My TV Hell (DVR = Denial Of Viewing Rights)

Under normal circumstances my TV is a source of stimulation, pleasure, learning and laughs. Right now, however, all of this is eclipsed by a sense of loss, frustration, anger, fear and despair.

While this may sound on a par with the emotional roller coaster ride experienced by people suffering the symptoms of drug withdrawal, I have to admit (reluctantly) that the parallels may not be entirely inappropriate.

You see, as I write, my DVR is on the blink. It isn't completely dead, though - that would be far easier to deal with. I'd be forced to accept that my recorded but as-yet-unviewed programs had been consigned to that great hard drive in the sky, lost to me forever -- and simply call the nice people at the cable company to rant, rave and politely request a replacement through my tears. No sooner said than done. At least I could grieve and move on, no doubt easily brought back to the world of happy campers as soon as one of my favorite shows pops up on the hard drive.

No, my DVR isn't dead -- and this makes thing far more complicated. My DVR has taken on a kind of malevolent persona, as if it had been cast in the Consumer Electronics version of "The Omen" or "Christine." It goads me by appearing to record my choices as if nothing was wrong, lulling me into a false sense of empowerment and the accepted belief that "I'll be able to watch that later." But only later as I settle down to enjoy the program at hand in the luxury of my own good time, does this previously cherished device show its true colors.

Will it play back? Will it, hell!

All I get is a black screen. No other functionality kicks in - fast-forward doesn't help at all, nor does repeatedly pressing the play or pause button. Switching on and off is similarly useless, so the extent of my technical prowess is now pretty much exhausted. Though I have to say my verbal prowess knows no limits, especially when it transpires that the one button that does produce a response is the bloody delete button. At this point we are in expletive heaven!

Welcome, then, to my TV Hell. You see my dilemma, I'm sure. Naturally, at some point I am going to have call out the cable guy in the hope he can fix it. But there's all that lovely content on there that teases me from my list of recorded programs while the machine itself spitefully refuses to offer them up for my gratification. What if the cable guy looks at it and decides the best / only thing to do is to swap out my DVR? My programs go with him to the trash heap.

Maybe once in a while I wouldn't mind, but right now the Rugby World Cup is on and while this won't strike chords with many of you out there, for an Englishman who is starved of rugby in the normal run of things, the fact I can record international games and watch them almost commercial-free is a rare treat indeed (even though England is playing abysmally right now and has no chance of winning the Cup, the tournament is spectacular). And the Web is no substitute for something when you normally project it onto a big screen, as I do with the rugby.

On the other hand, I can be grateful, I suppose, that big time favorite series like "The Closer" and "Saving Grace" (some of the best TV around) were finished and viewed before my DVR decided it should stand for Denial of Viewing Rights.

Now of course, my situation is about to worsen. The new season premieres are getting underway with programs like "Shark," "Two and a Half Men," "Cane," "Heroes" and others either with us or heading rapidly this way. The number of eagerly anticipated but utterly unreachable programs on my DVR is going to steadily increase to fill the hard drive unless I take the plunge now and call in the cable ninjas to fix my problem.

Needless to say, the crunch is fast approaching and either I'll lose some programs or all will end as sweetness and light and I will once again love my DVR as I love my dog (loyal, trustworthy, obedient, but somewhat less prone to shedding) after the cable guy has worked his magic.

The curious thing about all this -- apart from my willingness to witter on about it -- is the extent to which my viewing during this time feels compromised and so much less satisfactory. No longer can I turn to my DVR in the certain knowledge that everything listed there is something I want to watch and all I have to do is choose. Instead I have to trawl through the TV guide to find out which shows are on which channels and at which times (both things mostly forgotten with a few exceptions). Even though I know I can't fast-forward through the ad breaks, I still instinctively reach for the remote, only to be frustrated at the lack of response from the screen. And - most significantly perhaps - I'm watching less TV as I suffer from this exile from "my programs."

I'm also pretty sure I never used to care quite this much about TV. Sure, I had favorite programs, but it seems that the luxury of being able to watch them when I want with a minimized level of commercial intrusion -- often as a social occasion -- has made me that much more appreciative and possessive of them. Maybe that's why I've been snarling and swearing at what just a few short days ago went from being my favorite piece of hardware to the devil incarnate.