Channel Roulette

In New Column by John Tebbutt

Browsing through inexplicably free TV

I select the “Auto Channel Search” function on my TV, and then try to prepare myself for disappointment as the progress bar slowly fills up. At 90 per cent completion, I still have zero channels. This isn’t looking good….

Y’see, it made sense to me to disconnect my cable service, since I really wasn’t using it that much. But I’m still curious about what (if any) channels are left to non-subscribers once the axe comes down. It seems to depend on where in the city you live; one cable-free house I know of still receives CBC and CTV, while another gets zilch. It’s starting to look like I’m getting the zilch option.

Suddenly, I get nine channels all at once and the search ends. Nine? Nine! That’s way more than I expected! Eagerly, I grab the remote and start clicking. Will I have Global? How ’bout CBC? Nope — it looks like I’m getting exclusively weird channels.

First up is Channel 19, the Business News Network. Stock tips, numbers scrolling along the bottom of the screen, and nothing else. Well, there were always going to be a few duds in the lineup. What else is here?

It turns out that all the other channels are up in the 60s. There’s round-the-clock religious programming on 66, round-the-clock Canadian politics on CPAC, and two French channels. Groan. Why did I bother?

But wait a minute — I’ve also got MuchMusic, MTV and M3 (previously known as MuchMoreMusic). What the hell? Aren’t these pay channels? I didn’t even have these when I had cable! MTV famously doesn’t show music videos anymore, but the other two “music” channels do. MuchMusic seems to be grouping their videos based on themes, and I tune in just in time for the “ass” theme. I’m mesmerized by seven butt-obsessed twerking videos in a row, including Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” which I had honestly never seen before.

In addition to all the bum worship, MuchMusic airs stuff like The Simpsons, Conan, South Park and Community. Nice! M3 seems to always be playing retro videos, or marathons of Reign or Pretty Little Liars. MTV deals exclusively with horrible reality TV shows. I see something called Panic Button, a game show in which contestants are dressed in red jumpsuits and camera helmets, and led through a filthy, rusted-out, dark, claustrophobic building, while they scream at rats, scorpions and sudden noises. One guy is strapped to a chair and forced to dissect a lizard while hypodermic needles plunge into his ankles. It’s like the reality TV version of Saw, and it’s completely repugnant.

Another late-night reality show catches my attention briefly: Snack-Off. This looks a bit like my beloved Iron Chef, except that the contestants have no culinary qualifications, and instead of fresh ingredients, everybody’s cooking with Wonder Bread and bags of Doritos. When the contestants are called upon to prepare a chicken dish, all three decide to top it with a marshmallow-based sauce. That isn’t a rule — it’s just a coincidence. One guy pours ketchup into his marshmallow sauce. The judges are laughing, but it’s a joyless, hysterical laugh that suggests they really, really don’t want to eat the ketchuppy marshmallows. I do some research, and learn that the female judge is a Sports Illustrated model named Chrissy Teigen, who actually got an ulcer in her oesophagus from eating the slop served to her on Snack-Off. “At one point, I ate a piece of Texas toast with a canned oyster on top with cut up maraschino cherries… and that actually won the episode,” Teigen told the Daily Mail. Yipe!

I’m not complaining. While MTV is sucking, I can just switch over to the House of Parliament, or Sir Mix-a-Lot videos, or even a French-language version of Back to the Future. Or I can, you know, see a real movie on Netflix or Blu-ray. That’s still an option.