by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & The Digital TV Conversion & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & ow, something big must be happening, I thought a few weeks back as a news crawl started to run across the screen during Jay Leno's monologue. Maybe Mount St. Helens blew again? Nope, it was just a stupid note reminding people about the big conversion to digital TV, scheduled for Feb. 17, 2009.
On that date, everybody has to throw out their old TVs and get new ones. Or at least that's how it sounds. Perhaps that's how somebody wants it to sound -- somebody called the consumer electronics industry. (It's worth noting that this legislation -- called "No Couch Potato Left Behind" by columnist George Will -- was pushed by the consumer electronics industry, which also has plans for the analog broadcast spectrum being abandoned in February. Yeah, it'll all probably turn out to be another big giveaway.)
The fact is, you don't need a new TV -- if you're already on cable or satellite, you're fine. And if you're among the 13 percent of Americans who still grab their signal out of the air, you simply need a converter box -- $20 or $30 after you get a $40-off coupon from the government. (Good thing America has all that extra money to spend on TV coupons!)
But with monologue-ruining crawls and breathless "news" stories about the conversion, many expect a huge burst in new TV sales. And that means a lot of TVs will wind up in the trash.
According to Electronic Recyclers International, more than 80 million TVs could get tossed over the next 30 months. And while the FCC has Websites and a full-court media press behind the conversion, there is no federal plan for recycling the deluge of lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, beryllium and arsenic contained in your garden-variety TV set. And all of it can be effectively recycled. Still, the United Nations' Environmental Program calculates that e-waste is the world's fastest growing stream of garbage. So far, 10 states have banned e-waste in an effort to push for better recycling. It hasn't happened in Washington yet, but in Spokane, you can get your TV recycled at Du-Mor Recycling, Spokane Recycling, Earthworks Recycling and even at Office Depot. But recycling your TV costs money, which is why tons of e-waste is getting shipped to countries like India.
Oh well, at least that new TV will let Grandma watch Dr. Phil in Hi-Def.
Iron Chef America
This show, duded up in faux Japanese pomp, is mesmerizing. At the beginning, they unveil the secret ingredient -- shellfish, rice -- that the chefs must incorporate into a meal's worth of dishes. Then a challenger has to take on one of the Iron Chefs, in 60 minutes, as judges wait to taste it. This week, it's Iron Chef Bobby Flay versus NYC star chef Gabrielle Hamilton. (Thursday, 7/24, Food Network, 11 pm)
Thank you, USA, for debuting new shows in the dead of summer. Tony Shaloub's obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk is just undemanding enough to be pleasant. He's the Colombo of the 21st century, and I love how the show's filmed in San Francisco. In the second episode of Season 7, David Strathairn plays a chess champ who is suspected of killing his wife. (Friday, 7/25, USA, 9 pm)
Tour de France: Final Stage
The three-week drama on two wheels concludes with the final 146km leg that ends on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. VS has figured out how to cover it right by cutting among the action, the athletes and side trips into the French countryside. (Sunday, 7/27, VS, live at 4:30 am; replays at 5 pm)