's time to hit the "delete group" command, the TiVo equivalent of Michonne’s katana blade that chops off zombie heads and leaves them done forever?

It used to be that everybody watched TV shows when they were being broadcast, and that was it. Then came VCRs and then DVRs, an acronym that poor TiVo, the pioneer, could not stave off. We blow our noses on Kleenex, and nobody orders cola, but TiVo is just one small window on the larger land of video recording.

It's my window, though, if a little dated in the world of on-demand and Netflix. No way I'm paying Netflix or Amazon for TV when Comcast is already getting $200 a month to bring most of it home to me, and all those programs are already way too much to worry about. Sadly, that was the same logic I used to employ in the face of BBC America. Who needs all this new stuff, even if it is great, when I've got enough to worry about with homegrown TV? Now, the Beeb is one of my major providers, and with Netflix dangling a few last episodes of The Killing in my face, I'll probably succumb to it too, which will only make things worse in my box of zombies.

The TiVo problem is my conundrum. But the problem of what to watch and what to leave behind is universal and, sadly, unsolvable.

There is zero logic, but immense hope, in the entire situation. TiVo keeps track of its contents. The straight box holds about 15 hours of HD TV. An add-on hard drive, about the size of a paperback book, miraculously multiplies that capacity tenfold. The machine reports that I currently have 184 HD recordings ready to go. If I dutifully watched television eight hours a day, five days a week, it would take a month to get through it all. But I only watch about three hours a day, if that. Am I really going to get to those 19 episodes of Hell on Wheels, the current undead record holder in the box?

And then there are the shows that come along every week that are family viewing for my wife and me: Survivor, The Good Wife, C.S.I., Blue Bloods, Saturday Night Live, one new show, The Blacklist, and Person of Interest, which seems to be waning in our interest, as it has built up a backlog of three episodes while Kathy and I have turned our attention to Fox's amiable The Finder, canceled more than a year and a half ago, but still with four episodes to go in my graveyard of undead darlings.

Yes, as a couple, we are solidly in the ancient CBS demographic, enjoying easy-to-watch TV that gets paused every two minutes while we talk to each other, so we're lucky to get through two shows a night, and, yes, we seem to have a soft spot for quirky characters living in rural Florida. Occupying the second largest chunk of zombie real estate, 17 episodes of A&E’s The Glades, another often humorous detective confection requiring no heavy lifting, await us. It was cancelled more recently.

Just because a network decides a show is unworthy doesn’t mean it gets chopped from the TiVo. There is gratification in knowing (or at least thinking) that I am more discerning than the general public, and most certainly than so many lame-brained TV executives, and that jewels rejected by them may still glow up on my screen.

On the other hand, series that were supposed to be shared viewing but have lost luster in the eyes of my wife stand a good chance of getting axed from the TiVo if they get chopped by their network. Nine episodes of Copper were recently cleared, and Kathy is quite happy that she will never get to see the further machinations of that horrid little Annie Riley, child prostitute with a heart of stone.

The TiVo backlog also causes a more sinister problem. Great pay-cable shows like Homeland and Boardwalk Empire get no black-box real estate because they're available for years on-demand, and even straight cable shows like The Walking Dead, with shorter catch-up on-demand promise, but promise nonetheless, get brushed aside.

So instead of gluing onto TV that really is worth watching, I wind up knocking two or three episodes of Revenge or Revolution off the backlog. Sure, I'm hooked on the glories of Emily VanCamp and Tracy Spiridakos, but the real thrill comes from letting the zombies loose.

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It's even worse when you have kids. Our DVR is probably 75% kids programs and movies we recorded for our daughter (most of them shows that aren't available on-demand). And without fail, just as we're getting ready to clear out some old cartoon or movie she hasn't watched for months, she'll remember it and it's her new favorite again.
Dec 19, 2013   |  Reply
Do yourself a favor and watch Brooklyn Nine Nine. SNL, however can get the boot unwatched.
Dec 18, 2013   |  Reply
I've been watching "Saturday Night Live" for 38 years. Not about to stop now. Plus, I think it has at least a couple of good moments every week. It's a very good TiVo vehicle with so many ads and sketches that you can fast-forward over after a minute or two.
Dec 26, 2013
I love the notion of DVR zombies! I currently have the entire last season of Southland, every episode of Revolution (which is about to get the boot), and every episode of Breaking Bad (which, assuredly, isn't about to get the boot) just sitting on my DVR waiting to be watched. An added issue for me is that I have the Dish's Hopper. If I wait one day, viola, shows that air on network TV amazingly have no more commercials. I know it makes me seem the epitome of lazy, but a mediocre show that fast forwards for me always gets watched before a great show on cable that doesn't get the special fast-forwarding treatment.
Dec 18, 2013   |  Reply
I just can't bring myself to erase the Revolution eps with Tracy Spiridakos in her sweaty shirt. "China Beach" made hay with Dana Delany in a similar situation more than 20 years ago.
Dec 26, 2013
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