BY ANTHONY CRUPI Marty Wortman’s Brooklyn home is the kind of place where things get broken a lot and every horizontal surface is sticky. This has much to do with the hordes of children in the apartment (I counted five), ranging from the infant whose entire raison d’etre seems to be pooping, to the 8-year-old who spends much of his time making dinosaur noises. Among all the paraphernalia that comes with the child-rearing sort of thing — crayons, juice boxes, toys, etc. — sits the one object Wortman says is designed expressly for the entertainment and edification of an adult human. “The only joy I get from life any more is through that thing,” Wortman deadpans, pointing at the TiVo box perched at a diagonal in a cramped corner of his entertainment center. Across the room, one of his daughters is busy trying to feed an Oreo to a cat. Given the charged environment in which he lives, it’s natural to wonder what Wortman would do if one of his kids poured a Juicy Juice into the TiVo or crushed it under the wheels of a tricycle. “Bite your tongue,” Wortman says, picking cookie mulch out of the carpet. “I can’t imagine going back to the time before TiVo. My sister doesn’t have it at her house, and it’s like some kind of caveman TV.” Primitive as the constraints of traditional “live” broadcast TV can be, Wortman and his fellow TiVo fanatics have to face up to the notion that the boxes can’t last forever. Things fall apart. The universe favors entropic systems. The thing is, it’s not all that easy finding someone who can fix the damn things. According to the Professional Service Association, the number of repair shops that specialize in electronic home entertainment equipment installation and repair has declined by nearly 50% in the last ten years alone. To make matters worse, those shops that have stayed the course often aren’t equipped to tackle the new generation of sophisticated digital gadgets. A Cable World survey of repair shops in the Manhattan area that handled TiVo-related emergencies came up bupkes. None of the technicians we spoke to had ever performed a repair job on a TiVo unit, and a few had no idea what a TiVo even was. (“Tell me again, what is this Tito?”) The TiVo website wasn’t much help either. A warren of pull-down menus and generalized FAQs, the customer support pages seemed to suggest that any problem a TiVo user encountered could be solved through the mediation of the remote. An 800 number put us in touch with an operator; all that was learned during that particular conversation is that TiVo has some really lousy hold music. After finally tracking down a company that specializes in TiVo repair — Lakeview Communications, way out yonder in a place called South Dakota — we wondered if a cable set-top patch would cause as much frustration. Overall, it appears that consumers who lease digital set-tops are well served by the MSOs. While none of the major set-top manufacturers are big on admitting defeat (“Oh, our boxes never break,” a Scientific-Atlanta spokesperson joked, a claim bested only by Pioneer’s assertion that it has the “lowest fail rate in the business”), they aren’t above accepting a little help when it comes time to repair battered boxes. Both S-A and Motorola have availed themselves of the services of A Novo Broadband, an authorized repair center for analog and digital set-tops. Pioneer farms out half of its fixer-uppers to a similar company called Non Stop Cable. (A Novo filed for bankruptcy on December 18, 2002; it remains unclear if the company will continue to provide repair service to S-A and Moto. Calls to A Nova were not returned.) Harriet Novet, Time Warner Cable VP of public affairs, says the MSO will pick up a damaged or malfunctioning box at the customer’s home. Novet adds, “99.55% of all boxes that poop out go back to the manufacturer for repair.” Unless the customer is responsible for damage to the unit, there is no charge for the repair. “Unless it looks like you broke your box in a drunken beer bust, you probably won’t have to pay up,” says TWC VP, corporate communications, Mark Harrad. “But we make sure the customer is aware of his rights and responsibilities.” Turnaround for a typical repair job is around ten days.