"Finicky" means very hard to please. "Finick" means someone like me, who is very hard to please.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Some very valuable free advice for the pierogi wagon


My father ate all kinds of weird stuff and tried to get his kids to do the same. We spit out a lot of it. Despite Pop's worldliness, there were many commonplace foreign foods that I never tried until I left my parents' home. Even though we had Chinese food every week I never tasted lo mein or hot-and-sour soup until I finished college and moved to New York in 1969. I never had any Mexican food until around 1966.

A pierogi is a filled dumpling of eastern-European origin, and resembles dumplings enjoyed in other cultures such as Japanese gyoza, Chinese dim-sum, Italian ravioli and Jewish kreplach. In around 1967 I was introduced to pierogies by a college girlfriend at a former Dairy Queen near Quakertown, PA. My love for pierogies greatly outlasted my lust for Carol. 


Wikipedia tells us that >>The origins of pierogi are disputed. Some legends say that pierogi have come from China through Italy via Marco Polo expeditions. Other stories contend that pierogi were brought to Poland by Saint Hyacinth of Poland, who brought them back from Kiev (the center of Kievan Rus', nowadays the capital of Ukraine). On July 13, 1238, Saint Hyacinth visited Kościelec, and on his visit, a storm destroyed all crops. Hyacinth told everyone to pray and by the next day, crops rose back up. As a sign of gratitude, people have made pierogi from those crops for Saint Hyacinth. Another legend states that Saint Hyacinth fed people with pierogi during famine caused by an invasion in 1241 by the Tatars. Despite yet another legend that holds that pierogi were brought by the Tartars to the West from the former Russian Empire, it has been said that in the 13th century, pierogi had first arrived on Polish territories. Despite the numerous and varied legends regarding the origin of pierogi a consensus of modern scholars holds that the introduction of the pierogi to the United States first occurred at the onset of the Great Depression in the late 1920s. The first documented sale of pierogi was identified as early as May 1928 at the Marton House Tavern in Cleveland, where proprietor Andrew Marton served the food to unemployed steel mill workers in the Cleveland region.<<

Various fillings make it suitable as a side dish, a dessert, a snack or—I suppose—a main dish. My favorite filling is cheese-and-potatoes, and I like to saute pierogies with onions and eat them together.

The pierogi has never achieved the All-American snack status of sushi, the taco or pizza, but has been popular enough to be common in supermarket freezer cases. I usually have a package or two in one of my own freezers. 

Last year I was surprised to see a highly-conspicuous red Pierogies On Wheels trailer parked opposite the CVS drug store that I visited several times each week. I also saw it when I was not buying drugs. But no matter what time of what day I saw the trailer, I never saw even one customer there. My adopted home town of Milford CT has mobile vendors of lobster rolls, tacos, pizza and more but I got the feeling that my wife and I were the only ones in town who even knew what a pierogi is. That's sad, because pierogies are glorious. I could easily eat a dozen. Maybe two.

Despite regularly seeing the wagon last year I was never sufficiently motivated to stop my car and try some pierogies—very weird behavior for a foodie like me. When the weather turned cold last fall the trailer was hauled away, apparently a sad end to someone's dream.

I was more than surprised last week to see the trailer reappear, and I had to be a customer—to satisfy my curiosity, to inform my loyal readers and to show support for
gustatory diversity.

My report is mixed:

  1. The pierogies were extremely good, yet despite claims of using an ancient family recipe, they were no better than what I could buy at Shoprite and heat at home. Perhaps some of the other varieties are very special, but I had basic potato/cheese. I'll be more adventurous next time.
  2. Prices seem high. Six pierogies for ten bucks with no beverages is an expensive snack for two people. A buck apiece seems like the right price, with a snack pack of four as the starting point, maybe with a drink. It would be nice to have a package of eight pierogies with two drinks for a couple to share.
  3. Credit cards are accepted, but unless you read a tiny sticker you would not know and might not make a purchase. The trailer needs a BIG sticker with the familiar credit card logos. People spend more money when they can use plastic money.
  4. I managed to ignore a cooler chest on the ground in front of the trailer. The trailer needs a sign that proclaims "COLD DRINKS," with a price list.
  5. Just as Arby's long-suffered when it offered only roast beef sandwiches, Pierogies On Wheels has nothing to feed people who don't like pierogies. Pierogies are not 'weird' (like sushi) and it's hard to believe that anyone would not like them—but some missionary work is necessary to broaden pierogi appeal. At a minimum, the side of the trailer should have an appetizing photo with an explanation of what a pierogi is. Maybe free samples would help win over the dubious.
  6. The company's business cards are horrible, with tiny compressed white type on a black background. The attempt to be artsy violates basic design rules for no good reason.
  7. The company's Twitter page is seven months out-of-date. This does not inspire confidence.
  8. The trailer travels to events and to provide catering. Sadly, the most recent entry on the website is for last August. This, too, does not inspire confidence.
  9. The Facebook page is up-to-date, however.
  10. The trailer flies a big Polish flag. I wonder how many people in my town besides me recognize it. One hundred and ten years ago my family name began with "Dzm" and ended with "ski" so I suppose I have some pierogi genes in me.





Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I disobeyed my father to try Golden Corral, and don't regret it.

For several years I've been intrigued, enticed and frustrated by TV commercials for Golden Corral—because there were no Corrals near me.

That situation changed a few days ago when a GC opened in the space formerly occupied by a Home Town Buffet here in Milford, CT.

Long ago my father warned me to never go to a restaurant until it's been open for a month. "Let them make mistakes with other people's stomachs," Pop said.

Yesterday I disobeyed my old man, and I don't regret it.

Wife Marilyn an I arrived at a few minutes before 3 PM and had to wait 20 minutes to pay and get a table. While we were on the line a steady stream of tardy employees flowed in. A local cop was opening the exit door for people who had filled up.

Normally Monday is the slowest day for restaurants, and mid-afternoon a very slow time, but the place was mobbed. I had to wonder where all of those people would be eating if GC was not available.



This is not a full review, but just a collection of comments.

The selection is huge, fresh and mostly tasty. Fried chicken was a bit too salty. The "Bourbon Street chicken" was spectacular. The "pork steak" seemed more like beef. Chicken noodle soup was excellent (fortunately not overloaded with icky carrots), but not hot enough. The marinara sauce was as good as I've had in most Italian restaurants. The spring rolls were better than those provided in most Chinese restaurants I've been to. Mashed potatoes were perfect. So was the gravy (two types). I had a couple of sliders. They were fine once I removed the pickles. We could see lots of food being cooked. It was not schlepped pre-cooked from a commissary someplace. There were plenty of dessert options including home-baked cake items, fruit, pudding, ice cream.

We paid about $7.50 each for senior lunches—a very fair price. Sodas cost about $2.50, probably generating $2.42 in profit to subsidize the cost of food. We drank free water, instead. I would have paid $1.29 for soda.

The Corral has an army of cooks and service people. We were constantly asked if we needed anything. Water was refilled without asking—a good sign.

There were many items we did not get to sample, but I'll certainly go back. Unfortunately, the lack of limits coupled with low prices make it easy to do major damage to your body with sweets, fats and salt. This is not a place to go every day. A few times a month is probably reasonable.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Five reasons why I'll probably never go to Five Guys again


Five Guys wants you to know that it's been making "Handcrafted Burgers & Fries since 1986." The chain (about 1,400 restaurants and annual sales approaching a billion bucks) brags that its "passion for food is shared with our fans, which is why we never compromise. Fresh ingredients, hand prepared that bring your craving to life." The restaurants' walls are covered with rave reviews.

I'm a carnivore. I love burgers. I love fine fries with burgers. It was logical to assume that I'd be a happy Five Guys customer and I eagerly anticipated the chain's opening a branch near me about seven years ago.


I was initially satisfied and I went a few times. The burgers were nothing special—better than fast food from Mickey Dee's or BK, but not as good as at Uno or Charlie Brown or my own kitchen or outdoor grill.

When you wait for your food you can pre-stuff yourself with peanuts in-the-shell.
  


The fries were spectacular. Even the "little" size is big. They're served overflowing in a cup inside a bag. Apparently customers are supposed to think that the cook is infatuated with them and provides extra. It's a scam, but an effective scam.

The "system" and pricing are weird. A "regular-size" burger consists of two "little" patties stacked unsteadily on the same roll. A friggin' slice of cheese costs 70 cents! A "kosher-style" hot dog is not kosher, and becomes even more non-kosher if ordered with cheese or bacon.

Fifteen free toppings are available—but you can't get sauerkraut on your hot dog! I realize that dogs are not the specialty, but when the menu is so limited it's not unreasonable to expect proper condiments. Even the low-brow snack bars at Sam's Club and Costco have kraut! 


The lack of kraut is annoying, but not a deal breaker. The grilled onions were an acceptable substitute.

Here's what's not acceptable:

  1. Those unlimited free peanuts are very salty. I don't know how the company gets salt into the shell, but it should STOP! When I was a kid my parents complained that I used too much salt. Then I went to college and saw classmates using much more salt than I did. At one restaurant I even saw a customer salting spare ribs. Yuck.  My wife uses no salt and there are several restaurants she refuses to patronize because she finds the food too salty. I'm not an anti-salt crusader, but the Five Guys nuts are not tasty and certainly not healthy.
  2. When my local Five Guys branch opened I could get a medium-rare burger, which is what I prefer. After a while the company restricted my choice of done-ness to either well-done or no burger at all. I'm not a weirdo who expects beef to still be breathing, but I do think that meat should have some juice. Initially the store staff lied about it being illegal to serve burgers that were not well-done. I naively believed them and switched to 5G hot dogs. I later discovered that other restaurants—both chains and independents—did offer pink meat. Craving fries and hopeful of a revised policy I went to the Guys yesterday. The cashier told me that the restaurant "can't" make burgers that are not well-done. "Can't" implies a physical disability. It doesn't take a special talent or tool to not incinerate meat.
  3. The legendary fries looked spectacular and the portion was huge. Sadly, they were over-salted. As with the nuts, the fries are not tasty and certainly not healthy.
  4. The hot dog bun quickly fell apart. Fast-casual food does not have to be sloppy. The dog was too salty—of course! Salt should be an option, dammit.
  5. My tab for a dog, fries and a "regular" soda was close to eleven bucks. That's absolutely ridiculous! I might expect a rip-off price like that in a sports stadium, but not in an ordinary suburban shopping center where the main attraction is Home Depot, not Nordstrom.

Mr. Obama may go back to Five Guys. I probably will not.



I'm not a health nut. I try to "eat healthy" just enough to stay alive and comfortable. I use salt but—I want to decide how much salt to use. Salt should not be pre-installed. It should be an option, like ketchup.






Sunday, February 26, 2017

FUCK YOU, LOOP-LOC. Deceptive pool cover maker Loop-Loc wants me to have a pet elephant, not a dog.



Our pool has an odd shape. We could not get an inexpensive ready-made rectangular cover for it. We needed an expensive, custom-made cover. When the pool was closed between swimming seasons Hunter and his friends often walked on it and lounged on it.


After a few years the cover developed a rip. This was during the winter and I could not have it removed so I temporarily taped up the rip and the tape held until the cover was removed in May. Then I had the cover shipped back to Loop-Loc, the manufacturer.

Loop-Loc advertises that it makes “the only mesh safety pool cover proven strong and tough enough to support an elephant.”

Hunter weighed about 70 pounds at the time. That’s much less than the elephant in the misleading, deceptive, disingenuous Loop-Loc promotional video so I assumed there’d be no trouble getting a repair under the warranty.

Surprisingly, Loop-Loc denied warranty coverage, pointing out that the cover is not warranted against “any damage caused by animals (horses, deer, dogs, mice, etc.).”

I asked about the elephant and was snottily told that elephants don’t have toenails like dogs do and that if my dog was going to go on the pool cover he should wear soft booties. Sure. FUCK YOU, LOOP-LOC.

Lessons: (1) If you want a pet that can safely go on your pool cover, get an elephant. (2) Read and understand the fine print.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The best thing about February is candy, not holidays



Even though I'm writing this after a monster snowstorm, I know that spring is coming.


Each day we get a few more minutes of daylight. Five p.m. now comes during the day, not at night. The earth is warming. Crocuses will be popping up soon.

The best thing about this time of year can be found in chain drugstores like Rite Aid and CVS. That's where you can get JuJu Hearts, the magical chewy-gooey red cherry candies I've been addicted to since babyhood.

If I close my eyes when I open the package, the sweet aroma transports me to Cherry Blossom Time in Washington DCor at least to my grandmother's apartment in the Bronx.
When I was a kid, my Grandma 'Del' would buy pounds and pounds from Krum's—the pre-eminent candy store in the Bronx, or maybe in the world.

Some years she even arranged to buy the huge pile of hearts on display in the window, at a special price after Valentine's Day. We grandchildren would get a few pounds in February, and Grandma would stash the rest in her freezer, to be gradually defrosted and doled out throughout the year. (In later years, when Grandma Del moved to Florida, I provided JuJu Hearts for her.)

Krum's was famous for its candies and ice cream sodas, and used to be on the Grand Concourse between 188th Street and Fordham Road. In the front of the store was a huge display case of chocolates and other candies, and farther back you could sit and slurp. The landmark Loew's Paradise Theater was across the street, and before McDonalds and Taco Bell came to town, teenagers went to Krum's for a post-picture snack.


The Loew's Paradise was reincarnated as a mostly-Latino concert venue and then a mega-church, Grandma Del and Krum's are long gone, but JuJu Hearts have survived. The price has gone from 15 cents a pound to 99 cents for a 9 ounce bag in 2009, to $1.59 for 12 ounces in 2011 to 99 cents for 6 ounces at CVS in 2012 or $1.99 for 12 ounces at RiteAid for the past few years. Rite Aid often discounts the price by 50 cents. I got a full pound for $1.99 at CVS last week because I'm a good customer (i.e., registered drug addict). I even got a second bag for half-price.

Product names, prices, candy size, package size, flavor, retail availability, manufacturers and even the country of origin vary over time. 

This year, Rite-Aid and CVS are selling JuJus with the "Brach's"  brand—which now belongs to candy giant Farley's and Sathers. F&S now supplies such vital foods as Chuckles, Jujyfruits and Jujubes. 

The product name has morphed, too. It's now "Jube Jel Cherry Hearts." It gets an A minus. The A grade is reserved for Krum's, which theoretically will never be equaled.

The Brach's taste and texture are nearly perfecta bit chewier than the 2012 vintage and just a tad sweeter than the 2010 vintage, but not as sweet as 2011. (I have samples preserved in my freezer.) There was none of the weird smell I couldn't identify when I first opened the bag or waxy texture of 2012. 2017 is not a great year for JuJu Hearts, but is a pretty good year -- and it's much better than the dreadful 2009). 

Stop & Shop strangely had two very different offerings for 2013 but had none when I checked this year. I have not yet checked Walgreen, and found none at Wally's Mart.

Some basics:
JuJu/Jube Jel Hearts' taste and texture are unique: sweeter and softer than red hot dollars, but not as sweet or slimy as Gummi bears or worms.
Strangely, the JuJu/Jube Jel Heart formula doesn't seem to be used for anything else, at any other time of year -- not even for JuJubes or Jujyfruits. But that's OK. JuJu Heart season is only a little longer than the bloom of the Cherry Blossom. The rarity makes them more special, and less destructive to teeth and glucose levels... and freezers make it possible to prolong the pleasure.





JuJu Hearts are like pistachio nuts or sex. When they're great, they're fan-tastic. When they're pretty good, they're good enough; and when they're bad, they're terrible





JuJu history
  • The JuJu name apparently comes from the jujube, a red fruit first cultivated in China over 4,000 years ago, that can be used for tea, wine, and throat medication, or eaten as a snack.
  • A jujube tree in Israel is estimated to be over 300 years old.
  • The jujube's sweet smell is said to make teenagers fall in love, and in the Himalaya mountains, young men put jujube flowers on their hats to attract hot Sherpa babes.
  • In West Africa, a Juju refers to the supernatural power ascribed to objects or fetishes. Juju can be synonymous with witchcraft, and may be the origin of the American voodoo.
Some of the first JuJu Hearts were made by the Henry Heide Candy Company, founded in 1869 by Henry Heide, who immigrated to New York from Germany. Heide Candy became known for Jujubes, Jujyfruits, jelly beans, Red Hot Dollars, Gummi Bears and Mexican Hats, which have been perennial favorites in movie theaters and five-and-dime stores.
The business stayed in the Heide family through four generations, and was sold to Hershey Foods in 1995. In 2002, Farley's & Sathers Candy Co. acquired the Heide brand products from Hershey.

Although F&S owned Heide, they did not produce Heide's hearts.

Through the 2009 season, the hearts were distributed by Mayfair Candy, in Buffalo, NY.  Over the years, I've encountered some really crappy hearts. Mayfair made the real thing. My dog loves them, too -- but he never refuses anything that's remotely edible.

Strangely, there were two (maybe more) kinds of JuJu Hearts distributed by Mayfair. The "original" version was sold by Rite-Aid (and possibly others). I discovered another inferior version for the first time in 2007, at CVS. The individual candy pieces were smaller than the originals, and they had a second heart shape molded onto the front of each piece. They didn't taste nearly as good as the originals: they were too sweet and not as chewy. Strangely, the same packaging, with same ingredients and same stock number, was used for both.


You can get JuJu Hearts online at Candy FavoritesI have not tasted them. Amazon offers several varieties.



Special thanks to Philip Heide, and Roger McEldowney of Mayfair.
Loew's photo from www.agilitynut.com/ 
Krum's photo from bronxnostalgia.homestead.com 
Crocus photo from www.summitpost.org  

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cablevision is damaging the CBS network—and likely lying to viewers.


I am now about to endure my fourth consecutive weekend without Hawaii Five-0, Blue Bloods, Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes.

Recently there has been no NCIS, Bull, Criminal Minds or Elementary in my home. My own good wife doesn't get the see The Good Wife. 


Since January 13th I've been caught in a disruptive, destructive, despicable, infantile dispute between TV service provider Cablevision (recently bought by European media behemoth Altice—and using the "Optimum" brand for TV service) and Meredith Corporation.

Meredith publishes magazines and owns or operates multiple television stations, including CBS affiliate WFSB, based in Rocky Hill, CT near state capital Hartford.
  • Meredith says I am a pawn. 
  • Cablevision says I am a hostage.
  • I don't want to be either.
I live in Milford CT, about 40 miles from WFSB. Until recently I could choose among more than 800 TV channels—including two from NBC, two from ABC and two from CBS.

last month I lost both of my CBS channels—WFSB as well as WCBS from New York City. The same thing happened three years ago.
No thanks.
WFSB tells unhappy viewers: "You can watch us for free over the air with an antenna, or you may choose to subscribe to DirecTV (1-800-DIRECTV), Dish Network (1-888-825-2557) or AT&amp;T U-verse (1-877-597-9067) which all carry WFSB and the other local television stations in our market."
  • No thanks. I am not going to change TV service providers because of a short-term problem. (If I switch to AT&amp;T or Dish, they could have a blackout in the future.) I tried two over-the-air antennas and neither one will receive CBS programming.
  • No way. WFSB and Cablevision also point out that I can watch some CBS programming on my PC. Watching television programs on a 27-inch PC monitor while sitting on a desk chair is not like watching a 65-inch TV while lying on a couch.
According to the New Haven Register, "Lisa Anselmo, an Altice USA spokeswoman, said it was Meredith’s decision to remove WFSB from the Optimum lineup. The bulk of Optimum customers are in Fairfield County, Anselmo said, and will still be able to view CBS programming via the network’s New York City-based affiliate, WCBS."
  • Get serious, Lisa. I live in New Haven County—not Fairfield. Your wacky deal stops me from seeing WCBS!
So-called "blackouts" are an unfortunately common part of cable TV negotiating. The loss of programming can last for hours or months. Viewers and advertisers are the victims. But even networks and local stations get hurt as viewers sample previously ignored programming.
The blackouts are symptoms of a fundamental clash of interests.
  • Providers of programming want to maximize the income earned by their expensive productions.
  • Cable TV companies want to pay as little as possible to the program providers, both to maintain profitability and to avoid rate increases in a fragile economy where viewers can choose from a growing number of competing entertainment and information sources.
In an email, Meredith's VP for Corporate Communications and Government Relations Art Slusark told me, "We value your viewership and we are working hard to resolve this matter, but Cablevision refuses to negotiate, even though other cable companies have agreed to compensate WFSB."

I’m not sure that local channels should be paid by cable companies. Can’t WFSB charge more for advertising because of the extra audience the cablecos deliver? Maybe WFSB should pay Cablevision, or at least provide its program feed for free.

Throughout this annoying ordeal, one issue has been strangely ignored by Meredith, Cablevision, the media covering the situation and politicians: How can WFSB, a little broadcaster near Hartford, stop me from watching WCBS, a giant broadcaster based in New York City? Meredith does not own WCBS!
 

During the 2014 blackout U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy urged Cablevision and Meredith to end the blackout. They wrote that they “believe that the current impasse does a disservice to Connecticut families . . . .  The senators also want Cablevision to “commit to refund upon request any Litchfield or New Haven County subscribers who are no longer getting what they signed up for, a portion of their monthly bill commensurate with WFSB’s value.”

Senators, what about WCBS's value? WCBS is worth a lot to me. WFSB is worth nothing to me. It is one of hundreds of channels that I pay for and could watch—but never watch.

WFSB says it "is simply requesting that Cablevision acknowledge that our WFSB is a valuable source of programming for all of Cablevision's Connecticut customers, even those customers that also receive an out-of-state CBS station." Again, WFSB is worth nothing to me.

WFSB also says, "WFSB's vital local news, emergency information, and top-rated CBS sports and entertainment programming are important to Optimum customers." BULLSHIT! WFSB is absolutely worthless to me.


WFSB also says, "Our signals always have been and always will be free over-the-air." BULLSHIT. I can't receive WFSB over-the-air at my home.

 
On
Sept. 5, 2012 Cablevision and CBS Corporation announced the renewal of their content carriage agreements covering retransmission consent for CBS Owned Stations. A similar agreement was announced on 8/25/15:


Well, the "multi-year" agreement did not last two years! I want my CBS.


HOW CABLEVISION HURTS THE CBS NETWORK

CBS is the most popular network for prime-time programming. Probably 80% of the TV programs I watch are CBS programs. The rest are a mix of NBC, ABC, HBO, Amazon, CNN, MSNBC, History, Netflix, Velocity, HGTV and a few others. 


Lester and Scott are both welcome in my home. 
 I have no idea who does the ABC news.




For evening news I've been addicted to CBS since the days of Walter Cronkite. During the blackout I've been watching Lester Holt on NBC. He's just fine—and there's a good chance that I may never bother with Scott Pelley again. I've sampled other NBC programming, too. I watched the Today show for the first time in about 50 years. Gave Garroway and J. Fredd Muggs are gone and Al Roker has a beard.

For late-night comedy I usually watch Stephen Colbert. The blackout caused me to check on the two Jimmies. Kimmel and Fallon are fine and I will not likely be an exclusive watcher of CBS's Colbert again.

There's no better way to get viewers to sample non-CBS programming than to make CBS unavailable. If I was a conspiracy fan I might accuse Cablevision of getting paid by other networks to sabotage CBS.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Three Jeers for Cablevision! (and how the company is damaging CBS)



JEER NUMBER ONE

Cablevision has supplied my home and business with TV, telephone and internet service in NY and CT since the mid-1970s. For most of that time I've been a satisfied customer, except for those times—like right now—when I've been an extremely pissed off customer.

When I've been pissed off it was not because of bad service, but because of STUPIDITY.

When I lived in NY I had 14 TV sets. Eight of them were connected to cable boxes which had monthly fees. Six of them were connected directly to the cable, and were not charged for.

Cablevision insisted that all TVs that were connected to its service—even those producing no revenue—had to be included in its records. They also had to appear on the monthly bills, even if nothing had to be paid.

The format for the monthly bill allowed just ten items, so Cablevision had to separate my TVs into two accounts. Each month the company sent one bill that included the eight cable boxes, plus another bill—with a different account number, different envelope and additional postage—for the six TVs that had no cable boxes and no monthly charges.


The second bill was based on monthly charges of six times nothing, with a total due of zero dollars and zero cents.

After several months, Cablevision's computer noticed that no payments were received to pay the zero balance, and turned the account over to a collection agency.

The collection agency's computer then started to threaten me, detailing the dire consequences if the payment of zero dollars and zero cents was not made promptly. Phone calls to the agency and Cablevision were fruitless. The customer service people at both companies blamed the computers, and had no way to intervene.

Ultimately I  presented a check to Cablevision for $0.00, and the account was credited for the "payment," and everything was fine... for a few months. Then the collection campaign began again.

When I moved from NT to CT in 2001 (still within Cablevision territory), connection of my new service was delayed because of nonpayment of my previous zero balance.



JEER NUMBER TWO 

I just endured my third consecutive weekend without Hawaii Five-0, Blue Bloods, Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes,

Recently there has been no NCIS, Bull, Criminal Minds or Elementary in my home. My own good wife doesn't get the see The Good Wife. 


I am caught in a disruptive, destructive despicable, infantile dispute between TV service provider Cablevision (recently bought by European media behemoth Altice) and Meredith Corporation. Meredith, now in its second century of operation, publishes such magazines as Better Homes & Gardens and owns or operates multiple television stations, including CBS affiliate WFSB in Hartford, CT.

(below) Meredith says I am a pawn.

(below) Cablevision says I am a hostage.

I live in Milford CT, about 50 miles from Hartford. Until recently I could choose among more than 800 TV channels—including two from NBC, two from ABC and two from CBS.

last month I lost both of my CBS channels—WFSB as well as WCBS from New York City. The same thing happened three years ago.
No thanks.
WFSB tells unhappy viewers: "You can watch us for free over the air with an antenna, or you may choose to subscribe to DirecTV (1-800-DIRECTV), Dish Network (1-888-825-2557) or AT&T U-verse (1-877-597-9067) which all carry WFSB and the other local television stations in our market."
  • No thanks. I am not going to change TV service providers because of a short-term problem. (If I switch to AT&T or Dish, they could have a blackout in the future.) I tried two over-the-air antennas and neither one will receive CBS programming. WFSB also points out that I can watch some CBS programming on my PC. Watching television programs on a 27-inch PC monitor while sitting on a desk chair is not like watching a 65-inch TV while lying on a couch.
So-called "blackouts" are an unfortunately common part of cable TV negotiating. The loss of programming can last for hours or months. Viewers and advertisers are the victims. Even networks and local stations get hurt.
  • In 2013 more than three million Time Warner Cable viewers in New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas and other parts of the country lost access to CBS shows for a month.
  • In 2010, Cablevision stopped providing Fox programming to 3 million customers for two weeks.
  • Also in 2010, HGTV and the Food Network were briefly lost to AT&T U-verse subscribers because of a dispute between Scripps Networks and AT&T. AT&T also stopped providing the Hallmark Channel for months.
These problems are symptoms of a fundamental clash of interests.
  • Providers of programming want to maximize the income earned by their expensive productions.
  • Cable TV companies want to pay as little as possible to the program providers, both to maintain profitability and to avoid rate increases in a fragile economy where viewers can choose from a growing number of competing entertainment and information sources.
In an email, Meredith's VP for Corporate Communications and Government Relations Art Slusark told me, "We value your viewership and we are working hard to resolve this matter, but Cablevision refuses to negotiate, even though other cable companies have agreed to compensate WFSB."

I’m not sure that local channels should be paid by cable companies. Can’t WFSB charge more for advertising because of the extra audience the cablecos deliver? Maybe WFSB should pay Cablevision, or at least provide its program feed for free.


Throughout this annoying ordeal, one issue has been strangely ignored by Meredith, Cablevision, the media covering the situation and politicians: How can WFSB, a little channel in Hartford, stop me from watching WCBS, a giant channel based in New York City? Meredith does not own WCBS!
 

During the 2014 blackout U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy urged Cablevision and Meredith to end the blackout. They wrote that they “believe that the current impasse does a disservice to Connecticut families . . . .  The senators also want Cablevision to “commit to refund upon request any Litchfield or New Haven County subscribers who are no longer getting what they signed up for, a portion of their monthly bill commensurate with WFSB’s value.”

Senators, what about WCBS's value? WFSB is worth a lot to me. WFSB is worth nothing to me. It is one of hundreds of channels that I pay for and could watch—but never watch.

WFSB says it "is simply requesting that Cablevision acknowledge that our WFSB is a valuable source of programming for all of Cablevision's Connecticut customers, even those customers that also receive an out-of-state CBS station." Again, WFSB is worth nothing to me.

WFSB also says, "WFSB's vital local news, emergency information, and top-rated CBS sports and entertainment programming are important to Optimum customers." BULLSHIT! WFSB is absolutely worthless to me.

WFSB also says, Our signals always have been and always will be free over-the-air. BULLSHIT. I can't receive WFSB over-the-air at my home.
 
On
Sept. 5, 2012 – Cablevision and CBS Corporation announced the renewal of their content carriage agreements covering retransmission consent for CBS Owned Stations. [including WCBS!] “Cablevision is a cornerstone partner in our flagship market.  By recognizing the value of our content, this agreement assures the audiences we share with Cablevision will continue to be able to enjoy programming . . . . ” said Martin Franks, Executive Vice President for Planning, Policy and Government Relations, CBS Corporation.

“This broad agreement will ensure that Cablevision customers will continue to have access to the CBS programming they already enjoy, across a range of networks, as well as new services Cablevision will launch in the coming months, including Showtime Anytime and CBS prime time shows on demand,” said Mac Budill, Cablevision’s executive vice president of programming.

A similar agreement was announced on 8/25/15:


Well, the "multi-year" agreement did not last two years!
I want my CBS.


JEER NUMBER THREE

I am trying to reduce my monthly $133.31 Cablevision TV bill.

It includes a $4.97 "Sports TV surcharge."

I never watch sports. It would take at least $100 and massive amounts of junk food and harmful beverages to entice me to watch football or baseball.

Why should I be forced to pay for something I never use?

This is not like paying taxes for schools and roads that benefit the entire community—not just drivers and school children.

Didn't we fight a war over taxation without representation?

Not only do I never watch sports, I never watch 90% of the approximately 800 channels available in my home.

I want à la carte pricing to allow me to pay for only what I want to watch.

Screw you, Cablevision—and your new European owner, Altice.


HOW CABLEVISION HURTS THE CBS NETWORK

CBS is the most popular network for prime-time programming. Probably 80% of the TV programs I watch are CBS programs. The rest are a mix of NBC, ABC, HBO, Amazon, CNN, MSNBC, History, Netflix, Velocity, HGTV and a few others. 

Lester and Scott are both welcome in my home. 
 I have no idea who does the ABC news.




For evening news I've been addicted to CBS since the days of Walter Cronkite. During the blackout I've been watching Lester Holt on NBC. He's just fine—and there's a good chance that I may never bother with Scott Pelley again. I've sampled other NBC programming, too. I watched the Today show for the first time in about 50 years. Gave Garroway and J. Fredd Muggs are gone and Al Roker has a beard.

For late-night comedy I usually watch Stephen Colbert. The blackout caused me to check on the two Jimmies. Kimmel and Fallon are fine and I will not likely be an exclusive watcher of CBS's Colbert again.

There's no better way to get viewers to sample non-CBS programming than to make CBS unavailable. If I was a conspiracy fan I might accuse Cablevision of getting paid by other networks to sabotage CBS.