NEW YORK -- I grew up in a TV Guide household. I'd flip through the magazine each week to see what was on. Keeping track of what to watch was pretty simple with only three main networks and a new one called Fox. Cable channels showed mostly reruns and old movies.
There are a gazillion channels these days, including basic and premium cable channels with decent original series. Add to that all the content available through streaming, downloads and DVDs, and it can be challenging not to miss your favorite shows. TV Guide's printed edition doesn't bother with full listings anymore.
That's where the new TV Guide app comes in. Available for free for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices, the app gives you a clean display of what's on TV over the next two weeks. An Android version is coming this fall.
You can view listings by time or channel or search for specific shows. You can create a Watchlist of your favorite shows, movies, actors and sports teams and see what's available on demand now or on television later.
The new app is more comprehensive than the guide on a digital-video recorder because it includes shows available on such services as Hulu, iTunes and Netflix, plus on-demand offerings through Xfinity for Comcast subscribers.
But it could be much more.
You start by creating an account and picking your television provider from a list. The listings are then customized according to what's available on your cable or satellite lineup (there's an "antenna" option on the list, too). You can choose to display all channels, or create a list of favorites containing channels you watch most often.
You then start browsing the listings. If you see that "SpongeBob SquarePants" is on at 5 p.m. on Channel 6, you can set a reminder for the iPad (or iPhone) to notify you five, 10, 30 or 60 minutes before the show starts. You can have the iPad do that for all episodes or just new ones -- or just that particular showing. By hitting "I'll Watch," you can make that known on a social network such as Facebook or Twitter.
Or you can add the show to your Watchlist.
The Watchlist is the best part of the new app. I can set it up for quick access to Mets games listings or anything on television starring Natalie Portman.
That's also where you can find out whether any of your favorites are available on DVD through Netflix. It doesn't tell you about online streaming choices on Netflix (that's coming), but it does for Hulu, HBO, Cinemax, the CW, ABC, ABC Family and Sony's online streaming service, Crackle. Others are expected soon. The Watchlist also shows the episodes you can buy and download from Apple's iTunes store.
On my Watchlist, I saw that a handful of "Revenge" episodes were available for free on ABC. Clicking on one took me right to ABC's app for viewing.
Through another tab, called New Tonight, you can see which of your favorites are on television that night. You can see what's popular based on how many users have clicked "I'll Watch." With that feature, I learned of a show about a food truck competition on the Food Network.
Beyond that, the app has news, photos and video on television and celebrities. There were also special features, such as the fall television schedule at a glance and the Emmy nominees in key categories.
Unfortunately, the app was stingy when it came to giving me information on shows. I clicked on "666 Park Avenue," hoping to get a description of the new ABC show. All I got was an option to add it to my Watchlist.
And that show about the food trucks? I had to go to the TV Guide website on a computer to find out more.
As for the main listings, clicking on any program gets you a brief description, the kind you get in newspaper television guides or old printed editions of TV Guide magazine. You can add it to your Watchlist, request an alert or post it on a social network. That's it.
One feature TV Guide might consider adding: The ability to click on a link to get all the other episodes of that show, including those on streaming or DVDs, as well as the other times that particular episode would be repeated on TV. I'd also like to see a list of each show's key actors in the episode description, along with links to find out what other shows they appear in over the next two weeks.
Those features are available on TV Guide's website, but not on the app.
TV Guide plans to add some of these features to its app at some point. To get it ready for the fall TV season, TV Guide says it had to focus on the features most requested, the ones most used on its website and those that might help it sell ads.
The TV Guide app beats checking static listings in a newspaper or the TV Guide Network on television. In many respects, it also beats the TV Guide website, as it doesn't force me to get off my couch to find out what's on. I can have the iPad right there, next to my remote control.
But it needs more to work as a personalized television guide.
The New Tonight section comes closest to offering that, but shows I said "I'll Watch" don't appear there, unless I've added them to my Watchlist as well. Same goes for shows I've requested alerts for. It's also limited to a few hours that night -- not during the day, not the next night, not next weekend. There also isn't a way to check off episodes I'd already watched, either on television or through streaming.
The TV Guide app is worth checking out, particularly for the way it brings together all aspects of television -- the traditional channels, online streaming and episodes on DVDs. It can certainly help to organize your television life. Just don't expect it to take control quite yet.