What to Watch When There's Nothing on TV

The Mezzo channel is the perfect accompaniment to whatever it is you are supposed to be doing.

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The National Ballet of Bordeaux's 'Pneuma' on Mezzo.
The National Ballet of Bordeaux's 'Pneuma' on Mezzo.Credit: Colomyes

Entering the room and gravitating toward the place where I last left the TV remote control, I have ample time to ponder the nature of my changing relationship with the medium of television and, implicitly, the numerous messages it has been emitting for so many years.

The most important change over the near-century of Homo sapiens’ interaction with the TV set is not the abundance of choice one has today, but where and how one watches it. TV viewing has changed from being a mass medium – watched in the physical world with others, gathered around one common TV set, everyone aware that there are millions of others watching the same program at the same time – into the private experience of a single person watching his or her own personal screen at the time of his or her choosing.

The live broadcasts of developing events in the “real world” or TV series being aired “here” (in Israel) concurrently with “there” (mainly the United States), are merely efforts to turn the wheel of progress back to a time when TV viewing was a public, communal activity.

With the world marching toward a reality in which life is experienced on a “one person/one small screen” basis, with the notion of a TV set becoming an obsolete contraption, I’m behind the times – as usual. I reached the point of it being a mostly solitary pleasure, and am loathe to watch a program when it is scheduled (having the option to view it when I choose thanks to DVD, VOD, YouYube, streaming, etc.). But for me, TV is still what happens between me and my TV set. To be precise, between me in a supine position (i.e., in bed) and the TV set on the wall in front of me.

To be honest, were I to claim that I have ever watched or viewed a TV 
program, you would have been right to question that statement. What I do most of the time is stare at the TV set. My thumb is on the + and – buttons on the remote, sampling the current choices of the two cable providers, going first up on one (let’s say HOT), “parking” for a couple of minutes on each station to get a feel for what the show is about, who is pitted against whom and roughly why, then checking all the other opportunities I’ll be missing if I decide to settle on a particular channel. Then I’ll scroll down (let’s say on YES) while sampling the channels of the other provider.

Being me, I usually settle on something eventually (I’ve come to realize that movies or series I’ve already seen are my favorites), but on the days when I decide there really is nothing “on,” there is one channel that has never failed me (yet). It is Mezzo (69 on YES or 95 on HOT; 595 on HOT if you prefer your Mezzo HD).

It is a French channel that offers viewers a very wide choice of music (classical, jazz, ethnic and that thing called “world music”), opera and dance. It’s mainly a European enterprise, with recordings and live broadcasts of cultural events from festivals, and operas and concert houses, all of them either broadcast live or recorded, with the quality of sound and viewing giving the viewer an experience that is, in some respects, better than 
being in the auditorium (bar the human contact with your fellow audience members and seeing the performers “live”).

The great thing about Mezzo is that it is a perfect way to have your TV set on all the time, while you do the other things you are supposed to do during the day. It provides the best of music in a wide variety of styles, and you can listen to it (the quality of the sound recording is usually of the highest fidelity) while doing household chores, reading or writing a column.

Whenever there is a sound that catches your ear, you can just look up and see the performance in all its glory. And whenever it is not a live broadcast of an opera, concert or ballet, or a historical recording from the past, there are movements from concerts, symphonies, chamber music or solo recitals to fill the gaps.

Take my word for it: Whenever you feel there is nothing “on” for you, switch to Mezzo. Last Saturday, I listened (and watched) the Israeli guitarist Amos Hoffman with his combo (recorded in Tel Aviv), then the guitarist Bill Frisell playing the music of John Lennon, followed by recordings of jazz concerts captured in bygone days at Cannes – Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. On Mezzo HD I had “Tannhäuser” from the Berlin Opera, with Daniel Barenboim on the podium. And then, back on the regular Mezzo, I rounded the evening off with Puccini’s 
“Il trittico,” performed by Opera de Lyon.

I know you may find my next statement slightly weird, but here it is: The music sounds better when you see it up close, when it’s just you and the thing you choose to use as your TV screen.