Tuesday, February 1, 2011


TigerBlog has always felt like there were two television characters with whom he could best identify when he was a kid.

The first was Richie Cunningham, from "Happy Days." Whatever words you want to come up with to describe Richie, they basically applied to TB way back when. TB wasn't quite The Fonz, and he wasn't quite Potsie either.

Richie was smart, friendly, a bit nerdy, generally well-liked. He had a good sense of humor. He tried to do the right thing. He was a bit, uh, awkward around the girls, and he wasn't quite the coolest kid on the block. Hey, sounds like TB circa age 14-17.

TigerBlog figured he'd never find another character who could better represent his own childhood, and he was wrong.

Just when TB figured he was his own version of Richie Cunningham, along came a different character, one whose childhood was filled basically with all of the same highs and lows, all the same successes and failures, all the same desires and insecurities. Each week, when TB saw this show, he came away remembering some moment in his own past, some experience or emotion that came flooding back to him, all by watching the fictional life of one late ’80s/early ’90s television character.

Kevin Arnold.

For those who don't remember, Kevin Arnold was the youngest child of the family on "The Wonder Years," a TV show that ran for just six years, from 1988-94. In its first season, only six episodes ran - and it still won the Emmy for best comedy series.

It was a rarity for a television show in that it managed to be funny and dramatic at the same time without having to turn its characters into caricatures to achieve either. It tackled really serious issues, starting in Episode 1 when Winnie Cooper's brother is killed in the Vietnam War, but it also perfectly summed up what it meant to come-of-age in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

There's an innocent charm to the show, coupled with a willingness to allow real life, real loss, real failure to be part of it - all while the adult version of Kevin, Daniel Stern, narrates.

Ultimately, it's completely about the relationships, between Kevin and his friends, Kevin and his family, Kevin and the other kids at school and Kevin and the girls he's interested in.

There are four episodes that really stand out for TB:

* the one where Kevin chooses all the bad players for his basketball team in gym class and then the team gets steamrolled by the good kids; were it like most shows, the bad kids would have figured out a way to win the game

* the one where Kevin tries to hold Becky Slater's hand as they walk down the street at the end of the episode, while Judy Collins sings "The Circle Game"

* the one where Kevin has two dates to the dance and ends up alone, but not in a contrived way

* And by far, the last episode, where Kevin and Winnie fight, make up and make promises for a lifetime, which they then back up. Except that they don't do it in the way that any other TV show ever would have done. The way that the adult Kevin talks about what ends up happening to the all the characters is one of the great moments in television history, and the series ends with these words, spoken by Stern:
"Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers, the next day you're gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house, like a lot of houses. A yard like a lot of other yards. On a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back ... with wonder."

In many ways, it is the closest to perfect that any television series TB has ever seen has come.

And now TB has found a channel on his cable system that shows repeats of the series. And stunningly, these episodes are followed by back-to-back episodes of "Happy Days."

TigerBlog would tell you the name of the channel, only he can't remember it. And that's okay, because what does it matter what channel it's on?

It used to be that TV meant the three major networks and some independent stations and that was it. Channel 7 was channel 7 everywhere, and channel 11 was channel 11.

Today, there are hundreds of options on any cable or satellite system, and the stations are different depending on which system you have.

TigerBlog always chuckles when someone calls up the OAC asking what channel they can see a game on that night, because their ESPNU and TB's ESPNU and BrotherBlog's ESPNU are all different.

Beyond that, there are so many different networks now that who can keep them all straight? Who could possibly know what show is on what network by name, rather than by channel number on their system?

There was a time when the most important thing for TB when it came to having Princeton games on television was to have them on a network that was carried by DirecTV, so that it could be seen anywhere in the country and so alumni groups could pick it up together.

Today, that's not the thought.

In the next week, there are three Princeton games on television. Among them they fit the current climate of how TV works around here, and the strengths and weaknesses of both are interesting.

The men's basketball game Friday night against Harvard is on ESPNU, as one of seven games Princeton has with the network each year. This will be Game 4, if you're keeping score, following water polo and men's soccer in the fall and one men's hockey game earlier this season. Still to come are this game, the men's hockey game against Yale and then two men's lacrosse games (North Carolina, Syracuse).

Having games on ESPNU is good because they are available to a huge distribution area across the country. The downside is that they cannot be videostreamed, as part of the deal that ESPN makes.

The other two games are the men's hockey game against Union Friday night and the men's basketball game next Tuesday against Penn. Both of these are on Verizon Fios 1, a channel that TB has never seen.

At the same time, those games more than make up for lack of distribution by being made available to Princeton for videostreaming. The quality of the Verizon Fios broadcast versus what Princeton would normally be able to provide is night and day, as the Verizon Fios one comes with announcers, graphics, multiple cameras and the rest.

TB loves the balance of the two television deals, with the exposure on ESPN balanced with the streaming quality of Verizon Fios.

He's love to expand both of them, especially the Verizon Fios one.

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