Saturday night: Zapped out in the twilight zone

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Television has had some bad press of late, especially cable and satellite, which are regarded as the lowest forms of televisual life. As a zap- happy armchair fanatic who works for a cable channel, I would like the record set straight. Television, be it cable, satellite or terrestrial, is an educational medium; you can learn things from it, providing you understand its elliptical language, its arcana, its codes.

Marshall McLuhan laid it back in the Sixties. Television is a cool medium. On a recent Saturday night I embarked on a learning curve through the twilight zone. Here is my report.

On Screensport I learnt that the golfer Dottie Mochrie, whose husband usually carries her clubs, actually had another man holding her irons at the J C Penney Classic in Florida. Scandal] On the Discovery Channel I learnt Jamaica has the world's third-largest variety of orchids and that no holiday on the island is complete without a trip to Dunn's River Falls.

Skipping quickly past Channel 11, which is actually ITV, I was shocked to see Spike Milligan doddering alongside Eric Sykes. Shocked, because a 'real' television channel was behaving like cable, where time and space are meaningless, and character actors and comedians from your pre-pubescence can surface at the unlikeliest moments.

Zapping to UK Gold, the BBC-ITV cable venture that re-runs their so- called 'classics', I found Alf Garnett holding the proverbial baby in one arm and a bottle of whisky in the other. Sykes, Milligan, Warren Mitchell - I felt myself slipping down the sofa and into a time tunnel.

On CNN's Future Watch, Donna Kelly was asking what lessons had been learnt from Hurricane Andrew. Apparently, some Floridans will have stronger houses in future. Sky One's Cops is a fly-on-the-wall documentary series that follows New Jersey patrolmen. This week they were called to a domestic dispute that had degenerated into a food fight. A man in shorts and vest answered his front door, caked from head to toe in flour, eggs and jam. 'I let her throw this stuff all over me because I didn't want to touch her. That's why I called you. Now can you make her leave?'

The cops said no, they could not. My heart went out to the battered husband.

Back on ITV, Margi Clarke brandished a trophy at Jonathan Ross, asking, 'Where shall I shove this?' and, answering her own question, 'Up the crack of your bum.' How very post-modern.

The rapier-witted Margi had another word for it: 'Jonathan, I'd better warn yer, I suffer from dick-lecksia.'

I decided it must be contagious and the whole network had caught it.

On Eurosport, the spoilt brat John McEnroe was playing live in the Davis Cup, while on Bravo the child-beater Bing Crosby played a priest in The Bells of St Mary's (1945). Bing gazed lovingly at a veritable babe among brides of Christ, a nun played by Ingrid Bergman. 'You're perfect,' he said, as tears filled her dreamy eyes. 'But not physically,' he added quickly.

What could he mean? Did she need liposuction? 'You have a touch of tuberculosis,' Bing explained.

'Thank you, father, you've made me very happy,' gushed Ingrid, glad that Bing had stepped back from the brink. Here was proof that Hollywood once made movies with time for doubt, where deft pauses allowed emotions to form in the viewer. A point worth appreciating, I'm sure you'll agree.

MTV's Party Zone taught me that no rock legend is so sacred that someone will not eventually 're-mix' their most famous songs, complete with 'Made in Taiwan' drum sounds, as has happened to Bob Marley of late. On Video Jukebox, an American comic called Sam Kinnison was performing The Troggs's 1966 hit 'Wild Thing', while Billy Idol sneered in the background. Kinnison, whose act vilified women, died in a drink-driving accident earlier this year.

Zapping to the Super Channel, I found our own Oliver Reed, another big boozer. Like Sam, Olly is a poor advertisement for alcohol. His higher brain functions - talking, thinking, focusing his eyes - are already seriously impaired, and others must now be under threat. Like Sam, Olly is often rude to the fair sex. And, also like Sam, Olly has recorded a version of 'Wild Thing'. Coincidence? An omen? I think of it as arcane knowledge, the kind only expressed by, and gleaned from, the cool medium. These are the things you learn watching cable television.

Suddenly, Olly was gone and dolphins filled the Super Channel screen. So New Age, so Nineties, so un-Olly. Almost an exorcism. Later I would find Ted Danson, the barman from Cheers, moonlighting on the Discovery channel. Ted stood on a beach and introduced a show about . . . dolphins. If I was not already teetotal, Saturday night would have been my road to Damascus.

'He's perfect]' hissed Peter Cushing, playing Baron Frankenstein on Bravo. Seconds later, he was cutting the brain from a minion and plopping it into a jar full of alcohol. Olly would have felt a warm glow.

The lead story on Sky News concerned the Princess Royal, who would remarry, with her children Peter and Zara attending the ceremony. Another story concerned a maternity ward mix-up that led to two couples getting the wrong children. How strange that this should have happened at the Princess Anne Hospital. My heart went out to Peter and Zara. Did they ever wonder if they had got the wrong parents?

I decided to stop learning at 3am, and zapped to RTL Plus, where a stripping Hausfrau on Tutti Frutti was having trouble with the zipper on her skirt. No need to point out the lesson here. Finally, I came to rest on Bravo again, showing Torchy, The Battery Boy. 'Torchy' was Gerry Anderson's prototype puppet show, a piece of Ur-television. I remember, as a child, my mother sang me the theme tune. Back to the dawn of television, the beginning of me. It was time to stop, time for the national anthem and the white dot. Time to switch off.