Thursday, May 12TV Month 2016 - The Doomsday.
"We will cover the end of the world, live, and that will be our last event. We'll play the National Anthem only one time, on the first of June [the day CNN launched], and when the end of the world comes, we'll play 'Nearer My God To Thee' before we sign off." - Ted Turner
When CNN launched their 24 hour-a-day news network in 1980, ratshit lunatic billionaire Ted Turner uttered the above words. And as promised, they played the National Anthem when they signed on, but most reasonable people assumed the rest of his quote was hyperbole. At some point, the network would have to sign off before the apocalypse. Or at the very least, they weren't literally prepared to air a specific music number as a nuclear holocaust consumed the Earth...right?
Well, for any of us who followed the WWE/WCW 'Monday Night Wars' can attest, Turner was a man of his crazy, crazy word. However, it wasn't until January of 2015 when a CNN employee actually found the clip Turner was referring to in the archives, and it was legit as promised.
It hasn't been converted to HD, but hey, it's the apocalypse! Nobody's going to care that much if it isn't in 1080p. Also note that it was very, very important that the video wasn't aired until the end of the world was confirmed, by CNN themselves, no doubt. The last thing CNN wanted was to jump the gun on a casualty. It was like hearing Jules' recite Ezekiel 25:17 in Pulp Fiction; if you saw it, it meant your ass.
But thanks to disgruntled interns, we were given the rare opportunity to cheat death and stare Doomsday right in its blurry, muffled eye:
I like that it was never updated. I like that, logically, nobody would be around to press the button to air it. I like that, logically, nobody would be alive to see it on CNN. I like the transcendental narcissism of Ted Turner, thinking that the masses would be huddled around the TV, watching his network, as the world burned.
In the 80's, it was perfectly rational to fear nuclear annihilation as a result of some Cold War snafu, so growing up, we were inundated with PSAs, made-for-TV movies and various other televised reminders that vaporization was never more than a Red Phone call away. To this day, the Missus freaks out whenever she hears an air raid siren. I don't think she's ever heard one in reality, but years of The Day After and Threads had her permanently on high alert.
(This is a mock-up, but it's fantastic and the real thing would be just as pants-shittingly terrifying. If I ever pulled something like this on my wife, she'd divorce me on the spot and flee with the cats.)
Analog TV experienced their own version of Doomsday in 2009, when it became law that all stations needed to convert their signal to digital. This meant no more antennas (unless you got yourself a converter box) and no more static, which was kind of a bummer for me. It was definitely the end of an era.
Further still, the analog-to-digital conversion made it a hell of a lot harder to hack into a TV station for no other reason than to mess with people, which is exactly what happened to Chicago's WGN and WTTW stations on November 22, 1987. During an episode of Doctor Who, no less.
(This really happened, and the culprit was never found.)
Most networks flipped their digital switch on February 11, 2009, although 6/12/09 became the de facto date after a few changes in legislation. There was concern that not enough people had the opportunity to get their hands on a converter box, and the argument was that TV was sort of a national right that couldn't exactly be taken away from the public, especially in the event of a Doomsday incident where everyone would need to be notified of an emergency at once. I was of the opinion that TV is a privilege, and it's up to you whether or not you wish to own one, so it's not anyone else's responsibility that you have a working one at the ready in case shit goes down.
However, my wife argued with me on this. Because the analog-to-digital conversion made a lot of TVs obsolete, and because this was no fault of their owners, and because this was essentially a government-mandated change, then yes, the government should make sure that everyone at least had the reasonable opportunity to have their TVs up and running smoothly by the cutoff date. I was wrong; she was right. In retrospect, it makes 100% sense. I just wanted to make that public in the event she still thinks I'm disputing her on it. I was being a butthole.
On the night of February 16, 2009, I did something I hadn't done in a while. I stayed up late to watch a channel go off the air. It was our local NBC station in Madison, and it was making the conversion (and channel) leap for good. This was made all the more special for me because my homie Ben worked for the network and made sure to save a copy for posterity.
(Wow, lotta hits. Good for him.)
When Doomsday hit NBC 15, they didn't go with the Ted Turner-suggested 'Nearer My God To Thee.' They stayed traditional and went with the National Anthem. That's because it wasn't really over; in fact, it was just beginning. A new era of TV had begun, and the previous had been scorched clean from the Earth. No apocalypse, no bunker, no food rations or gas masks. Just a brief test pattern and static for all of eternity.
Who wants to be around for the end of the world, anyway?
TOMORROW: THE UNSOLVED.
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