Woe To ‘Tango And Cash’
July 19, 2019 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Mourning The Impending Death Of The Communal Random Movie On Cable
But this isn’t about access. It’s about movies that play so often on cable they become a communal reference point. It’s something that helps keep movies alive long, long after their theatrical run. And as we all grow further and further apart from each other, losing these reference points are a bad thing.
posted by Etrigan (83 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
I do miss this. Mighty Ducks was on the other night and it reminded me what it was like to stumble upon such a cinematic gem back before you could just play it on demand. One of my siblings would scream up the stairs and the house would come running to watch.
posted by sallybrown at 11:53 AM on July 19 [6 favorites]


It's interesting getting a look into cultural spaces which I've missed due to my own circumstances.
The idea of being able to expect that everybody in a given social circle was wealthy enough (either growing up or as-adults depending on age for era) to have cable seems so far outside my experience, but clearly it's A Thing for some strata.

On the other hand, I can never quite tell how much of "Aaah, isn't this a great shared cultural touchstone (which nobody seemed to mention/notice until it sprung up fully-formed)" is zeitgeist & discovery vs. corporate impetus. (See: the astroturfed creation of associating Die Hard with Christmas, complete with ready-made channel promo bumps & Reddit lead generation)

Maybe it's just my growing up past the era of cultural media homogeneity that "Wasn't it great when everybody watched/listened to/believed the same things I did" always seems to ring weirdly hollow to me. In any case, this is a neat article.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:58 AM on July 19 [8 favorites]


I've read more than a few articles stating that this kind of "we own the rights, we have to fill airtime, let's show this" repeat screenings are what lead to the eventual cultural embrace of Shawshank Redemption, which didn't do all that well during its original release. It really did take the repeated screenings of people watching it at home when they were bored for it to sink in that 'oh hey, yeah, this is good."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:00 PM on July 19 [9 favorites]


this reminds me of how my wife had never seen "my cousin vinny" until last year because she hadn't watched much TV as a kid. My Cousin Vinny is *definitely* in the list of communal random movies on cable.
posted by dismas at 12:01 PM on July 19 [8 favorites]


My Dad only watches movies on cable. That means that the only movies he ever watches are:

The Shawshank Redemption
The Blind Side
Tremors
Gran Torino
Forrest Gump
The Patriot
Remember the Titans
The last fifteen minutes of My Cousin Vinny
posted by all about eevee at 12:05 PM on July 19 [32 favorites]


the astroturfed creation of associating Die Hard with Christmas

I’ve never known a time when Die Hard wasn’t a Christmas movie; could someone explain what’s astroturfed about the fact?
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 12:05 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


If Spaceballs comes on TBS you have to watch it, that's the rule. Even if you own it. Because your friends will all be messaging about it on MSN messenger and you don't want to miss out.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:06 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


The Wedding Singer seemed to be on every weekend for a while. Same with One Fine Day (so underrated).
posted by sallybrown at 12:09 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


HBO: Hey, Beastmaster’s On!
posted by skycrashesdown at 12:16 PM on July 19 [35 favorites]


Obviously the galaxy brain Christmas movie is Three Days of the Condor
posted by Automocar at 12:18 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


I’ve never known a time when Die Hard wasn’t a Christmas movie; could someone explain what’s astroturfed about the fact?

I'm not sure "astroturfing" is the best description, but over the years there definitely has been debate on the matter.
posted by jeremias at 12:21 PM on July 19


In our family we joke about The Harry Potter Channel because it seems like there is ALWAYS a Harry Potter movie playing on it...whatever it is. Can't think of it now.

And the Marvel movies seem to always be on now, too. For a while, you could catch one of the National Treasure movies like every day.

I can't remember what the movies were when I was growing up. I mostly watched MTV or PBS Mysteries or Dr. Who when I had access to the TV.
posted by cooker girl at 12:23 PM on July 19


Thanks to HBO and my tendency to watch movies on background while I wrote and edited, there was a long stretch when, whenever my wife would walk into the living room to check on me, Forgetting Sarah Marshall or I Love You, Man was on. She teased me that they were my favorite movies -- and I do like both a lot -- but it was also just easily ignorable cable movies.
posted by me3dia at 12:25 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


> HBO: Hey, Beastmaster’s On

I was wandering over here to mention Beastmaster. I didn't grow up in the US but I've seen Beastmaster roughly one million times, because it was always on TV everywhere around the entire world, as far as I can tell.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:26 PM on July 19 [12 favorites]


It's getting to be that between all the basic cable channels, there's at least one MCU film playing at any given time
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:27 PM on July 19


One of the things I love about Shudder (the horror streaming service) is their weekly-updated movie stream that you can just pop in and watch. It doesn’t wait for you, and there’s no program guide. I’m not one to indulge in nostalgia, but this evokes a time of turning on the local station to see what they’re playing and catching something already in progress. Maybe it’d be something classic like Psycho, but often it’d be some schlock. It’s pretty neat. It also makes me want to watch Mandy from the beginning.
posted by sigma7 at 12:34 PM on July 19 [10 favorites]


As far as I know, I've never watched a movie on basic cable. I've neverwe been able to just randomly watch something because it's on. I have to go read about a movie first and then sit down with the express purpose of watching that one movie. Also I can't watch a movie with commercials or knowing that it was edited for TV or is in the wrong aspect ratio. This sort of drives my wife crazy.
posted by octothorpe at 12:34 PM on July 19 [8 favorites]


Does anyone else watch OTA TV, anymore, or am I the only one? There are a ton of channels now that broadcast reruns. Antenna TV, This TV, Comet, Grit, Escape, TBD, etc. I could go on and on. And they’re all airing shows from the 59s-90s. My 11yo loves to watch Colombo because he caught it once at random. Svengoolie is a Saturday night tradition in my house. Old episodes of Emergency!, Bonanza, Wings, Eight is Enough, Good Times, Benny Goodman Show, Carol Burnett, Quincy, are on every day. Hell, there’s even episodes of Johnny Carson every night!

I don’t think the random cable movie will go away. It will just morph into a different delivery medium.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 12:36 PM on July 19 [15 favorites]


I can remember when Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2 seemed to be on continually late at night.
posted by slkinsey at 12:45 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


This topic reminds me of this scene from Crocodile Dundee.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:47 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


This is my “A Knights Tale”. It’s a perfect movie.
posted by chuke at 12:47 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


Without this I would probably only have seen Grease 2 once or twice, which would be a shame.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:54 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


This like, the Netflix thread yesterday, seems like it's mourning something that isn't even sick yet, it seems wrong. There are more channels than ever that show movies on TV, in more formats (meaning various cuts - swears/nudity/etc) than there ever was back in the olden days. If anything is challenging endless repetitions of movies on tv for dominance it's not providers per se but rather endless repetitions of syndicated tv shows like Law & Order, NCIS, and The Office.

I’ve never known a time when Die Hard wasn’t a Christmas movie; could someone explain what’s astroturfed about the fact? In these olden days, Die Hard wasn't specifically a Christmas movie or had any particular association with a holiday season (like A Christmas Story is shown repetitively but only during the Christmas season). It was primarily an action movie, and shown throughout the year.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:58 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


As far as I know, I've never watched a movie on basic cable...Also I can't watch a movie with commercials or knowing that it was edited for TV or is in the wrong aspect ratio.

I can watch random TV, that's mostly what we watch, but neither one of us watches movies on TV much, if ever. Even if we have a DVD and it turns out to be pan and scan we'll just turn it off. I will leave something on if I've seen it more than once already, that's fine.

Movies are something you sit down and pay attention to, probably only going to see this one once. I think that attitude is why we don't watch enough movies and watch random TV shows instead.

This discussion just made me realize this was really a thing that people do. I've always been a little confused why everyone I know has seen Roadhouse, even though some have mentioned it was because it was always on cable, it didn't really click for me that that's why everyone has seen it. I've never seen Roadhouse.

One of the things I love about Shudder (the horror streaming service) is their weekly-updated movie stream that you can just pop in and watch. It doesn’t wait for you, and there’s no program guide.


There's a ton of these services on Roku, some are kind of like real channels, some are just streaming the most obscure random old movies. Some of them literally stream, so like you said you come in the middle and there's no way to know what you're watching unless you catch the beginning. A true old school experience.

Speaking of which:
Does anyone else watch OTA TV, anymore, or am I the only one? There are a ton of channels now that broadcast reruns. Antenna TV, This TV, Comet, Grit, Escape, TBD, etc. I could go on and on. And they’re all airing shows from the 59s-90s. My 11yo loves to watch Colombo because he caught it once at random.

I was evangelizing this for a while. It's very much like UHF when I grew up, some of the same shows. I did notice the channels are getting slicker and owned by big companies, many of them are even on my satellite A few years ago it was like finding a secret underground. But still I don't think I've ever talked to anyone that has known anything about it. (The other thing about OTA TV is the main channel is usually higher quality than the side channels, and has a better picture than anything I've seen outside of bluray.)
posted by bongo_x at 1:03 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


I don’t understand this nostalgia for a time when it was much harder to watch what you want to watch. It’s popped up a few times here and elsewhere, lately. I don’t miss having “Caddyshack” be the only thing on TV for weeks on end (that’s what it was during the only 3 years of my life I actually had cable). I don’t miss having to go to Blockbuster and argue with my SO/roommates about what video to rent. I don’t miss having to line my walls with DVD shelves. I really enjoy living in the future where I can watch what I want, when I want, with no commercials. And if my husband and I are going to play “I dunno, what do you want to watch,” I appreciate that we can do it in the comfort of our own living room.

I think we still have plenty of shared cultural touchstones with the shows that everyone binges (and I’m just as out of step with them now as I was in the 80s and 90s, quite frankly; I’ve never been very good at picking up on popular things very fast). Streaming video is one of the few good things about living in this future.
posted by snowmentality at 1:09 PM on July 19 [7 favorites]


I had a film producer friend back in the day who used to say that true success was when your movie ended up in the deep, late night rerun zone, liable to just randomly pop up and save somebody enduring a dark night of the soul.

Speaking of which, my fave random cable moment has to be the first time I ever dropped LSD (1980 or thereabouts). It was a wonderful time. I went to a concert with friends, we lost our minds (in a good way), hung out for a while afterwards, but eventually I was back home, after midnight, and realizing that though the most intense part of the high was past, it would still be hours before I could sleep. So I turned the TV on ... just in time to catch the opening of ZARDOZ. I had no idea of what the f*** I was seeing, I still don't really, but it was perfect, one of those few moments in my life that I've felt completely in synch with the universe.
posted by philip-random at 1:11 PM on July 19 [22 favorites]


This like, the Netflix thread yesterday, seems like it's mourning something that isn't even sick yet, it seems wrong. There are more channels than ever that show movies on TV, in more formats (meaning various cuts - swears/nudity/etc) than there ever was back in the olden days.

. . .

I don’t understand this nostalgia for a time when it was much harder to watch what you want to watch. It’s popped up a few times here and elsewhere, lately. I don’t miss having “Caddyshack” be the only thing on TV for weeks on end (that’s what it was during the only 3 years of my life I actually had cable). I don’t miss having to go to Blockbuster and argue with my SO/roommates about what video to rent. I don’t miss having to line my walls with DVD shelves.

Diminishing marginal utility, maybe? And that most people value things more when they are harder to get. Plus nostalgia. I also miss the weird stuff I used to stumble upon.
posted by sallybrown at 1:27 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


there is definitely a get-off-my-lawn component to this, and that's understandable. but the random/communal movie thing of the past (and to some degree network TV as well as cable) was something i remember fondly.

it reminds me of a time in the early 80s when if you heard a song you liked, you had to ask people if they had heard it, who recorded it, etc. if you wanted that info. i remember times that i actually needed to sing the song to someone, often a person i didn't know, but they looked like they might have heard it. that's how i met a number of folks. it was a fun thing.

both of those things have been replaced by other current social norms, just like those same things replaced previous social norms when i was young, and my parents were lamenting the disappearance of #this# or #that#.
posted by rude.boy at 1:28 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


If we're talking communal experience by corporate mandate, A Christmas Story is my canonical example. On multiple occasions, TBS showed the movie on repeat for 24 solid hours on Christmas Day. I know because I would leave the TV on TBS for significant portions of the day because I loved that movie, but I do feel like part of that is due to TBS showing it all the time as their selected Christmas Movie Event, even if it wasn't always 24 hours of nonstop A Christmas Story.

For communal experience by serendipity, though, I think my answer is Payback, the Mel Gibson movie from the late 90s where a bunch of people want to kill Mel Gibson while he casually takes revenge on all who have wronged him. Or something like that. Lucy Liu was in it. It was okay, the kind of enjoyable pulp garbage you only watch because it's 3pm on a laxy Saturday and hey what else were you going to do for the next hour?

It's interesting that the author of the article thinks that the loss of communal movie experiences by way of reruns causes genuine harm, but that the same is not true for TV shows for some reason. One thing that makes me sad about how streaming platforms treat all old things, but especially TV shows, is that it's not just that only popular things get to be on streaming services; it's that popular things from a specific era get to be popular, and that window shifts as new demographics become lucrative.

Two of my favourite TV shows ever, arguably formative experiences for me, are M*A*S*H and The Avengers. I discovered both in the late 90s, well beyond their original run. I have no idea what you need to do to watch M*A*S*H on a streaming service in Canada, besides VPN into Hulu (assuming they still have it; I'm only guessing based on a Google search). Don't even try to find the Avengers, that's way too old and even in the 90s would only appear occasionally on "older prestige TV and the occasionally arty thing" channels like A&E, which doesn't feel like it has a modern streaming successor. (Trashy modern reality-show A&E is a different story, of course.)
posted by chrominance at 1:30 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Early in my childhood there was a channel that used to play reruns of Mister Ed—that must seem ancient now. But at the time it fit right in with the wackiness of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
posted by sallybrown at 1:40 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


sallybrown, I remember when Nickelodeon showed all those shows during the Nick at Night block. And even during the day time kids programming there was plenty of Dennis the Menace and Lassie.

A lot of the channels that show old shows now are subchannels of the local broadcast stations. My Antenna and so on. I love watching Johnny Carson.

As far as cable movie communal events, I'm surprised no one has mentioned John Hughes' body of work.

Yesterday afternoon what did I stop to watch just because it was on? Judd, Ally, Emilio, Anthony, and Molly talking it out in the library during detention, a scene I've only seen on cable a hundred times.
posted by Fukiyama at 1:47 PM on July 19 [8 favorites]


I lived the first 25 years of my life not knowing that the characters in The Breakfast Club snuck out to Bender's locker to get his weed.

In the edit that Detroit TV stations often aired on Sunday afternoons (making it a frequent random movie that was on TV), they snuck out and roamed the hallway for reasons unknown. Then they were suddenly dancing. Then they were suddenly having a maudlin heart-to-heart talk.

Thanks, FCC!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:50 PM on July 19 [20 favorites]


The Fifth Element always gets a watch here whenever it’s on, which is almost always.
posted by notyou at 1:52 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


mandolin conspiracy - that's insane!! glad you were able to find the truth!

also, the insane rerun movie that my wife could not believe i was watching AGAIN was "enemy of the state". i could watch that movie all day every day.
posted by rude.boy at 1:53 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Go check your TV listings right now. 75% chance that White Chicks is on.

(And Blue Bloods, but that’s TV.)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:55 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I just, just, understood from that article that Tango and Cash, is not in fact Turner and Hooch.

The thing is, I’ve taken part in conversations about Tango and Cash, where I was very much talking about the Tom Hanks and dog buddy cop movie, and everyone else was apparently talking about Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell film, and no one realized anything was amiss!
posted by Kattullus at 1:57 PM on July 19 [38 favorites]


"I don’t understand this nostalgia for a time when it was much harder to watch what you want to watch"

Because often you don't know what you want to watch, or listen to, or consume in any way. A musical example: I'm a straight white guy in my late 30s. There's very little chance that, had I never heard it before, I would seek out a song like "How Will I Know" by Whitney Houston. Just not the type of thing I listen to. But if I'm flipping through channels on the car radio and that song comes on, the volume goes up to max, I'm screaming the lyrics, and the people in other cars are looking at me like I'm insane. I have a Spotify subscription, and that's normally what I listen to in the car, but I think I've only listed to "How Will I Know" maybe twice on Spotify. The difference between what we think we like and what we actually like, you know?
posted by kevinbelt at 2:06 PM on July 19 [16 favorites]


The difference between what we think we like and what we actually like, you know?

I get that, but today did not render continuously repeating movies nor continuously repeating pop radio extinct. If you like pop of the like "How Do I Know" then turn to your local Jack FM station and you will hear it often enough where my child daughter who only knows it from hearing on Jack FM will hear it often enough to know the lyrics, even though she has mostly no idea who Whitney Houston is.

In fact, now it has gotten even worse than it used to be. The only real lament is now they play something else (Deadpool maybe? Oceans 13? Marvel comic movies?) instead of Tango and Cash and Caddyshack and Whitney Houston and Nirvana instead of endless repeats of the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:39 PM on July 19


i had a similar cable tv lsd experience only it involved just me sitting alone and watching midnight express and bride of frankenstein back to back.
posted by Bwentman at 2:45 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Because often you don't know what you want to watch, or listen to, or consume in any way.

This nails it. I'd forgotten the joys of putting my iPod on shuffle, but the other day, when I was working on decluttering my space, I plugged in the HomePod in the room I was working in, and just let it play in the background. It was really pretty great. I didn't have the cable experience that much, only subscribing to it myself for a brief time and mostly getting the experience second-hand, but I did have the experience, for a few months, of being a live-in aide to an elderly man whose main entertainment was watching wrestling on cable, and I'd catch a lot of stuff that I'd otherwise have never seen after he went to sleep, including the pilot to the American version of Kids in the Hall.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:49 PM on July 19


Random Cable Movie is the reason I have had this horror scene in my head for 25+ years: a woman is wrapped like a baked potato in some kind of foil bag so that only her head is visible. She is on a conveyor belt and I believe she is heading toward some kind of table saw. There was a lot of screaming. There may also have been vampires. Or aliens? I VERY QUICKLY changed the channel to something else.

If this sounds familiar to anyone please do not tell me.
posted by janepanic at 3:06 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I don’t understand this nostalgia for a time when it was much harder to watch what you want to watch.

Different styles. It's not harder for me to watch. I've said it before, but reading these thread has made me realize why Netflix and other streaming services just don't work for me, because frankly it sounds like the greatest thing and in reality I never use them. Streaming always ends up being the harder choice. I've watched maybe 5-6 movies streaming on Netflix in 10 years.

So we're looking for minimal investment TV, turn it on and here's 12 options, great (I actually downsized our cable package lately for that reason). Versus opening Netflix or some other app and here's 3000 things I don't know anything about, 2900 of them I won't like, that require a bunch of navigating.

When there is something specific we want to watch, which is how we watch movies, literally 99 times out of 100 it is not available with a service we already have. The times we've spent 30 minutes scrolling through streaming choices and checking different services only to turn it off in frustration vs the number of times we've actually watched something is about 10-1.
posted by bongo_x at 3:10 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


I don’t think anyone is nostalgic for trying to watch a specific movie in those days. The appeal is for that time when an enjoyable movie comes to you.

It’s all these things rolled into one... rose-tinted nostalgia, shared touchstones, Don’t Make Me Think, intermittent rewards...

Maybe I’m over-anthropomorphizing this but it can occasionally feel like the DJ or program director is giving you some songs or movies with a note: “Hey I thought you might like this.”
posted by Monochrome at 3:23 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


On the "Die Hard at Christmas" thing--my impression is that it started as a year-round random movie, then people naturally started talking up the "it's a Christmas movie" thing for reasonable story reasons.

Turning it into a "watch it at Christmas" thing with the commercials and all, that's artificial and marketing.but I believe it was built upon something that happened on it's own. Not what I'd consider either grassroots or astroturf.
posted by Four Ds at 3:29 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


For me it was always A League of Their Own. I ran across that (and watched it) randomly so many times!
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 3:46 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


What really made Random Cable Movie special, to me at least, was that you were also experiencing it at a random point in the movie. Trying to figure out the context of a movie from a 60 second snippet was fun, and sometimes the movie was so good in that minute that you found something new and awesome.

It was also a way to be genuinely surprised by the plot. I stumbled onto From Dusk Till Dawn about 5 minutes after it started, and that did not go where I was expecting it to.
posted by Sibrax at 3:52 PM on July 19 [8 favorites]


It’s not always benign. I hung out with stoners in college, and saw The Nutty Professor six times during my first year of college, and I’ll never get those 12 hours of my youth back.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:53 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


Monochrome: Maybe I’m over-anthropomorphizing this but it can occasionally feel like the DJ or program director is giving you some songs or movies with a note: “Hey I thought you might like this.”

That's exactly what a Cinemax programmer said in an interview that is quoted at the Beastmaster Wikipedia article. It was an enjoyable movie popular with programmers because it was something people could start watching at almost any point without too much trouble.
posted by Fukiyama at 3:55 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


I've only ever had over the air tv as an adult, and ever, really, except for a glorious time as an adolescent when my folks had cable with the Z Channel in the late 70s. It's actually pretty good time for my viewing tastes these days, between channels MeTV/This/Cozy/Antenna/Movies and NHKWorld. Plus the few PBS channels. L.A. has a crazy number of ota channels available in at least five languages I can count.

But my family does have a running joke about cable movies. From the 90s until fairly recently, we'd go on a road trip a couple times a year, and no matter what up or downscale place we'd spend the night, Tremors was always on some cable channel piped to the room. I have an acquaintance whose family has a timeshare in Zihuatanejo, and let us spend a few days. Sure enough, turn on the TV and Tremors is showing, dubbed in Spanish.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:56 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


As a Gen-Xer who, for assorted reasons, never had cable, this is just wholly mystifying to me. You'd just turn on the TV and watch whatever mediocre movie was playing? Like, Rotten Tomatoes has a review-based rating for "Tango and Cash" of thirty-one percent. The rating from users is 52%. That's still not worth watching IMHO. I'd rather stare out the windows and watch the squirrels try to get into the birdfeeder or something, even as a grumpy teenager.

I guess I had a taste of this last weekend. I was stuck in a hotel in Atlanta with no plans and no energy to go out and find something to do, so I turned on the TV and came in on the middle of SyFy running a 'Blade' marathon, and those movies sure did fill some time.
posted by egypturnash at 4:02 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


It's occured to me that I've never seen movies repeatedly on cable because I never really had cable, and when I did, I watched MTV every chance I could as a(n 80s) teen, and Nickelodeon for dinner/pre-gaming while I was in college (I may be the world's oldest fan of "All That" and "The Adventures of Pete and Pete").

I've seen my share of The Three Stooges shorts repeatedly, though, and that's the closest I've come to this phenomenon, thanks to "The Saturday Afternoon Movie" that was on in my town when I was a kid. My cousin was Master of the One TV Set in the House at that time in my life, and he owned that set from 2:00 - 5:00 every Saturday. Nothing was going to make him miss his "n'yuck, n'yuck, n'yuck", lemme tell ya.
posted by droplet at 4:06 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


There are more channels than ever that show movies on TV, in more formats (meaning various cuts - swears/nudity/etc)

I was 12 and we only had basic cable and all I wanted were swears and nudity. It scarred me so deeply I can't watch TV at all now. It's just Netflix/HBO Prime or whatever streaming thing is on, and I just let it auto-next. Sometimes it buffers, and that's annoying, but I know that when it comes, it will be all the swears and nudity.
posted by saysthis at 4:11 PM on July 19


On the one hand, "watch what you like on your own schedule" is amazing, and we all want access to that. On the other, "browse what's on to find something interesting that I might like" is very useful, and we're losing that as we have more on-demand services and online order-in-advance arrangements.

Netflix and Hulu have a whole lot of stuff I want to see. They may have stuff I want to see but don't know about, but I'll continue not knowing about it. Their browsing is downright terrible and they're never going to show me the middle two minutes of shows that I might find interesting.

Similarly, Amazon has a whole lot of books, but it doesn't have shelves. I can't browse for "other books for which the only connection to this one, is that their authors have similar last names."

YouTube, OTOH, has figured how to capitalize on the "hm, what's on?" impulse: show you a "next" video, related to this one by keywords, with options for half a dozen other quasi-related videos. And that's how we get both alien conspiracy theorists Nazis, because they double down on the most intense topics, and the most intense take on those topics. There is no "And now for something completely different!" in algorithm-based programming.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:15 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I'm okay with never again pretending to smile while someone talks about a mediocre film that landed a cable TV distribution deal. I'm even more okay with never having to see Tango and Cash. [Edit: I originally said Turner and Hooch. Either works.]

The world is far larger and more interesting than this article imagines.
posted by eotvos at 4:25 PM on July 19 [4 favorites]


I don't think you needed cable for this - I never had it growing up, but I think of the described effect as the "Sunday afternoon TV" effect. Of course, that was also roughly the timeslots for Hercules, Xena, Cleopatra 2020 and several other insanely fabulous terrible shows, so the mediocre movies had competition, but I completely understand the delightfulness of just catching whatever was on. It was the perfect background to finishing my homework on Sunday afternoons. Plus it's how I stumbled into several hours of Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Gormenghast on PBS while analyzing data in grad school.

One of the downsides of abundance and personalization is effortfully having to choose. That requires knowing what I want to watch, and If I don't enjoy what I chose, its my fault for wasting my own limited and precious frivolous media time. I don't want that kind of responsibility! I used to love staying in hotels because they had cable. Now I love it even more because the delicious art of channel surfing and catching a random minute of something I forgot, or might never have chosen seems absolutely decadent.

And yes, I have seen Tango and Cash.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 4:35 PM on July 19 [4 favorites]


I didn't watch that much TV growing up, while my husband was fully ensconced in 80s and 90s basic cable. We already have the disconnect described here. I never have any idea what he's talking about when it comes to these references. He has seen every B-through-F movie ever shown on TBS, often multiple times. He loves them. I don't understand watching a movie you know is bad on purpose.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:38 PM on July 19


I don't understand watching a movie you know is bad on purpose.

Agreed. For me, it's the ones you never even knew existed until stumbling onto them, which for me included ...

Charley Varrick
The Haunting
Five Million Years to Earth
The Italian Job (1969 original)
posted by philip-random at 5:38 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Turner and Hooch

Holy shit, jinx and I just figured that out now.

Also, aren't all these lists/movies suffering from a lack of Nick Cage?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 6:42 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


There are more movies on TV than ever, yes, but they all seem to be popular movies. Movies people have already seen and want to see again. Movies you already know about.

The nostalgia here is that movies that nobody saw would sometimes get a second life on TV and you'd end up finding a hidden gem that you otherwise never would have voluntarily gone to see in the theater or rented from the video store.

Not great movies, but decent ones that didn't aspire to greatness but were entertaining nonetheless. Tremors. Hard Rain. Stuff like that, just above B-movie level. B+ movies.
posted by mpbx at 7:18 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


For me this was War Games and later Better Off Dead. Watched each about a dozen times, always unplanned.
posted by waitingtoderail at 7:21 PM on July 19


The Fifth Element always gets a watch here whenever it’s on, which is almost always.

I have seen the movie multiple times. However, never from the start. I had thought I hadn't missed much, but when we watched it from the start just the other day, I realised that I hadn't seen fully half the movie!
posted by freethefeet at 7:33 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I lived the first 25 years of my life not knowing that the characters in The Breakfast Club snuck out to Bender's locker to get his weed.

Wait, what?

Also, I am genetically incapable of not watching Dirty Dancing. I haven't had cable in years, but sometimes when I am visiting my parents, I still end up watching it.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:07 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I totally get this. I have amazon prime, (complicated by it being in Japan, with weird limits on some shows, like adventure time being only available dubbed into Japanese), and I almost never use it.

It’s on par with having dvds, where it’s sitting right there, and you don’t have any impulse to watch it, but then you’re flipping through the channels and it’s right there, already halfway finished, and possibly edited, but you’ll watch it on tv instead of getting the dvd out. It’s easy to be paralyzed by choice, but having something just on tv makes it easier.

How else would I have seen One Crazy Summer, Better Off Dead, The Breakfast Club, and Buckaroo Banzai a thousand times as a child? Thank you, southwestern Michigan Fox affiliate, and your Saturday afternoon movies.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:08 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


We moved into a new building, and, come winter, I slipped on the stairs and broke my shoulder. The building had one of those proprietary nascent "cable" channels and while recuperating, fading in and out of pain meds and just pain, I logged a world record (which still stands today) viewings of the immortal classic "Quigley Down Under". I think it totaled about 12 billion times.
posted by Chitownfats at 8:35 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Also I can't watch a movie with commercials or knowing that it was edited for TV or is in the wrong aspect ratio. This sort of drives my wife crazy.

Right there with ya. I can tell you the last movie I watched on commercial TV: Aliens. Somewhere along about thirty years ago, it was going to broadcast on ABC or something with ten minutes of extra footage. To put it in context, this was before DVDs, before Special Editions, even before Ridley Scott had begun mucking around with Blade Runner. A movie you loved with more than there was before?; well, this was like finding there was an extra room in your house you had never previously noticed. .

One thing that the theatrical release of Aliens has perfectly down is its pacing. I can’t really tell you if the extra footage affected it significantly, because every twelve minutes or so, dancing rabbits sang songs to me about toilet paper, and pickup trucks did things restricted to Closed Course Professional Driver Do Not Attempt, and women were delighted to an unseemly degree with floor wax.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:58 PM on July 19 [7 favorites]


The tv edits of movies is, honestly, something I’ll miss. Specifically Aliens, in that when I first saw it on CBS, it was so heavily edited for swearing that, if I recall correctly, they actually just cut the scene where Hudson does. They actually added the deleted scene with the auto guns because they had to cut so much of the movie, and when I finally managed to see the movie on vhs, I was stunned that the sentry guns weren’t in it.

Or Die Hard 2, where for whatever reason, Bruce Willis didn’t do the dubbing, and the guy they got to do it sounded nothing like him, which was hilariously jarring, as almost every other line out of Mclaine’s mouth sounded like a totally different person.

Or, yknow, Slug in a Ditch, which I truly believe is so perfect a “did you grow up in the 80s” litmus test that it could be used to uncover KGB agents.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:44 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I may be the world's oldest fan of "All That" and "The Adventures of Pete and Pete")

Here's a Youtube playlist of all the episodes of The Adventures of Pete and Pete.
posted by saysthis at 1:37 AM on July 20 [3 favorites]


HBO: Hey, Beastmaster’s On

For this reason, I was amused by this sentence from the article:
If The Big Sick were owned by a traditional studio, it would be playing on TBS on a neverending loop.
But I remembered it as The Blind Side.
posted by carmicha at 3:33 AM on July 20


Nostalgia: The Wizard of Oz. It came on every year, and we watched it most years. This was back when the TV was black and white -- imagine my surprise the first time Dorothy and Toto opened the farmhouse door after the tornado and saw glorious color!
For years this was my favorite movie (Steel Magnolias is the current winner). And I haven't watched the DVD in decades.

The random factor: My husband was flipping through channels one night and landed on a film with a group of blue-collar workers sitting down for a meal... in a space ship... with John Hurt having what looked like a heart attack....
Luckily I was not pregnant at the time. We noped right out of Alien for several years.
posted by TrishaU at 4:56 AM on July 20


My father, a man in his late sixties, is a big fan of The Adventures of Pete and Pete, but I could never really get into it. The thing about finding weird random movies and shows on cable was that I discovered so much that I enjoyed. Things that I will never give a second glance on Hulu or Netflix because do I know I am ready for some weird. No, I do not.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 5:08 AM on July 20


Kevinbelt,
Very true. There are songs that I've heard 500 times on the radio, and I just don't notice them -- then, on the 501st time, I suddenly.... like them, and I can't believe I didn't notice how good they were before.

"One of These Nights " by the Eagles and "Plowed" by Sponge are two such songs.
posted by Chronorin at 5:13 AM on July 20 [3 favorites]


I think about this more than I imagined was normal. Relieved to read I’m not alone! Haha.

I don’t have cable anymore or Netflix—I only really have time to watch a show on Friday and Saturday night. Seems like a waste of money. I get DVDs from the library. I like to see my library friends every week.

If you go to the library, you can simulate the ‘random’ movie by selecting from the reshelve cart. And since there is usually only one copy of a video, there are many opportunities to rewatch all your ‘favorites’, or watch shows you might otherwise not watch when you can watch what you think you want to watch on demand.
posted by xtian at 5:49 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]


"One of These Nights " by the Eagles

Funnily enough I was scrolling through Netflix one weekend and stumbled on the long documentary about the Eagles that’s on there and decided to watch because “why not,” the way I used to pick cable movies. It totally hooked me. I had never thought twice about the Eagles before that, their music was just saturated into the culture in the US. Good movie.
posted by sallybrown at 5:52 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]


Sometimes, the freedom from choice is a wonderful and liberating thing. Like, The Handmaid's Tale is obviously a hellish dystopia, but every time there's a scene in Gilead Whole Foods I do feel a weird pang of jealousy.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:07 AM on July 20


Network TV showing movies...

Aliens is one movie... I don't remember the sentry guns, but I do remember Ripley learning about the fate of her daughter. And then i saw the theatrical cut later and was, "Whoa, where did it go?"

Seeing movies like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music yearly really messed me up. I can't watch The Sound of Music today, on video or when it's on some channel on TV without being confused when there are no commercials where they used to be. So confusing.

And probably most importantly,

As a little kid, the first Star Wars movie I ever saw was Empire on network TV. That really affected how I perceived A New Hope and the entire trilogy. The same thing happened on cable where I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:19 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]


I wish that streaming services would add a shuffle option.
posted by good in a vacuum at 8:55 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]


"One of These Nights " by the Eagles

I'm mostly with Lebowski with regard to these guys, but One of These Nights has genuine magic. It starts with the groove, I think. Which wasn't lost on Ultramarine (it gets real clear by the 2:30 point).
posted by philip-random at 8:56 AM on July 20


Five Million Years to Earth

Ah, the days of the Saturday Night Monster/Horror/Thriller movies, and being able to catch random jungle/(dubbed, of course) kung fu movies in the wee hours. (Not to mention the Summer Classic Movies that Channel 44 (SF) used to show, which is where I first caught Twelve Angry Men).

Infomercials wiped out the late night movies of course. But once the syndicated shows caught on with the "independent affiliates" in the late 80's, it was Game Over for the Eight O'Clock Movie. (Not that I would have traded, say, the existence of Star Trek TNG for being able to seeThe Dead Pool on a Tuesday night, but still).

(And yeah, horror movies with Hosts are making a comeback, but not like it was before).
posted by gtrwolf at 1:18 PM on July 20 [4 favorites]


"One of These Nights " by the Eagles

Funnily enough I was scrolling through Netflix one weekend and stumbled on the long documentary about the Eagles...

I'm mostly with Lebowski with regard to these guys, but One of These Nights has genuine magic.


Agreed on literally every point. Hated them growing up, came around to weak fascination at the ubiquity in my 20's, now in my 30's I'm...I'm seeing it. Same with Queen, Zeppelin, Stones, Meat Loaf, what have you. It wasn't that I hated my parents' music, it was that I did, but also I grew up with emo! and indie! and rap! and metal! and punk! and hardcore! and then the post-iterations of them. That was a moment in history when Ho-Lee-Smokes if somebody told me a guitar riff was gold, I'd have 10 new ones to toss out off the top of my head and new-stuff sneer to boot.

I mention this here because the same thing happened to me in TV for a while. Even when I had cable. What follows is a tale of youthful indifference to authority and rediscovery of its beauty.

Personal aside that becomes relevant to thread soon - entreunt me (that's not a word), rebellious teenager, in late-90's small-town Minnesota, no car, but living right near the commercial strip of a 10,000-ish population center for the whole agricultural region, and the family is near broke. Not actually poor, mom's a health professor at the local community college, but academia pay meeting a mortgage & kids & such. I was 15-16, I had teenager needs, and there wasn't cash laying around for that crap. A precocious youth, I had read every book in the house and watched every channel on the basic cable package Comcast forgot to turn off until mom cancelled it in 2015 in favor of Netflix after a backyard modification of the neigbhor's place. Yes, that's right, near 20 years of free cable, or I would have been a broadcast-only baby.

I was 15. It was the Clinton years. No it wasn't all white, but that town? Non-whites at high school were either whitewashed, hence white to me, or obvious immigrants who worked at the pork plant, hence "outsiders" not in the cultural stew (obviously I was stupid, but I was 15 in small town America, sue me). What I saw on TV was my world except not. I had a sense of belonging to something larger and being trapped in something smaller. It was white America and there wasn't much to rebel against accept school attendance requirements. Why should I go, mom (dad wasn't around, 'cause corporeal punishment and laws about drawing blood - the one time he did, cops were called and I insisted on a restraining order, best bloody nose I ever got)? I was an A student. I had in fact read every book in the house, including the Quran and mom's expensive-ass textbooks (so obviously I knew everything she knew, "health professor" LOL allow me to cite mom). Out of boredom. I was a bored teenager, and shit was about to go down.

We had two video stores in town. I enjoyed them, but seldom went, until I put two and two together - if I go to school, I have no time to work, which means I have no money to rent movies, which means I'm stuck with what's on cable. This will not stand, sirs and madams. This, this was an outrage to my teenage self, and it had to be rectified. By the movies I had been able to rent on my allowance & TV I had seen to that point, a teenager should be working at fast food restaurants, having abounding camaraderie with fellow teen wage-slaves, raging against the system, "I can do anything I want, as long as I don't care about the result. Anything is possible. It is night on planet earth, and I'm alive. And someday I'll be dead, someday I'll just be bones in a box, but right now I'm not, and anything is possible." At times, like the quote in question, I was inspired. Everything was possible, but nothing was, because I did what the law and the people required. Although by this point I had disposed of a father and read the books of my mother's profession that advised police in an untenable family situation. My allowance allowed me a subscription to Rolling Stone, you see, and I duly subscribed. I was primed and ready.

One Monday, it was time for school, and I did not go. I was sick, I said. By Wednesday mom was suspicious, and I was thereafter aggressively sick for two weeks. After which, after a doctor's note, and discovering that the system allowed such wide gaps, my answer was, fuck you. I'm not going. Why should I go? The law? Then let them come tell me. They never came. Never. From 15-16, that year, I went intermittently, maintained contact, and spread among my peers the doctrine that one might quit high school without consequence. I got jobs at Godfather's Pizza and Taco John's, both walking distance from my house. I lived out my teenage fast-food service dreams. I worked with, drank with, smoked with people in high school who thought I was a nerd. I bought a leather trenchcoat at the pawn shop on the strip the year of Columbine (and within a week I pretty much gave that up for dad's leftover disco suedes, but in that moment before I knew murderers felt it, I felt the fuck you zeitgeist), and I later found out I was white and not judged a domestic terrorism risk. "Rebellious kid in a family with no guns. What's to know?" Ver batim.

When I was almost 17, the lawman did come and say, "Look, the law is clear. His record is not that of a problem child, but he can't not attend out of protest, or things happen. There are parent sanctions, and he won't come out clean either. Minnesota has alternative programs in other cities, and I notice from your file dad lives over there. One of them actually involves kids who can't attend, and it might be the answer."

Now I took that bait. It was tasty and it got me into college at 17 on AP credits. I officially didn't graduate high school until I was 19, why would you when AP is paying bitches! But sirs and madams, let's look at the video facts. The facts of the video store. The facts of cable. Which is what I spent that delicious, lonely, formative year and a half doing.

Beastmaster. John Huges Everything. The Seinfeld, which can we talk about? Reruns still. Pete & Pete. Bewitched. Leno/Letterman/Conan & all the would-bes of late-night, News Radio, Frasier, etc. Tremors was still new, Rob Zombie was still scandalous (you bet your teenage ass I bought those CD's and big bassy 70's subs to blare it and we wired them up in Mike's 85 hatchback because the strip needed it for Dragula (slam in the back of mine pls)). But see, it was Rolling Stone and the movie review section that led me to Crash, everything David Lynch, Kevin Smith, Cheech & Chong, the Stoned Age (shut up I needed it), Kurasawa, Robocop (no really, you'd think but no), and just all the things, Wag the Dog, Bulworth. Do you guys remember Bulworth! I spent more time on video store movies than cable. I saw everything in the twilight of print and video, and my peers? LOL plebs (was my thought at the time).

Today they still don't see. I'm still freelance. I still have the time. A Bose bluetooth replaced the 70's subwoofers & monitor, and the internet (Netflix, HBO, torrent, Youtube) replaced the video store & Rolling Stone, and expat & Chinese kids who respect that I make a living not teaching English are who I pester to see thing rather than strip people who respect my quit-cred. Otherwise it's close to that environment. They have no idea how easy it used to be. They think I had to work for every bit of pop culture (I made tacos and pizza for it, and worked way more than I could consume given both jobs, the kids don't know).

Things that changed include the fact that Rob Zombie ain't even or ever Periphery, Dance Gavin Dance, or Coletta, the fact that sitcoms are dogballs bad, and the fact that nobody has to pay to see movies or they can pay $10 which is like barely paying to see movies. What, am I wrong? I am, but only if you don't have cable, which is like, the same. That's not mockery. Remember we had free cable for almost 20 years. I'm speaking very self-referentially right now.

MST3K recently played a role in making me understand "old stuff is good". I mean I got a hint of that from Nick at Nite but it was retro window dressing and I was 10. No. Not the same. Movies aren't the same either. It was through the MST3K commentary, recently, that I understood, actually some old campy movies I might enjoy on my own, because they speak to my sensibilities, and in fact a critical mass of them speak to me in terms of modern movies that...I could do me a modern MST3K and not be wrong.

So this is the thing. We're in 2019 and the morons making movies haven't changed, the plots are the same, the scene is the same business. Infomercials wiped out the late night movies of course. Joke dubs wiped out informercials, 26 million views can't be wrong. Ok not entirely but c'mon, in 2019, you can't not know.

So where are we. We're at the point where we're caring for the aftermath and preening the young. Trump got elected, those voters for him are granted non-murder clemency. But TV. We have to live in a universe of both. What do we have? After a long MST3K binge, I've been debating.

What I've learned is that when I have a captive audience, they like 50-90's TV, WHEN I HAVE A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE. Enough laughing. I'm a Chinese to English translator. Sifl & Olly, yes. Indonesian I tried too. Rick & Morty and episodes of a few more. I'm a translator, I do this anyway, why not. Folks, not because of me, but because someone heard of me, all of MST3K is in Mandarin now, with the notes. No it's not all accurate, but it's all DONE, and they're taking notes if it ain't right. If anyone complains I will fight you. You're welcome for the future debate you have about which MST3K episode is best with someone in Chinese.

They laugh. When they don't, I'm alone with a projector and a profession. What then? Chinese shows? I mean I have, but no thank you. Because.

Because torrent and streaming.

I wish that streaming services would add a shuffle option.
posted by good in a vacuum at 12:55 AM on July 21 [+] [!]


YOU ARE THE SHUFFLE. Don't you understand?
posted by saysthis at 2:35 PM on July 20 [6 favorites]


Desperately before I lay down tonight I need to remind y'all that Jim Varney existed. The history of it depends entirely on local TV, but it's a reminder that we all can do better.
posted by saysthis at 2:55 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]


This kind of thing is why I have seen Jewel of the Nile, Twins, and Worth Winning ("Unlimited Mouse Olympics!") lots of times. I concur that this declining is a sad thing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:45 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


I really enjoy living in the future where I can watch what I want, when I want, with no commercials.
But you can't, not really.

Granted this wasn't universally the case, but as a resident of a large urban area the number of movies that I can rent to watch TODAY is actually smaller now, thanks to goofy rights management and the notion of "availability windows." In 1998, virtually everything that got wide release (and many things that didn't) were available at one of the locally owned rental stores or Blockbuster. Studios couldn't stop that, because of the First Sale Doctrine. It was great!

This is no longer the case. Recent films routinely shift in and out of rental availability at the whims of the rightsholders, even things that you'd expect to be available. I put off watching Sicario for several months because we have few "movie watching" slots, and my wife doesn't do violence. Then she had a thing I wasn't going to, and I figured that was my chance -- except oops! Now Sicario is purchase only!

I mean, fuck that. (Obviously something something vpn something torrent, but most people don't have that ability.)

Yes, some things about modern streaming and on-demand TV are great, but this availability issue isn't trivial.
posted by uberchet at 4:07 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]


Somebody responsible for tv programming must have seen this article or this thread, because Tango and Cash was on endless repeat on the Ovation Network yesterday.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:41 AM on July 23


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