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Column - Cable TV reaches diminishing returns

I just wrote my TV cable company another letter of complaint this week; I wish everybody would.

Cable TV is ... well, where should I begin?

Let's start with "news" - so-called. It's obvious news companies have been tightening their budgets. We get endlessly repeated reports of the same-o, same-o, such as Anderson Cooper, in his perma T-shirt, reporting from the Gulf Coast about the oil gusher. We also get "news" shows that consist of loud-mouth commentators and guests screaming at one another. As for investigative reporting, after nearly five years, the snoop hounds are still on the trail of the Natalee Holloway case, as if she's the only young woman who ever "disappeared."

What's ironic is that the crawler strips on the bottom of the news screen are almost always more interesting or urgent than the "news" being gabbed at us. Trouble is, the crawlers creep by, never to be heard from again. Here's one - morbid but intriguing - that tantalizes in its stark brevity: "Porn star, wanted for murder, dies after fall from cliff."

Do you remember how fascinating the History Channel used to be? Lately, I call it the Nostradamus Channel because reruns of that mystical bogeyman are always on it. The History Channel used to feature well produced programs about every area of history. Now it might as well be called the Rerun Channel. If it's not reruns, it's shows that - far as I can tell - have nothing whatsoever to do with history, such as that yawningly dull show called "Ice-Road Truckers." There are other "reality" series called "Axe-Men," "Pawn Stars," "World's Deadliest Catch" and "Dirtiest Jobs" on that channel or others. The latter, at one time, was queasily interesting until they ran out of ideas, out of dirty jobs. Now it should be called "World's Dullest Jobs."

The Cooking Channel, too, has taken a dive. Most of its programs are jazzed-up to hokey levels, with phony suspense added - for instance, which cook contender is going to be voted down? It's an obvious imitation of those jungle reality shows and the Donald Trump "dump the wannabe" nonsense. Even interesting programs often resort to fake suspense. For instance, is this mummy now under examination related to King Tut? Will forensics prove it? Stay tuned, folks.

You may ask, "Why do you watch TV if it's so terrible?"

The answer is: I don't watch it much. I watch it less and less. So "less," in fact, I hesitate before paying the monthly cable bill. In my opinion, we are being charged more for less.

If it's not cheaply produced shows, it's that constant barrage of witless commercials. The worst of them lately, which drives me right up a wall, is the one about an exterminator trying to capture bad credit scores in the form of fuzzy-wuzzy animals (one of them is number 310) trying to scurry away. This piece of imbecility is breathtakingly dumb. It's as groaningly bad as the ones showing hovering "scorecards" above people's heads when they drink the "right" juice. What kind of deranged minds think up such silliness and what kind of impoverished viewers find these ads clever or - God forbid - funny?

The next question is, "Why don't you just cancel your cable service?"

I should. But once in awhile, yes, there is an interesting show on TV. And if there is serious breaking news in the world, I want to find out what's happening - that is, unless the news crews are still stuck on the Gulf Coast or rehashing an old clue in the Holloway case. "Breaking news" on TV usually means the latest legal wrinkle in some spoiled pop star's bad behavior.

So many people keep telling me they're sick of cable TV.

"There's nothing on it!" they complain.

"Then write or call the cable company," I say, "and tell them you are sick of paying for diminishing returns."

"Yes, I'm going to do that tomorrow," they say.

Most never do. I have to wonder, would it do any good if they did?

Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at