The late David Niven wrote a couple of books that included a number of stories about Hollywood in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. In one of them, I forget which, he talks about C. Aubrey Smith, one of a number of expatriate Brits, including Niven himself, who acted in films during the 1930s. Smith’s roles included Colonel Zapt in “The Prisoner of Zenda” and the Earl of Darincourt in “Little Lord Fauntleroy.”

Anyway, Niven wrote that Smith refused to read American newspapers, or even to get his news from American radio. Remember, at the time there was no commercial television, so radio and newspapers were the only choices if one wanted to keep up with the news. Well, there were newsreels shown in theaters, but Smith evidently shunned these, too.

Instead, he subscribed to the Times of London. The problem was, there was a delay of weeks for the London newspaper to make its way across the Atlantic, and then across the United States to California. There were no trans-Atlantic flights in the 1930s, so the newspapers had to be shipped by sea. These would be delivered in packages containing several newspapers, and Smith insisted on reading them in the order of their publication.

On Sept. 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Great Britain had already announced that, having already tolerated Germany’s reacquisition of the Rhineland in violation of treaty, and its invasion of Czechoslovakia, Poland would be the last straw. After the invasion, Britain and France quickly declared war. World War II had begun.

According to Niven, none of his colleagues on the movie sets dared say a word about what had happened in Poland to Smith. And he said not a word to them, as he was still working his way through the London newspapers from late August. Then, sometime in mid-September, Smith showed up for work one morning completely outraged that “that blighter Hitler” had “done it.”

Why am I relating this thirdhand story to you, other than for its mild historical amusement? Well, it’s because I feel much the same as Smith might have felt about news when I write about film and television entertainment. I get much of mine late.

I don’t think I am alone when I bemoan the poor quality of video entertainment these days. Few watch the Academy Awards because no one cares much about the films nominated. “Blockbuster” movies are few, and defined by much lower numbers than in previous decades. Network television doesn’t offer much that appeals to me if you don’t count sports programming. Cable is much the same.

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Streaming services are a bit better but have been declining in quality. Netflix and Amazon make their own films and TV shows, many of them substandard by my lights, to the point that I am seriously considering dropping our subscription to Netflix. There are some shows I like, but most are offered on paid subscription services like Starz or HBO, and we are paying quite enough to subscribe to what we have, thank you very much.

My solution is imperfect. I have found that after a show’s season has run, regardless of network or service, it can be purchased on iTunes. That isn’t free, either. But it’s still cheaper than subscribing to multiple services, and offers the advantage of being able to watch the shows at my convenience, rather than waiting week by week.

Movies are much the same, available, after a brief run in theaters, for rent or purchase on iTunes or Amazon.

The problem I have in writing about TV shows is that I’m likely to be presenting “old news” to readers, at least some of whom will have already watched what I’m writing about. Anyway, I’m going to mention a few shows just in case there are readers who haven’t seen them, and share with me the problem of “dozens of channels, hundreds of shows, but not much to watch.”

Historical dramas are among my favorites. Like historical novels, if they are well-done, they present the opportunity to learn things while being entertained. I will mention three.

“Poldark,” based on the novels of the late Winston Graham (which are excellent themselves), set in Cornwall from 1783 through 1820, is on PBS. Old episodes can be purchased on iTunes. The “Outlander” series, from the Diana Gabaldon novels, are likewise on Starz and iTunes. “The Gilded Age,” produced by Julian Fellowes, runs on HBO and is available on iTunes.

These are islands of good entertainment in a sea of junk.

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Bob Arrington is a Kingsport attorney. E-mail him at

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