Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Nielsen Nightmare

IT OCCURRED TO ME TODAY, while vacuuming the living room, that it's been at least 2 weeks since I last watched television in my home. Though I've watched early-morning financial news and crap on the Food Network while at the gym, and TiVo'd America's Test Kitchen eps at my parents' on Sundays, the postwork viewing habits I'd long maintained had evaporated.

For a long time, my evening ritual was to make dinner with the first Simpsons episode on Fox running in the background, then watch the second one, and then Seinfeld, while eating. After eight, I'd switch over to the computer or book and listen to WFMU until bedtime. Sometime before FOX eliminated the double dose of Springfield, I decided I had nothing more to learn from the show, and stopped watching, tuning into Jeopardy! instead as my pre-Jerry viewing. Then one of the crap VHF channels began airing reruns of Family Guy, a show I only began watching during its unlikely but successful return to air after cancellation. For a while, I would tune in at 7:30 to see some of the older episodes, ignoring the distractions of different voice-acting styles, cheaper animation, and heavy censorship to fill in my gaps.

Now, however, that network seems to have fallen into a rut of Family Guys already rerun a million times on Sunday nights between blocks of fresh eps. (I'd written off new eps of The Simpsons as a viewing priority even before the mediocre movie came out.) I don't have cable, and the only other air-signal channel I watch at all is 13, our local PBS station. And most of the good stuff they air is released on DVD . . . not unlike nearly all of pay-TV's nonsports content.

As I wound up the cord on the vacuum, I thought about whether I'd even take this TV with me in the next move. (Not for another year at least; the lease renewal is sitting on my desk here, and I'd like to remain within 15 minutes of my current job, and within walking distance of a transit nexus should I need to change jobs in the next 12 months.) The set itself — what I suppose in 10 years we'll call an old-style tube model — is a bit fucked. A purple tinge has been creeping from the bottom left corner for the past 2 years or so. I've had this thing since my move here in 1999, and it was a gift from my parents, so it owes me squat.

With the pointless ballyhoo of digital broadcasting edging every closer, I assume that past some point next year, my choices will be to piss away some money on a digital tuner, or to get cable. In my review of the offerings on my parents' cable lineup during my Sunday visits, I gotta say, there's not many reasons to pay Cablevision any more than I already am for the broadband account. Getting a Netflix account, tapping the DVD burner in my parents' TiVo, or using iTunes can fill in any gaps. Between that realization, and the lack of any broadcast shows in which I'm interested, why even have the TV set at all?

I'd say about half of the movies I've rented in the past few months, and all of the TiVo DVDs I've bummed off my parents, I've watched on my 17" PowerBook with studio-quality headphones for the audio. (My DVD player, about the same vintage as the TV, can't read most TiVo-burned discs.) I've already mentally committed to jumping to the big MacBook when this slab on which I'm typing eventually merges with the infinite. According to, the maximum 17" offers 1080-resolution HD video. Not a bad reason to begin hoarding my pennies, though I am hoping this current Mac makes it to its 5-year anniversary in November at minimum before it, too, begins the death spiral my TV is cutting.

The only upcoming reasons to retain the TV are football and the political spectacle approaching in the fall. Football I can watch at the gym or over at my parents', and I usually can't stay up late enough on Mondays to watch the air signal for that anyway. (The cable-only NFL Network can go fuck itself.) As regards Decision '08, it's not as much Election Night I worry about missing — I've already deemed a combination of radio and Net coverage to be superior to a repeat of watching Dan Rather run through three lifetimes worth of folksy sayings. Any relevant bits of "wisdom," spectactles, dramatic suicides, etc., will be retained by the news sites and thus be streamable. But I did briefly think the tube might be worth retaining for the debates between Sens. McCain and Obama. (Heh.) Then I remember how much seeing McCain makes me want to throw my crockery across the room, and I figure, if he's not gonna pay my Pottery Barn bill, why should I rack one up?

As for the spot occupied by the TV? I'm thinking another couch. Make my living room into a talk show set. I get more out of talking with the people I know, and occasionally playing the odd board or card game with them, than the shit the entertainment industry shovels onto the airwaves and co-ax, and I always feel bad making my Christmas party guests sit on folding chairs. I'd probably have to get rid of one of my bookshelves and its books (I suspect some of you just shuddered at that thought). There are quite a number of tomes there that I haven't touched in years, though, and if a library, or the patron of one of its book sales, can benefit from it, why leave the knowledge frozen on the shelf? I painlessly handed off five books to the local library this morning, and in the unlikely situation that I buy a new book in the next several months (can't beat interlibrary loan and note-taking for most of the books I've impulse-wanted in the recent past), I will remove an existing book to make space.

However it goes, I don't intend to become that Onion area man who constantly mentions that he has no televison.

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