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I dumped my Netflix streaming a while ago (went to DVD only) and got Amazon Prime streaming around the same time. One of the shows Amazon was featuring was the classic Hawaii Five-0. This gem, which aired from the late sixties up until 1980, was a favorite of my late grandmother’s. Through osmosis (annual summer visits to the Jersey Shore,) I too became a fan of this show. So I was pleased to find it available and in HD.

A lot of things strike me about the show, but don’t worry, I’m not going to go into all of them. Instead, I’d like to get a little more meta and talk about programming. The running time of classic Hawaii Five-0 episodes is 50 minutes. Each show has three commercial breaks (wipes). So if you sat down to watch the show for an hour, you’d have seen 10 minutes of commercials.

Okay, so that’s the setup.

Today at my gym, I decided to do the AMT, which is a freeform elliptical and is pretty intense. Although there is a great view out the window, it is obscured by a large personal entertainment center, mainly for network news and basic cable TV. Although they don’t have our local PBS station, WGBH, they do have MTV.

I cut the cord to cable in 2007. I’m not adverse to media, but I didn’t like how the large telcos were bundling and packing it through cable. The offerings and corporate attitude really rubbed me the wrong way; more is not always better. I still watch TV, just in better, and evolving ways. Except today I decided to watch MTV for a grueling half hour.

The show on was MTV’s True Life, a long-running documentary series that follows two young adults around as they make decisions and grow up. The theme of this show was, “I Might Disappoint My Parents.” One kid was poor, hispanic and from a single parent household; his issue was transitioning from DJ-ing for free to getting a paying job. The other kid was from a Persian family from Beverly Hills; he was writing a “memoir” about embracing American Life/LA Culture and rejecting his Persian heritage. This second kid’s parents, needless to say, were not thrilled with their son’s book idea; they were particularly irritated with his chosen cover, [below].

These kids’ stories, as fascinating as they are, apparently didn’t leave much to be gleaned by MTV’s producers. It hit me at about 18 minutes into the workout; I’d been watching more commercials than the show. Reliable Sources (IMDB) say that the show is a one hour documentary. If that is so, I would hazard that the actual runtime is between 35 – 40 minutes. At best, you would spend 1/3 of an hour watching commercials. I actually felt like I was watching the commercial channel with bits of TV breaks.

While this simplistic observation does not factor in DVRs, it is nevertheless worth noting.

Classic Hawaii Five-0 : MTV’s True LifeBeware, Link!
Shogun : e-book
Magazine Article : tweet

I’m cool with technology, but I’m not cool with the shortening of the human attention span. When a TV show from a generation ago seems like a paragon of thoughtful storytelling compared to today’s interrupted life, I’m reassured that much is indeed amiss. I like good stories like I like good people; both take time. If only I could turn that TV aside and just enjoy the view.



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