[Note: this short story thriller asks the question: What happens when you subscribe to one-too-many TV streaming services?]
How many streaming subscriptions do you have? Me, I’ve always been a film and television fanatic. I think it goes back to my childhood. My father and his brothers owned movie theaters, which meant from age two on, it was every Saturday morning at the movies. Free hot, fragrant popcorn in a manilla brown envelope. Why it wasn’t in a regular popcorn container is a story for another time.
The Ripple Effect
Unfortunately, my father died young, forty-nine of a heart attack, found dead on the black-and-white-tiled bathroom floor. Every moment in time has a ripple effect. The big ripple for my mother, other than losing the love of her life, was being forced to go to work to support three young children. She made the best of it, but it meant the ripple for me was spending most of my childhood home alone. Just me and TV. I can still smell the faint burning odor of the hot cathode ray tube that made televisions three feet deep in those days.
Just like parents fret now about their kids spending too much time on their iPhones, back then parents worried about their kids spending too much time in front of their RCA Victors. I knew the TV Guide schedule by heart. As a very young watcher, it was Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo. Harmless merry little kids’ shows, followed by the Mickey Mouse Club. Even pre-pubescent me, I knew there was something special about Annette Funicello, especially in a bathing suit.
A few years later westerns like Gunsmoke, Wanted Dead or Alive with Steve McQueen, Rawhide, Roy Rogers, and Bonanza were my daily bread. Oh, Bonanza! Lorne and Hoss were like family. On Sunday nights, Mom would watch Bonanza with me. After a hard week, but before the Cartwrights could save the ranch yet again from cattle rustlers, she’d fall asleep in her easy chair, a lit Marlboro dangling from her fingers. Then there was Superman in black & white, George Reeves leaping buildings in a single bound. Too bad he offed himself in real life at age 45. Too much Kryptonite I guess.
There were all those great comedies too like I Love Lucy, The Jack Benny Show, Our Miss Brooks, and Abbot and Costello where, with the two of them standing in front of the stage curtain, I heard Who’s On First? for the first time. (Gratified to know that bit got them into the Baseball Hall of Fame), And there were comedies, you’ll never see again, and with good reason, like Amos and Andy. Who could forget Ed Sullivan who introduced me to Buddy Hackett and Don Rickles and the Beatles? I’ll remember that night in 1964, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and the screaming forever.
And maybe the show that still sticks with me, The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling and his adventures of Eye of the Beholder and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet took me somewhere I never imagined. He inspired me and I’m sure countless other writers for decades to come.
As a teenager, I was still glued to the screen. Now there was Star Trek and even Soap Operas like Dark Shadows. At this point, I had a television in my bedroom, uh-oh. So, late at night was always Johnny Carson. A reliable smile and laugh as I drifted off to sleep with the end of the TV day flag still flickering on the screen. Yes, in those days TV was not 24/7. Depending on the station, there were only 2-4-5-7-9-11 and 13 compared to the hundreds of channels now, they would sign off at midnight or one or two in the morning with a flag waving or a weird graphic–see above.
A Streaming Story
Anyway, here I am now, all grown up, twenty-five years of Law & Order later. Now it’s Netflix and all the others, my broadcast TV with its endless commercials fading into the sunset. I stick with them for Blue Bloods, The Rookie, The Resident, all the Chicago shows—Med, Fire and P.D., but I can see the writing on the wall. It’s just a matter of time. Millennials, including both my kids, don’t own televisions. They stream it all. Broadcast TV will disappear when Betty White and Tom Selleck take their final curtain.
With all that history and me consuming stories like potato chips, this is right now the Golden Age of TV Drama. With streaming services, even some of my mid-life great ones have come back like ER, St. Elsewhere and The West Wing.
So yes, I subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, but I’ve resisted all the Pluses – Disney+. AMC+ (although I really would like to see Law & Order U.K.), and Paramount+. All those old networks and the new ones have a Plus+. Isn’t it enough already? How much can we watch? Stop!
Except… there was this pandemic. All bets on reasonably restrained TV time were off. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a wonderful real life, what the kids now call IRL I have a wonderful marriage. In fact, as I write this, it’s my wife Amy’s and my Anniversary. We have two exceptional grown sons. I coached both their teams growing up and never missed any of their off-tune holiday concert renditions of Jingle Bells.
So, I can imagine that one day, I’ll be scrolling through my Xfinity dashboard, past Netflix and Hulu (Comcast adds links to the most popular pluses to keep me from cutting the chord) and there will appear a new service, Heaven+. I click. A two-week Free Trial. OK, fine by me. I agree to the Terms of Service (which I never read, do you?).
But what’s playing on Heaven+? I click the Guide. That funky End of Day graphic appears. Wait, it’s not just the end of today. It’s the end of….
If you have a love affair with TV, please share some of your favorites and favorite memories in the comments below. And do not, I repeat DO NOT subscribe to Heaven+
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