TV Or Not TV (1973)|
Review from Benway's House of Firesign
This 1973 effort by Firesign members Proctor and Bergman is entertaining, if occasionally uneven. It's a science fiction story, which showcases a day's (or as they say: "Charged Viewing Cylcle's") worth of programming on a local cable TV station, set sometime in the near-future (as seen from 1973 that is). The album shows some of the forward-thinking that Firesign had demonstrated on previous albums. On TV or not TV, they predict pay-per-view, the rise of local cable TV stations and interactive computerized TV show hosts. To some extent, it also predicts hacking, as a group of kids keep trying to jam the station's broadcast.
The opening segments are my favorite parts of the album. To start the album, two kids steal a parent's credit card and use it to pay for access for a Charged Viewing Cycle of Channel 85. The rest of the album is the broadcast of Channel 85. After we meet the two owner/operators of the station, a program is aired. It's my favorite segment of the album - a take off on PBS- style docu-dramas, it's a twisted retelling of the Julius Caesar story. "The Declining Fall of the Roaming Umpire" tells of Flattus and Bruto's meeting and subsequent discussions of a strange dream. This dream is of a baseball game, but in it, they intrepret the crowd's call to kill the umpire a message for them to go and "dump the Ump" (kill the Umperor.)
From there, the album is somtimes funny, sometimes only so-so. There are a few amusing fake advertisements, Public Service ads and the like - (one of which introduces a radical currency devaluation - what was 5 is now 2, what was 2 is one, what was one is nothing). The weakest part of the LP is a talk show with a holographic ever-morphing hostess. Other than being inventive, its only mildly entertaining - the "musical guests" on this talk show just aren't very interesting to me ... they almost seem like filler material. Later, there is a public service ad that is an homage of sorts to the Isaac Asimov ROBOT stories, exploring the "Robot's Rules of Order" in more depth than they had been on the BOZOS LP. Towards the end of the album, another funny segment of the "Declining Fall of the Roaming Umpire" is aired, although not quite as good as the earlier one. It deals with the actual assination of Ceasar.
Throughout the album, the group of young hackers keep breaking in, activating an automated anti-pirating program. The efforts of the hackers get more and more successful throught the album, until they finally mess up the Emergency Self Control of the station. The album ends with the resolution of this hacker problem. Then the Viewing Cycle is over, and the credit card scanner starts saying "Insert here" for you to enter your card and purchase another Cycle.
I think its worth noting that for once, a Firesign related effort regarding TV did not use channel switching as the catalyst for changing the storyline. This time it's just one channel and its' own programs and programming difficulties. For the most part, it's an entertaining and inventive effort. It has a little bit more depth to it than David Ossman's HOW TIME FLYS album did, but its not as good as Phil Austin's ROLLER MAIDENS album. (How it compares to the other P+B efforts I cannot say.... I am still looking for copies of them.)