TV frustration.

Matthew Alice:

As a member of the San Diego press, I hope you will be able to answer this. Why can't the Union-Tribune obtain the correct starting times for many cable channels. All of their listings for A&E, Bravo, and many others are either off by three hours, which must mean they are using Eastern time or are completely off. Maybe you can inspire them to check it out.

-- TLE, La Jolla

Inspired by your letter, we dug out the old fedora with the press pass in the hatband and went over to see Pat McGrath and kick his editorial butt around the parking lot on your behalf. Pat's in charge of "TV Week," the petite magazine insert in the Sunday paper. He didn't have a clue who we were, so he called security. After that things get a little vague, but I remember a mess of flying elves, and I lost my fedora in the hubbub. But before we were escorted out, I do recall hearing how it's not the TV listings, it's your satellite company that's causing the confusion.

The U-T and probably 90 percent of all publications nationwide get their TV listings from an old building in rural upstate New York. It's the Glens Falls office of Tribune Media, the source of lots of columns, reviews, schedules, and just about any type of TV blather a person could want. They even send out those little blurbs that tell what the show is about ("Eddie causes trouble for Beaver" or "Fatal car crash videos"). The 300+ TV networks send their schedules to the office, and Tribune Media prepares it and sends it digitally to all their customers, based on the customer's time zone. "TV Week" is formatted with schedules, ads, and editorial in the U-T offices late Monday, and it's printed and bound by Wednesday for insertion into the following Sunday's paper. According to Tribune Media, they also send out 120,000 changes and updates to program schedules every to be included in the weekday papers.

So anyway, it's the networks that supply the scheduling info. But it’s the service that delivers the signal to your home that determines when you will see a particular program. According to Pat McGrath, most of the schedule snafus come from satellite delivery systems, which can broadcast East Coast feeds on the West Coast and appear on your screen three hours early. Most cable and satellite systems include on-screen schedules, which should be much more reliable, time-wise, than anything in print. But as Trib Media is happy to report, 45% of all cable and satellite TV homes never use the on-screen schedules and still rely on the printed page. As delivery systems and networks proliferate, the problem is only likely to get worse. I recommend that you sit down in front of the TV first thing in the morning and don't move again until you go to bed, flipping channels madly in between to make sure you're not missing something good. It's about our only reliable defense.

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