Apr 21, 2010 10:52 AM

Back when I was a kid, probably middle school, I was home sick one day watching morning television. I happened to see a commercial for that station’s Cheers rerun where they said the show was starting over that night – they had run through all their reruns and so the series was restarting from the first episode.

Well being a weirdo I found a video tape I could sacrifice and set it up to record that night. And then the next night I recorded the next episode immediately following it on the tape. It was an eight-hour tape and I filled it with sixteen or so episodes.

And I continued doing this for a long time. I filled video tape after video tape of Cheers episodes, trying to record the entire run of the show. I got a routine down – when I would get home from school I would rewind the tape to the end of the previous night’s episode and before I went to bed I would power off the VCR so that the automatically scheduled recording would fire off at the right time. I think the show was on at 11:30PM at night or something so it was a little too late for me to stay up and watch with school the next morning (although I never get to bed before midnight these days). On Friday nights I would stay up and watch it and also pause out the commercials, which created the side effect of never knowing how much time the tape had left on it. I found myself doing “test runs” of recording stuff on the end of the tape so that I could see how much more tape I had on the cassette – the VCR had a timer on it so I could see how long something was but unless it was at the right speed with nothing “stopped” in the middle, you couldn’t correctly gauge how much time was left.

I eventually filled at least fifteen VHS tapes, most of which were T-120 (so, six hours at EP/SLP speed). At some point I started recording the new episodes when they came on since I didn’t know when they were going to hit syndication or if they would do so in time to be caught by my 11:30 recordings. However, I didn’t have much luck since the new episodes had a much higher chance of being delayed by sports, moved around when NBC had something else to run, colliding with times when the VCR was already in use (still a kid living at home at this point), etc.

At some point I was finished although I honestly do not remember how – either the syndication run restarted again or I got tired of doing it, or something. But when it was all said and done I had videotape of almost every episode of Cheers, ever. And for the next few years before I went off to college, I would watch them more or less incessantly. Every time I was doing something I would have Cheers on. Every time TV got boring I would just watch Cheers. It never got old, ever, mainly because there were so many episodes. I know that one of the episodes taped in syndication was the 200th episode (which was the cast sitting being interviewed by John McLaughlin, Inside The Actors Studio-style – this was before that show came on, I think). So figuring 200 episodes at about half an hour each (occasionally there would be an hour-long episode split into half for syndication) at five nights a week that’s about ten months of video taping, and it didn’t end there, so I probably did this for over a year.

There were some quirks. Sometimes the episodes would get out of order and while a show like Cheers is perfect for reruns, it would fuck with the occasional story arc, like how in one episode Sam is definitely with Diane and the next he’s not, but they get back together. I would miss the occasional episode, and sometimes an episode wouldn’t be played. Most notably the premiere of the sixth season is missing (either they didn’t air it or I missed it) so the introduction of Rebbecca (Kirstie Alley) is missing, along with the stuff from that episode like <SPOILER>the explanation of Sam’s boating career, the introduction of the uniforms, how Norm stopped going for a while, etc.</SPOILER>. At some point we got a new VCR (old one died I think, wonder why?) and this new VCR had this horrible trait of rewinding the tape a little bit before it records, so the tail end of a stretch of episodes is clipped off before I figured out what was going on.

When I went off to college I didn’t have a TV for the first two years (Corps of Cadets, long story) so I left the tapes at home, where my parents (mainly my mom) watched them all the time. I think I brought them to college at some point. I know that my parents have them now where I think they still watch them on occasion.

Now I have all of the seasons on DVD. It’s neat – they look way better than my old VHS tapes recorded at EP, there’s no cut off endings, no commercials, no funkiness, all the episodes are there, in order, and none of the scenes are missing (turns out syndication regularly cuts out a few minutes of most episodes to fit in more commercials for the stations buying them for syndication). So I’m starting to watch them again.

It’s sort of a byproduct of when my obsessive packrat/collector’s nature coincided with the only way to reproduce television being a VCR and the only way to get a hold of some episodes being recording them. Most TV shows were never sold in home formats prior to DVD. Star Trek was and a handful of others, like Bonanza or something, but that was it. And those were almost always sold in some sort of subscription format on television commercials since carrying the entire collection of a TV show on VHS tapes would take up too much shelf space and stores wouldn’t carry them. Actually now that I think about it, Cheers may have also been sold in that subscription VHS format which is perhaps why I was doing this in the first place – I could get them for “free”, all I had to do was religiously video tape them every night for over a year. Brilliant!

Nowadays TiVo does a lot of what I was doing manually/the hard way, but simply and automatically. And I don’t need to record stuff as much as I used to since now I can pause, rewind, etc. And dual tuner TiVos mean I can record something I’m not watching. And TiVoToGo means I could back all of this up to DVD. Plus now an entire season of Cheers fits in the same amount of space, shelf-wise, as a single video tape (well, maybe a little more) and a single tape, commercially, could hold only four episodes. Even at sixteen episodes on EP, DVD wins. All of this would have been a godsend back then, but it’s still neat to look back and see what collecting and consuming television was like.

But suffice it to say I kick ass at the Cheers Trivia Game.