Viewers put VCRs to heavy-duty use


August 31, 1991|By STEVE MCKERROW

Historian Shelby Foote was incorrectly identified in an item in last week's Saturday section. Mr. Foote was principal on-screen commentator for the PBS series "The Civil War." The series was written and directed by Ken Burns. The Sun regrets the error.

Wow! There's a whole lot of taping going on.

A few weeks ago this column asked readers to share their videotaping habits. Underlying the question was the suspicion that many purchasers of VCRs embark upon a flurry of taping activity only to quickly taper off to recording relatively few programs of interest.

But from the volume of letters received, it appears the VCR is a major appliance in many, many homes. And an astonishing array of programming is regularly recorded for later viewing or building personal video archives, from golf tournaments to newscasts, short-lived sitcoms to memorable documentary series.


Many people did not make clear when they have the time to watch what they tape. But it is obvious the VCR allows viewers to tailor their television habits well beyond the confines of the broadcast and cable schedules.

Many readers spoke only generally about categories of shows they tape, such as movies (mentioned by almost all correspondents), variety specials, children's shows and public broadcasting series.

But correspondents specifically mentioned by title more than 60 programs they try to tape on occasions when original broadcast viewing is impossible.

The shows mentioned most often (in each case by three or more readers) were: "L.A. Law," "Northern Exposure," "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "The Civil War" (the PBS documentary), "Later, With Bob Costas" (a wee-hours NBC show), "Mystery!," "Masterpiece Theatre," "Jeopardy!," "Seinfeld," "The Simpsons," and "I, Claudius" (the PBS miniseries recently repeated).

A few daytime soap operas also were mentioned often: "Santa Barbara" (soon to leave WMAR-Channel 2), "The Young and the Restless," "All My Children," "The Bold and the Beautiful" and "Days of Our Lives."

Classic series, such as "I Love Lucy," "The Honeymooners," and yes,even "Green Acres," have faithful recorders out there. And we even heard from one reader (see below) who tapes only commercials.

Rather than trying to wax philosophic about what this all means, it seems most entertaining to sample sagacious readers' comments:

*"The reason we tape . . . is that every time we discover a show we really enjoy they cancel it. We have been burned so many times that way that now we just tape shows like 'Seinfeld' because it is bound to be canceled and will never wind up in reruns." -- Chris and Yvette Crabtree of Baltimore.

*"Our primary use of the VCR is to record 'Jeopardy!' every evening for viewing at a more convenient time, which for us is just before bedtime -- a relaxing way to end our day." -- Juanita and Jim Hendry of Catonsville, who call themselves "an active retired couple."

*"The best thing about the later viewing is you can fast forward when the commercials come on, and eliminate them entirely! I figured out that every hour has at least 20 minutes of commercials, so you can see a one-hour show in approximately 40 minutes." -- Isabelle Ribakow of Stevenson (expressing a sentiment uttered by many others).

*"I tape commercials. The best commercials are brief, creative, beautiful, funny and charming -- unlike most shows on TV. . . . I regret to say that I have not yet been able to capture my favorite commercial -- the duPont Stain Master commercial complete with opera, a Manhattan penthouse, a beautiful woman and a klutzy man spilling lots of food." -- Sharon Kim of Timonium.

*"My main source of material is Channel 67 -- MPT [Maryland Public Television]. Regular tapings include: 'Masterpiece Theatre,' 'Mystery!,' any English drama. . . . I do confess to a weakness for several soap operas -- 'The Young and the Restless,' 'The Bold and the Beautiful' and 'Santa Barbara.' These are balanced by my frequent reading and listening to recorded books from Pratt Library." -- Ethel D. Hall, a retired librarian from Baltimore.

*"During the Gulf War crisis, I taped constantly, including the Welcome Home Concerts. This was history in the making. I figured this would be great for my son when he's in high school (he's only 5 now, and I'm sure this will be in his history books). He should get an 'A' on his history report and visual presentation." -- R. Cogswell of Jarrettsville.

*"When our daughter, Bindy, moved to Italy a year ago with her husband, a U.S.N. officer, and their two daughters, our VCR sat on our TV staring back at us unused," writes Ann B. Martin of Baltimore. But things changed when her daughter wrote that "TV was terrible" in Italy. As a result, the Martins send several six-hour tapes a week to their daughter, including such shows as "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee" to "Cheers," "Roseanne" and "The Cosby Show."

"And they are watched, then passed around the American community of about 1,200 Navy personnel," Mrs. Martin writes. "We subscribed to the Disney Channel so our grandchildren and their friends could enjoy some TV also."

*" 'Regis and Kathie Lee' -- I always tape the show so I never miss the host chat at the beginning of the show, which is the best 15 minutes that television has to offer." -- Sue Graham of Mariottsville.

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