Roku Rabbit Hole
Every once in awhile, we adjust our home entertainment system to keep up with our changing needs. For the past three years, we’ve been using a TiVo Premiere DVR with an antenna carrying over-the-air local channels. It was a nice and affordable setup, but the hardware was unstable, the antenna reception was glitchy, and increasingly we found ourselves using the TiVo merely to watch Netflix streaming. That’s why we’re transitioning to a Roku streaming player (which works fantastically, unlike the buggy TiVo) along with a monthly subscription to Hulu Plus. Hulu carries most current fare from the over-the-air networks, although CBS is bizarrely absent from it or any of the other digital channels Roku users can download and watch. We may just have to tune into CBS live, with all the commercial breaks. How very 1988.
The Hulu is intended to replace the Netflix streaming, although that may change since Hulu doesn’t have as much variety as Netflix. Their movie selection is lacking, although they do have the fabulous Criterion Collection. With a decent selection of current television (no CBS, however, a point worth repeating), we’ve been using it to watch network shows that everybody else watched 5-8 years ago (Heroes; Community). The television has brief commercial breaks, but I can live with that. Digging deeply enough, one can also find lots of interesting TV from other countries (Canada, Australia, Korea) and a few obscure older series.
The various channels one can download on the Roku also offer a lot of tantalizing viewing options – some free, some on a pay-by-the-month basis. One of our favorite things is the Nowhere TV channel, which allows us to watch the never-ending contents at Archive.org. I knew that the site had a lot of vintage commercials, industrial shorts, public domain and ephemeral films to enjoy, but I was also surprised to find a number of vintage TV shows on there. A couple of failed sitcom pilots caught my eye, which are outlined below:
- The Ginger Rogers Show aired as part of ABC’s Vacation Playhouse, a summer variety series used to air unsold pilots (why don’t they do this any more?). Ginger plays a pair of identical twins – one serious, the other frivolous, both sporting the same unique swoopy hairstyle – in this 1963 production. Although Rogers lacks the chops for convincingly playing two separate characters against each other, the pilot at least had some interesting possibilities. At the end of the program, Rogers appears as herself to explain that the series will alternate between comedy and drama, one week with her as the lighthearted sister, the next with her as the serious sister.
- Maggie was another fascinating sitcom pilot, produced in 1957 but not broadcast until 1960. This one starred Margaret O’Brien as the overly curious, offbeat teen daughter of parents with a theatrical background. The family’s arrival in a conservative Connecticut enclave causes a stir, not the least of which is due to Maggie’s meddling and quirky behavior. What struck me the most about this marshmallowy domestic comedy was how obviously it was done to capitalize on O’Brien’s best-known role as Tootie in the classic musical Meet Me In St. Louis. The actress may have been older (she was 20 at the time, playing a 17 year-old), but her character’s overactive imagination and cutesy, borderline annoying mannerisms are pure Tootie, updated to contemporary times. O’Brien’s St. Louis dad, Leon Ames, even plays her father once again here. It’s a cute, moderately well-written show that makes me wonder how it would have come out had it been expanded to the 30+ episodes a season commonly produced back then.
In case it wasn’t obvious, stuff that barely made it to the air in 1960-63 interests me a lot more than 99% of the stuff on the air in 2013. Should anything else that’s worth mentioning here pop up, I’ll let you know.