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TV Guidance
So You Think You Know How to Watch the Boob Tube? Tune in and Learn, Grasshopper

By JASON LLOREN
Blast Boob Tube Writer

For most people, the concept of television is simple enough. Hit the power button and -- bzzzzzztt -- other worlds magically come alive on screen. Unfortunately, most people have no clue how to watch the idiot box.

TV has come a long way from the 13 channels of UHF hell some of us remember. Over time, television has evolved into a multichannel paradise of art, entertainment, news, information, education and commerce (Home Shopping Network, here I come!). But most people don't know how to properly navigate the video frequencies. Here now are tips toward more fully enjoying the TV experience.

"Can't figure out what to watch, even after studying The Guide like a pious monk? Go hog wild. Start with any channel and flip through all your choices."
SUBSCRIBE TO TV GUIDE: The typical basic cable system has more than 50 channels, most of them broadcasting programs all day long. That works out to about 1,200 hours of low-cost entertainment EACH DAY. You think you can keep track of it all? Hell no! TV Guide is cheap and chockfull of info. It's ironic that the key to watching TV is reading. Who'd of thunk it? TV Guide's the Bible, so use it.

Now, many cable systems broadcast a "Prevue Channel" which lists what's on each channel at that time. The first problem with this: Half the screen is usually taken up by more time-wasting advertisements, the other half slowly scrolling to list a few shows at a time. My roommate once sat in front of the TV for several minutes reading this in vain to find something -- anything -- to watch. A big waste of time, which brings us to the next rule...

CHANNEL-SURF -- IT'S YOUR RIGHT: Can't figure out what to watch, even after studying The Guide like a pious monk? Go hog wild. Start with any channel and flip through all your choices. Learn the channels. Know the difference between CNN and MSNBC. Figure out the differences between TV Land and Nick and Nite. Over time, you'll save time.

INVEST IN TV-VIEWING FURNITURE: A couch is OK but because of its width, you're prone to eventually lie down. Do that and you're prone to fall asleep, often times prematurely, before Rockford can solve the case or Columbo can reveal the killer. You need a reclinable single-occupant chair, like a LA-Z-Boy or cheaper leather recliner and ottoman. Remember you're piloting through the strange worlds of TV, so you might as well be seated in a chair like Captain Kirk's.

"Remember you're piloting through the strange worlds of TV, so you might as well be seated in a chair like Captain Kirk's."
BUY A BIG CALENDAR: Get one of those big blank calendars and as soon as the latest issue of TV Guide drops through the mail slot, go through each day and figure out what you want to watch. Then jot your TV-viewing schedule on the calendar. The more you watch, the more you'll be thankful you have a calendar. Also, you'll see right away when two programs you want to see are airing at the same time. "You mean 'Seinfeld' is on when 'Deep Space Nine' is on?" Yes, you've just learned the great lesson of commercial TV: Networks like to screw you with counter programming. Fight back and refer to the next rule...

OWN TWO VCRS: What? Yes, to properly capture your favorite programs without having to choose between them, you need more than one VCR. I watch four hours of TV each Tuesday evening but "Newsradio" runs smack opposite of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The easy solution: I tape one and tune in to the other. Sometimes I have a dinner date and can't watch either at air time, so here's where the second VCR comes in handy. Don't be cheap: You can get a decent VCR for $150 so buying two ain't so bad.

RECORD, RECORD, RECORD: Among my favorite programs is "Homicide: Life on the Streets." The good news: Syndicated reruns of the show air four nights a week on Lifetime Television. The bad news: It's on at 1:30 a.m. Eventually, all avid TV watchers learn that their bodies need rest. Your VCR is your best friend, so tape what you can't watch right away and watch it later. If you find an incredible backlog of episodes piling up on tape, let it go. Chances are they'll rerun or repeat eventually.

"Don't be cheap: You can get a decent VCR for $150 so buying two ain't so bad."
DISS DSS, GET CABLE: At the very least, you need basic cable, with its local programming and wide range of genre channels like Comedy Central, Cable News Network and the Sci-Fi Network. But gee, you ask, those satellite dishes are inexpensive and offer a dozen more channels, right? Unfortunately, you can already get many of the same channels on basic cable, and DSS (or USSB, PrimeStar, whatever) doesn't deliver local broadcast channels. And without the local news you wouldn't know about local news and affairs. Then you'd be a total dunderhead, you TV crackhead. OK, so what if you don't watch the news? Then you wouldn't get the Emergency Broadcast System on a local channel to warn your ass an El Nino-fed flash flood is headed your way.

KEEP SNACKS HANDY: You need something to keep those hand, arm and mouth muscles from atrophying, right? Bust out the low-fat pretzel sticks and wash it down with a fine soda.

These are just basic tips on the fine art of watching TV. If you find your life is getting worse, your family leaves you, you begin to smell, you start falling asleep at work, then you'll have learned the most important rule of watching TV: GET A LIFE. There's more to it than simply reruns of "Wings."