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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

question of the day: How do you find out what’s on TV?

Not long ago, we talked about how we research movie showtimes in the wake of some major newspapers ending their longtime practice of running movie listings. Now, it’s TV’s turn.

USA Today informs us that “TVGuide.com spruces up to appeal to more viewers”:

[TV Guide Online’s general manager, Paul] Greenberg is eager to show that TVGuide.com has a vibrant future, even as the magazine introduced in 1953 looks back wistfully at its glory days. The website blends listings, news, social networking, video and other features to appeal to a new generation of people who relate to TV in novel ways. “We’ve basically taken the TV Guide brand and turned it digital for a whole new audience,” he says.

I never turn the TV on unless I know there’s something I want to watch, so I never have the situation of needing to search listings for something interesting to watch right now. If I want to know when a specific show is coming up, I usually search either the guide on my TV from my cable company, or I use the Web to find out when a show I want to see is airing. (Though sometimes I’ll just leave CNN or the Weather Channel or SyFy on in the background, which doesn’t necessitate any searching, either.) I can’t remember the last time I used TVGuide.com, never mind any kind of print listings.

And it sounds like TVGuide.com isn’t making listings its main concern anymore either, even though, as with with movies, it just makes more sense to go digital. The site looks like a generic TV news site.

How do you find out what’s on TV?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • TMS

    Here in the UK I use the online version of The Radio Times, basically a TV listing mag, because it allows me to see what’s on for up to two weeks in advance, which is better than the printed versions which cover just a week at a time. Although to be honest I usually just use it to see if there are any movies coming on which take my interest as UK TV is pretty lousy.

    I still look through the freebie TV magazine which comes with the weekend paper as often it will feature a couple of in depth interviews with actors or movie reviews but rarely use it for finding out if anything is going to be on TV.

  • Leslie Carr

    Living in the UK, I read the anachronistically named “Radio Times”. According to wikipedia

    Radio Times was founded on 28 September 1923, and originally carried details of BBC radio programmes in response to a newspaper boycott of radio listings. It was at one time the magazine with the largest circulation in Europe. Until deregulation of television listings in 1991, the Radio Times carried only listings for BBC channels, while the ITV-published magazine, the TVTimes, carried only ITV and Channel Four listings.

    As a child, I remember the annual “bumper” edition that covered Christmas and the New Year. It was incredibly exciting to underline all the exciting films and Christmas specials and to plan my holiday viewing a fortnight in advance. That pleasure lasted until recently, when the massive increase in availability of movies on DVD (and my children growing up) has meant that I’ve seen every film that is broadcast.

    The Radio Times is a very interesting magazine (intelligent and accessible) with extensive editorial, review and interview articles. It is probably staffed by Dr Who fans, as it has an extensive coverage of the rebooted series.

    More from Wikipedia:

    In April 2005, a double-width cover was used to commemorate the return of the Daleks to Doctor Who and the forthcoming general election. This cover recreated a scene from the 1964 Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth in which the Daleks were seen crossing Westminster Bridge, with the Houses of Parliament in the background. The cover text read “VOTE DALEK!” In a 2008 contest sponsored by the Periodical Publishers Association, this cover was voted the best British magazine cover of all time.

  • Leslie Carr

    Dear TMS: Snap!

  • Dan

    Likewise, Radio Time online for me, although The Guardian’s TV listings site has just been improved and is a lot better. But actually, I tend you use my EPG every day — it takes a few minutes to browse through your faves and set your “reminders” for the evening. I’d probably use a hard-copy listings magazine if I got one free with a newspaper one weekend, too.

  • Andrew

    I have no idea what’s on TV when. I tell my DVR what shows I like to watch and then sometimes they show up all recorded, and I watch them.

  • David

    These days I seem to get most of my tv news/showtimes from either entertainment blogs or straight from my cable providers guide. Just the other day I found Jeff Corwin’s new show through the guide, I had seen no commercials or read anything about it but I like Jeff Corwin so I gave it a try.

  • Gee

    Yeah – I’m in the UK and it’s the Radio Times for me too. I get the print version as it’s more convenient than having to fire up the computer or if I want to wander around the house. Also, it’s so much easier to read print than a monitor.

    I like the articles, opinion pieces, reviews and it gives excellent coverage of the radio listings. I usually listen to Radio 4 and the RT means I catch programmes on other stations I might otherwise miss.

    The RT staff do seem to be Doctor Who/David Tennant enthusiasts. At their annual covers party last year (each person featured on a cover gets a framed copy of it) DT picked up so many that one of the other guests said his household called it “The David Tennant Weekly”!

  • Althea

    I used to get the Sunday paper (on Saturday) largely for the TV section. I’d check it over for possible skating or gymnastics on weekends, confirm that the stuff I usually watch was on the schedule, and to see if the public television station’s pledge drive was still on for yet another week. Then the Sunday paper went up to $3 and I says to myself, “Self, you can bestir yourself to keep up online – and see most of the comics – and you can live without the NYT crossword puzzle.” A 50% increase in price overnight was the last straw. So I’m in a retraining period, more or less. The only difficulty is that in channel surfing I may find myself looking at something I’m curious about and not have a listing to consult. No big deal except there’s this new channel since the conversion that runs the most amazing assortment of really old TV shows and movies. (I mean REALLY old TV – “I Married Joan”, “Dragnet”, “My Little Margie”. It’s bizarre.) And they don’t do promos or tell you what you’re watching.

  • I just wait for new shows to show up online or on netflix. If I don’t recognize the name of a show (like “Community” this week, for instance, or “Vampire Diaries” last week), I do a quick google search and find out if I might like it. If so, I get my hands on it however is most convenient. If it’s good I keep it on my radar, etc…

    We’re officially done with “appointment” television (except football I guess) at our house, and have been for over 2 years now. The advent of Netflix and OnDemand (and Hulu and other less… savory methods) puts the entirety of on-screen entertainment at your fingertips.

    In short: I just absorb the entire TV landscape and pick and choose what looks interesting.

  • misterb

    Nowadays, it’s more important to know *what* to watch than when to watch it. The magic of DVR frees you from appointment constraints, but the huge range of choices, and the scarcity of hours, means you have to limit what you disk(tape?).
    I read my local TV critic (Tim Goodman) for tips on what to watch. I’d probably read MaryAnn for that, too, but I don’t share her obsession with Doctor Who.

  • Lisa

    i use my epg but I am one of a dying breed – i usually buy so many newspapers that I have about 5 free telly magazines so I read them to see if any new shows have started that I might be interested in

  • allochthon

    I often go by what is reviewed here. Otherwise, word of mouth, occasionally ads.

    I no longer have a TV, I watch everything on-line. I’ll browse Hulu’s show listings, and Netflix, to see if there’s any decent drama or science fiction (real SF, not syfy Saturday Night movies) newly out.

  • Joanne

    I use the Guardian‘s little “Guide” which comes with the Saturday paper every week – it’s half the reason I buy the Saturday paper, apart from the fact it is nice to sit down and read a proper paper still. But now I have digital TV I also use the digital guide thing, because it’s easier to look at all the extra channels (apart from the main five).

  • James

    I have cable, but don’t have a converter box and so I don’t get the IPG. I don’t plan in advance what to watch. When I finally sit down and turn the TV on, it’s usually around 8pm. 90% of the time I watch whatever is on Discovery or History Channel. I do however subscribe to TV Guide Magazine and use the grids to see what else is on. Usually not much, but occasionally I’ll see a movie is on that I’d rather watch.

  • Althea

    Huh. James, you remind me that I actually subscribe to TV Guide! (It was a freebie, and I had to pick something.) When it comes I look at the “articles” and celebrity drivel, then it goes right into the recycle bin. I skip right over the actual schedules listings. Too much print to wade through, and schedules aren’t that reliable these days anyway to go by something that’s printed so far ahead.

  • Paul

    Wow, I’m a little in awe of there being so many ways to keep track of what’s on TV. I usually just show up at my parents’ and they turn on what they like. Fortunately my parents are usually a good barometer of what to watch; we’re all comedy and SF fans, and some of USA’s dramas. Otherwise we break out the cards.

  • I rarely watch live TV on a regular basis and I’m finding it easier to keep up with my favorite shows through Hulu, Netflix or library rentals. I occasionally look up TV listings online but I’m more likely to watch live TV when I’m visiting friends or relatives than at any other time.

    Then again, at least one female acquaintance of mine doesn’t have internet access but then she can’t afford cable either so I’m not sure what she watches. I suspects she rents a lot of free DVDs from the library and watches them with her two daughters.

  • No big deal except there’s this new channel since the conversion that runs the most amazing assortment of really old TV shows and movies. (I mean REALLY old TV – “I Married Joan”, “Dragnet”, “My Little Margie”. It’s bizarre.) And they don’t do promos or tell you what you’re watching.

    That sounds cool. Nickelodeon and TVLand used to be like that but over the years, they changed to the point that I keep expecting them to add “old shows” like Wonderwalls or Pushing Daisies to their schedule. Not that that would be a bad thing but still…

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