Gather 'round, children, and I'll tell you of days lost in the mists of time; of an era only remembered by some.

A time when TV was free with only 13 channels; when what was known as "network TV" was the only choice, and there were only three places to get network shows: ABC, NBC and CBS.

I can see by the widening of your eyes and expressions on your faces that you are shocked and disbelieving, but I tell you truly.

And it was a good thing.

With only three networks, you didn't have to choose between 1,000 different movies or shows when it was time to watch. It was possible to sit down with the daily newspaper or a TV Guide, a weekly magazine that listed shows by days and times, and figure out what you wanted to watch.

You could only watch shows during their regular, once-a-week time slots. If you missed an episode, you usually had to wait until summer when previously shown episodes known as reruns would start and continue until the new season began in September, an exciting time when everything old was new again.

But that was VHF-TV, or Very High Frequency. In the late '60s came UHF, or Ultra High Frequency, which opened up channels 14 and above. Choices started to expand.

Cable came along in the early 1970s and brought HBO, then Showtime, Cinemax, Starz and dozens of other channels known as "premium" — as in you must pay for them.

As time went on, more cable TV networks sprouted up, then devices such as home computers and the internet appeared. Eventually, we arrived at the hundreds, if not thousands, of TV channels we have today.

Now you must make massive lists of which movies, TV series or specials are on services with strange names like Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime. There is no new season in September; new seasons can begin in April, September or any darned time at all. There are TV shows on the networks, cable and online stations. You can watch any of them at any time, day or night. You don't even have to have a TV to watch them. You can see them in the palm of your hand.

It can be confusing and frustrating when it comes to TV. How can you watch all the good shows that are on unless you do what is known as binge-watching, a time-devouring monster that many of us simply can't tolerate? How do you deal with the feeling that you are always missing something good?

Perhaps it's time to turn off the TV and go read a book. Something else we used to do in times gone by.

Contact Shawn Ryan at


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