Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Time Warner Under the Dome of CBS

Under the Dome on CBS is no longer viewable on demand, online, or on TV in certain markets due to an airing fee dispute.

Like many viewers out there, I have become a big fan of Under the Dome, the shiny new sparkling TV series airing on Monday nights at 10 p.m. on CBS. The show debuted on June 24, 2013, during the off summer season, a brilliant move. It is now rated the number one show nearly each week and boasts viewership from 10 to 14 million each episode. (according to Zap2it)

Under the Dome is a really exciting, unique, and original thriller conceived by popular horror novelist Stephen King about the community of Chester’s Mill, Maine which is mysteriously cut off from the rest of the world when it is encompassed by a 10-mile diameter transparent dome one beautiful sunny morning. The dome allows nothing in, nor out, save for for a little air and moisture. People are trapped inside without extra food or medicine. The doctor was out of town “when the dome came down.” The fire department had left for a parade in a neighboring city. And a few unfortunate visitors happened to be driving through and are now trapped inside, away from their homes and separated from their families, friends, and all their own personal belongings. 

With no cell phones, email, or television signal, Chester’s Mill residents are reduced to scrawling hand written messages and holding them up to show to others outside the transparent sound-proof dome. Lip reading sisters act as interpreters, revealing that the U.S. military is just as in-the-dark as to the cause of the dome as are the residents, and so is the rest of the world. 

Efforts to penetrate the dome with ordinary construction equipment are futile and it's discovered that metal objects touching the dome become electrically charged as if in a microwave, causing them to burn up. The government perceives the dome as a potential threat created by an unknown entity (possibly extraterrestrial) and in episode 5, Blue on Blue, aims a missile at it, exploding a M.O.A.B. (mother of all bombs) in an effort to destroy it. 

Anticipating the complete annihilation of the town of Chester’s Mill and it's inhabitants, the bomb only manages to destroy the surrounding landscape of homes and farmlands into oblivion. (These are miraculously restored in the next episode -- whoops! ) 

Nothing can crack it. Life goes on as best as possible inside the dome.

The CBS dome over Time Warner Cable

I try to watch Under the Dome via on demand each week due to my busy schedule, but was sadly dismayed to discover that CBS has pulled it's on demand viewing menu and blocked online viewing on it's own website due to a failed airing fee negotiation with Time Warner Cable. In an effort to rally support from viewers to call Time Warner at 1-888-TW-Cable and “tell them you want your CBS shows back!,” CBS has initiated its own blackout. 

CBS has created a website explaining their position and attempting to rally support here:

Time Warner has created a far more detailed explanation and offered solutions on their website here: Time Warner Conversations.

It's a wee bit complicated. You pay for cable. Your cable company (Time Warner in this instance) pays CBS to air their shows. But, CBS wants more money and claims they are underpaid. Time Warner says essentially: No, you're getting your fair share. So, CBS has cut the feed and Time Warner customers are now experiencing a blackout of sorts. 

Obviously, if you just hook up a good antennae to your TV, you can still watch CBS shows free of charge, which is what many of the 3.5 million paying Time Warner customers in the blackout cities of Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City, and Pittsburgh are doing. These are the major metropolitan markets where CBS owns and operates the local CBS stations, thereby enabling them the control needed to create the blackout. 

Several channels are affected. In addition to CBS, Time Warner Cable customers can no longer view Flix, The Movie Channel (TCM), Showtime, and the Smithsonian Channel. To appease customers, Time Warner has replaced TCM with Encore, and Showtime with Starz.

I live in Orlando and I don't have Time Warner Cable. I have Bright House Cable. However, Time Warner is leading the negotiations with CBS for both Bright House and Time Warner, so I am also blocked from not only viewing my favorite CBS shows on demand on channel 304, but also from viewing them online via my Bright House internet connection. Fortunately, I can still view shows during their regularly scheduled viewing time slots since WKMG, our local CBS affiliate station, is owned by the Post/Newsweek Corp and will not block out the shows.

While I don't want to harp on this issue, I do feel that as a consumer, it's difficult to take sides in this matter without knowing all the facts. I would love to know what the fees are that Time Warner pays ABC, FOX, and NBC.  Is CBS asking for more money? And if so, why? CBS airs several major sporting events – do they feel that's their big bargaining chip? NBC airs the Olympics every two years and you can't get much bigger than that.

Hit shows come and hit shows go, and I'm all for equality in democracy. All four major networks who air their own original primetime shows from 8 to 11 each night: ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC should get paid the same fee. HBO and Showtime are also equal to each other in my eyes, and should get the same fee as well. If CBS wants more than what NBC is getting, then shame on CBS. If Time Warner wants to pay CBS less than what they are paying NBC, then shame on Time Warner. Just make it equal. Problem solved. If CBS feels they deserve more since they have a few hit shows, can't they simply make up the difference in advertising revenue? Leave us innocent cable customers out of the fight.

But, this blog is supposed to be about Under the Dome, not about a ridiculous behind-the-scenes spat which has affected viewers of all CBS shows, including many of my favorites: the popular Big Bang Theory, Two Broke Girls, and How I Met Your Mother, just to name a few.

Life Under the Dome

Fortunately, I was able to watch the latest episode 7, Imperfect Circles, when it aired this Monday at 10 p.m. on Bright House Cable. However, I've missed the previous episode 6, The Endless Thirst and had to resort to watching an action-figure collecting, computer-repair geek’s online critique on youtube to find out what happened. Apparently, the town’s water tower was knocked down, it rained inside the dome, and the character Rose, who ran the diner, was gunned down and killed by two hooligans, a sad, sad day in Chester’s Mill.

I love the premise of the show. The concept of “what would you do?” if you were suddenly cut off from the rest of society, unable to ship goods inside or out, with limited communication, power, water, food, medicine, and other resources? Especially with no hope in sight, no promise of future interaction, and no promise of anything ever returning to normal. I imagine it must feel a wee bit like those on the U.S.S. Minnow felt after being stranded on Gilligan’s island. At first, you hope for a quick rescue and end to your misery, drinking up all the wine which floats your way. As time passes, you adjust, take inventory, and create new ways to accomplish simple tasks.

I’ve experienced such an event myself on a short-term basis after a two-week power outage here in Orlando back in 2004 after Hurricane Charley swept through Florida, wrecking havoc. We neighbors met on the street, pooled our resources, and formed a cooking-and-entertainment brigade of sorts. One neighbor had a freezer full of thawing meat, so he made us dinner each night. I had a large screened in porch that offered a nice breeze and bug free environment. Another neighbor brought over their furniture, and another their candles. We read books and played canasta. Down the street, we charged our phones and computers at the gas station. We raided the next door neighbors’ orange trees and juiced the oranges to make mimosas.

If we had gone far longer without power and resources and been cut off with no hope in sight, we would have done more, entering unoccupied homes looking for canned goods and toilet paper stashes. 

Even longer, and I imagine creating a co-op exchange of goods and services: hand-me-down clothes in exchange for roof repair, mending in exchange for canned tomatoes. I'm sure we would have scrounged up some seeds and planted some new crops of vegetables. 

The show is based on the book of the same name, Under the Dome by Stephen King, and in it, just as in the adapted TV show, anarchy results, disasters occur, and people are killed. In the book, after a little over a week, the dome is lifted and it is discovered that only 26 people still remain alive. However, this is a television series, and the hope is that it will last a few years as we explore the sociological impacts and scenarios that would develop over the course of several months. Though King wrote the first episode, Producer Brian K. Vaughan has been hired to adapt and modify some characters and scenarios to accommodate the longer timeline.

My largest complaint, as a nerdy geek sci-fi fan are that the fallout from the disasters are magically erased each episode. Giant fires and explosions should be creating great clouds of unbreathable pollution, but are magically dissipated. The fields and homes destroyed by the M.O.A.B. have magically reappeared in the next episode. The dome edge seems to move. 

Before I read the book’s synopsis online (I don't recommend it -– it’s a spoiler), I was intrigued with what on earth could have caused the dome to form. I wondered if it were Eden, and mankind was being given a protective barrier against the rest of humanity in an effort to preserve them from some future cataclysm which would erase mankind from the surface of the earth, leaving only the dome occupants to repopulate the world.  The latest episode, with a black egg-shaped stone at the center emanating the force field, led me to theorize that this is perhaps a giant alien egg, and the people of town of Chester’s Mill have invariably been caught in the wasp’s nest, perhaps to be living food for whatever creature will be hatching from within. 

The true cause of the dome revealed in King’s book is just as exciting. Let’s hope that the dome on CBS and Time Warner and Bright House subscribers is lifted so that the rest of the world can see the show for themselves. Until then, you can watch this nerdy guy Trevor here on youtube for show updates: Trevschan2

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