NEW YORK -- What will TV be like a decade from now?
For starters, "Law & Order," featuring 78-year-old Jerry Orbach as Detective Lennie Briscoe, will be midway through its 24th season.
Another thing: Customized viewing will be the rule of thumb. You'll have far more control than just watching the shows you want to see whenever you want to see them. In the future, you can choose what you want to see within each show.
For instance, when you tune in "The Tonight Show" to find Donald Trump is a guest, you'll be able to press a button on your remote and select a guest you prefer. Maybe Nicole Kidman or Ben Stiller (or someone no one had heard of in 2004).
Instantly, your choice is sitting beside Jay. Since he asks every guest the same questions, it would be a seamless transformation.
What else is ahead? Well, "Wi-Fi" (for wireless Internet), now starting to catch on, will tie everything together a decade from now. By then, your TV will be connected through your computer to all the other appliances in your home for maximum coordination.
That means as you program your TV for shows you like, you can also log in chores to be done around the house. When the local news comes on, so will the trash compactor. Time for "Fear Factor"? The baking soda in the fridge will be swapped out for a fresh box.
In the future, TV ratings will be streamlined: All viewers will be personally linked to the networks, providing moment-to-moment ratings from every TV household.
Then the networks can instantly respond to how any show scores with its audience. A show that's flagging in its first few minutes could be canceled and disappear from view in mid-episode. So might the network exec who put the show on in the first place.
Obscenity on TV, such a raging issue today, will undergo an amazing reversal in the next few years. By 2014, most viewers will be so sick of brutishness and lewd behavior that nearly every bit of it will have vanished from the TV screen (even on Fox).
For the handful of viewers who miss that kind of thing, a new kind of V-chip will be introduced to serve this minority. It will sift through the hundreds of virtuous channels for any naughty glimpses of Janet Jackson or a bad word from Bono.
These are just some of the wonders likely awaiting couch potatoes of tomorrow. But if you doubt such forecasts, consider the prophecies of someone who does it full time.
Phillip Swann, president and publisher of TVPredictions.com, has two broad expectations for the future of TV.
First: A proliferation of TiVo-like devices and Video on Demand, with a resulting change in how networks deliver their programming.
"In the past," says the Arlington, Va.-based analyst, "people watched television kind of like they read books" - in sustained, concentrated interludes. "But over the years, attention spans have gotten limited, and people have gotten busier."
To accommodate sporadic and disjointed viewing habits, the networks' traditional stream of on-air programs may be supplemented, or even replaced, by a nightly menu of choices, each available on demand, Swann says, "to allow you to be your own scheduler."
The second major change Swann envisions will result from the vastly improved picture made possible by High Definition Television DTV).
Shows telecast in HDTV are currently watched by roughly three million viewers each night - much too small a number for HDTV's impact to be felt thus far.
"But when more shows are done in HDTV," Swann says, "and more people watch it that way, it is really going to change the paradigm of how people view shows and how they view the individuals on those shows."
Why? Because the HDTV picture is so real and lifelike, says Swann, it alters the TV-watching experience as much as did the change from black-and-white to color decades ago.
The opportunity to display great vistas with unprecedented clarity may signal a resurgence of Westerns, Swann says. And in all their program development, network execs will place a high priority on visual appeal, to use HDTV to full advantage.
Meanwhile, some of the performers who looked great on traditional TV may not retain the same pizazz when viewed in high definition.
"They may not be the same star on HDTV they once were," warns Swann, who adds that accompanying the new technology of 2014 could be a new breed of on-air talent.
Maybe so. But who doubts that, even at 78, Jerry Orbach will still look smashing?