Tube Talk: What are your television ‘time shifting’ habits?

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118478501219584.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of‘, ‘Journeyman begins airing this fall on NBC.‘);

“Time shifting” television is quickly becoming the norm for a lot of people I know. I’m not talking about time-traveling shows like Doctor Who or NBC’s fall series, Journeyman, either. (Although I am enjoying the Christopher Eccleston Doctor Who episodes that have been airing lately on PBS, and look forward to seeing Reed Diamond—probably best known as Kellerman on the criminally under-appreciated NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street—on Journeyman.)

I’m talking about recording shows via VCR or DVR, and watching them later; on-demand TV; watching streaming video online; even downloading shows to an iPod. Whenever you’re watching a television show outside of its real-time airdate, you’re time shifting.

Friends, relatives, and neighbors swear by their TiVos and DVRs, but do they really remember to watch the things they’ve recorded?

I’m pretty low-tech, and have even been teased by some of my editors and a couple of executive producers I’ve dealt with in recent years. (“You taped it?” or “A TV writer without TiVo?”—but I think the real subtext probably is, “You actually know how to program a VCR?”) But as long as my trusty old VCR is still working, why go to the expense and headache of catching up with the Joneses?

Another good reason to stick with my VCR is because, quite frankly, I’m really bad at time shifting. If I don’t watch the show I’ve recorded within a day of its original broadcast, chances are I’ll either accidentally tape over it or forget to watch it entirely. I’m the same with DVDs: the fact that they’re sitting there waiting to be watched makes it easier to keep putting off watching them. Right now, I have at least two shows I’ve taped that I actually intend to watch, plus a stack of about 10 DVDs I’ve been meaning to watch for the past month.

Sure, if it’s a crucial episode of a serialized drama, I’ll remember to watch, usually right before the next episode is about to air. But if I had a DVR, I’d probably wind up with a couple hundred hours of unseen programs, which I’d then have to delete or dump to tape to free up space to record more stuff.

Whether you’re an old-school or high-tech time shifter, do you really watch everything you’ve recorded for later? Have you maxed out the 80, 180 or 300 hours on your DVR thinking you’ll catch up on your viewing when you have a couple days off? Do you even remember half of what you haven’t gotten around to watching yet? When you know you’re going to miss an episode, do you download it or view it online? Or maybe you prefer to wait until your favorite shows are on DVD.

I’m curious about your time shifting habits. What method(s) do you use, and why? Which programs or events are you most likely to save now for later—dramas, comedies, sporting events, awards shows, documentaries? And best of all: what are some of the strangest things your TiVo has recorded based on what it thinks your preferences are?

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, SatelliteORBIT, and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to

from the July 18-24, 2007, issue

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