Are We Not Men? We Are TiVo

I am not exaggerating when I report that TiVo is the most important invention in the history of mankind. The polio vaccine? Please. What did the polio vaccine ever do to help me watch reruns of “Benson”?

My housemate Smacky and I got TiVo because neither of us was dating anyone anymore, and we wanted to ensure we never dated again. We figured more TV would do the trick.

For those not in the know, TiVo is a digital video recorder, serving approximately the same function as a VCR in that it records TV shows. But comparing it to a VCR is like comparing Halle Berry to Estelle Getty. They may have essentially the same properties, but they’re really in different leagues.

You can tell TiVo what shows you like, and it will hunt them down and record them, whenever and wherever they’re on. You can also tell it to search for certain actors or directors, or types of shows, or key words like “chocolate” or “nudity.” It saves everything to its hard drive, and you watch them whenever you want.

For a busy person on the go such as myself, this is a lifesaver. Why, I don’t have time to set my VCR to record “Jeopardy!” every day! But that’s what I had to do before TiVo. As a result, I pretty much never saw “Jeopardy!,” because I didn’t like it enough to bother taping it each day, and I can’t watch it live because I can’t stand to witness Alex Trebek’s smarmy, robotic interaction with the contestants that occurs after the first commercial. With TiVo, I record it and watch it at my leisure, skipping through Alex’s wretchedly failed attempts at joviality.

“Law & Order” is another show I like but not enough to set the VCR to tape it. You tell TiVo to get you some “Law & Order,” leave the house for 10 minutes, and when you come back, the show will have aired 11 times on six channels. Basically, the only reason I have for leaving the house anymore is to give TiVo time to load up some more shows for me. Oh, and my job, I guess.

Another interesting thing about TiVo is that it analyzes your taping habits and recommends other programs based on them. In theory, this is cool. In practice, it means TiVo is embarrassingly aware of your shameful viewing habits. Maybe you enjoy trashy reality shows like “Skank Island” and “America’s Most Talented Monkey.” Do you really want someone pointing that out to you?

“Excuse me, sir,” TiVo says in the British-butler accent I’ve imagined for it. “I noticed you were a fan of ‘Celebrity Towel-Snap.'”

“Er, yes, well,” you stammer, mortified to be discussing this with someone.

“I thought you might also enjoy ‘American Groin,’ sir.”

“Uh, yeah, thanks, TiVo.”

Most of us, I think, would be better off not examining our TV habits too closely.

TiVo’s not very good at recommending shows for us yet. It’s just getting to know us. Since Smacky and I love bad horror movies, we immediately had TiVo track down and record all the ones coming soon, including “Terror Train” (1980) and “The Mysterious Doctor” (1943). Consequently, TiVo currently thinks we only like movies (no TV shows), and only bad ones at that. Imagine my dismay when I came home one evening to find TiVo recommending “Chairman of the Board” (1998), starring Carrot Top.

“TiVo!” I scolded, angry and disappointed. “What did I ever do to make you think I found that fiery-headed hell-beast funny?!”

“I am sorry, sir,” TiVo replied. “It shan’t happen again.”

“I should say not, or you may find yourself in need of a new situation!” I said, momentarily adopting his British dialect.

Our only concern is that TiVo may become super-intelligent and take over our lives, like HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). Will he begin forcing us to watch certain shows? Will he use his knowledge of our likes and dislikes to rally the other home appliances against us? Is this the dawn of a brave new world?

Hey, as long as the brave new world includes reruns of “Square Pegs,” I’m fine.

Coming up with fake names for reality shows was highly invigorating. Of the four, it is hard for me to choose a favorite, and I'm certain I would watch at least one episode of each of them, if they existed -- though, in truth, I don't watch a lot of reality TV. I find the concepts intriguing and they sound like they'd be fun to watch, but I rarely commit to watching them regularly. My involvement with "Jeopardy!" and "Law & Order," on the other hand, is pretty accurately depicted in this column.

It took some deep pondering and asking around before I came up with Halle Berry as the right person to use as the hot babe of the moment. For her opposite, though, Estelle Getty sprang to mind immediately.