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Arts & Entertainment

Interactive TV Is Here; Promotion Not Far Behind

Mon., July 14, 1997, midnight

Now that NBC’s announced that it will start “interactive” programming later this summer, you just know an annoyingly catchy promotion’s not far behind.

“Must-click TV”?

“Talk-back TV”?

“Trivial Pursuit TV”?

Whatever it is, it’ll be “new to you,” even if what NBC and its partner Wink Communications are offering isn’t completely interactive.

What’s planned right now is a demonstration of low-level interactivity, in which cable subscribers whose boxes are equipped with Wink’s technology can call up such things as plot summaries, trivia quizzes and actor profiles while watching some NBC programming. Some commercials will also come with added features, allowing viewers to request brochures, coupons and samples.

In other words, viewers with the right cable boxes will be able to talk back to their sets, but they’ll have an extremely limited vocabulary.

While it’s not yet clear how many of the nation’s cable companies will sign on for NBC’s experiment, it’s not too soon to start thinking about a world in which TV is truly interactive.

Why stop at profiles and trivia quizzes, after all, when there’s so much else that needs to be said?

Imagine that you’re watching “ER” on a Thursday night, and as usual, your blood pressure and heart rate have been rising steadily. Drs. Greene and Ross are working over the chest of a patient who’s in cardiac arrest. “Clear!” shouts Greene. Just then, a box pops up on your screen:

“Press 1 if you’d prefer to see Dr. Ross in the Batsuit.

“Press 2 if you’d like to see Greene smile more.

“Press 3 if you think that you, too, might be having a heart attack.”

You press 3, and within seconds, an emergency crew has been dispatched to your house. A few days later, you receive a get-well card from George Clooney, who thanks you for not making him wear the Batsuit, which is very uncomfortable. He encloses a picture of Anthony Edwards, who is not smiling.

The following week, you’re flipping back and forth between ABC’s “Monday Night Football” and “Suddenly Susan” (on the advice of your therapist, who thinks it’s time you got in touch with your male and/or female side) when Susan says something witty.

This doesn’t happen often, so you stop to see what’ll happen next, and that little screen pops up again:

“Press 1 if you’d prefer that all the good lines go to the redhead.

“Press 2 if you think Judd Nelson was better off in ‘The Breakfast Club.’

“Press 3 if you’d like to know where Brooke Shields gets her shoes.”

Again, you press 3 and you’re automatically added to several dozen mailing lists serving transvestites and women with extremely large feet.

And the following day, NBC changes its slogan to “must-fit TV.”

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