11/17/2014 ADDENDUM: CBS has started a 24/7 Digital News Network at http://cbsn.cbsnews.com/
It’s been a bold experiment, so am sharing results after 6 months without cable TV.
A few prelims. I might not have considered cutting the cord elsewhere. In downtown Atlanta, with only an indoor digital antenna, receive all the networks and several flavors of PBS. Also their sister stations, with odds-and-odds like “Bounce” and “Antenna TV,” running old movies and sitcoms. I haven’t at all missed the movie tiers, what I believed might be sacrificed, nor a DVR, realizing I never watched most of what was recorded anyway.
The networks are stunning in raw HD, significantly cleaner than through a box. I’m disturbed visiting anyone using a converter without proper cables. Equally upsetting is when the necessary equipment is in place, then someone chooses the lower standard definition channel range.
Anyway! The unforeseen advantage has been content discovered streaming. Network favorites like “Extant” are available anytime with fewer commercials, as are “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report”. I also appreciate “Free Speech TV” and “C-Span”. Any sports I cared about, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, required only a modicum of tech savvy to configure Tor for a European IP address. There’s no shortage of content.
Although there is community Wi-Fi, for reliable streaming am still beholden to Comcast. Add Netflix and the monthly “entertainment bill” isn’t quite negligible. There are cheaper internet tiers, but am not brave enough to test them. Yet it was not only possible but preferable living without an extra remote control. Google is slowly rolling out fiber, so imagine a future where access is fast and affordable enough to kiss cable providers goodbye, with a “screw you, too.”
My point is I wanted to like “Elementary” more. Seeing the later first, the Americanized Sherlock seemed to have all the elements (pardon) of the classic in modern times. I appreciated Lucy Liu as Dr. Watson, a feminist achievement and more interesting relationship dynamic, I believed. The CBS Sherlock’s disdain for recovery and 12 step meetings while conceding the necessity would be an amusing subplot. Finally, I was not fan of the BBC’s producer and writer Steven Moffat. For reasons beyond the scope of this rant, am convinced his contribution to the reboot of “Doctor Who” hurt more than helped.
Then I saw the BBC’s “Sherlock,” which proves the idiom “God is in the Detail”. Since its introduction in 2010 there have been only 10 episodes produced. “Elementary” has had 48 episodes since its debut in 2011, and is constrained by the hour format with commercial breaks, along with a requirement to appeal to a mass audience for ratings. It is surprising “Elementary” is even as good as it is.
After watching the first two seasons of “Sherlock” had to concede it is comparable to a main course, whereas “Elementary” is, at its best, an appetizer or dessert. More often it is a popcorn snack.
I recall New Year’s eves switching between Dick Clark and a fresh Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Now not only are the late night shows not fresh on New Year’s eve, they’re on full holiday hiatus. Letterman, Leno, Kimmel and even the later late shows shut down. Is there less to laugh about during the holidays? Time was when the hardest working would stand out with current material. No more. Carson, in his day, was notorious for being on vacation. Still he had capable guest hosts holding down the fort. Certainly there are candidates today who’d appreciate the opportunity.
Wal-mart can staff their stores through Christmas, why can’t NBC, CBS and ABC? An entire generation of students out of school, a prime target audience, is tuning out. The writers and crew need time off too, but certainly some are willing to work with incentive. Perhaps it would be difficult finding guests during the season. Again, please convince me there are no celebrities in L.A. or New York who wouldn’t refuse the opportunity. In the mornings even “Kelly & Michael” manage to appear current, though with a skeleton crew and repeat guest segments. At least that shows a little dedication. Thank you, Michael Gelman.
The networks have this wonderful, amazing gift, being capable of broadcasting into millions of homes, and they’re content dishing out seconds. I wouldn’t regret if Netflix, Hulu and similar do eventually replace them. If we’re watching second hand television there should at least be a better selection.
Each Sunday I try to at least catch the “In Memoriam” segment of ABC’s “This Week.” I stop what I’m doing and pause to reflect. During the Iraq war it was not uncommon for the Pentagon to release the names of more than a dozen American soldiers killed. That brings the reality home. Imagine the public outrage if each week it was the names of Americans killed in senseless drive-by shootings. Mercifully in recent years the numbers have dwindled into single digits and it isn’t uncommon for a week to go by where no names are released.
Another at home aspect of war I hadn’t considered was the President accepting personal responsibility for each life. In the “West Wing” this is portrayed masterfully as Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett made those painful calls. Did President Bush spend his Mondays calling the families of each soldier killed? I’d hope so.
I’m skeptical of the salaries and bonuses corporate executives receive. Could any single person bring that much value to the table? In comparison, the President’s meager compensation seems justified when this burden comes with the territory. The Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” can’t touch that.
I moved a month ago and decided to “cut the cord”, not subscribing to HBO, Showtime or even more than basic cable, internet and Netflix. I could live without the latest “American Horror Story”, “The Walking Dead” and even “Game of Thrones”, but believed I’d miss “The Newsroom”. As is my wont, sought reassurance from critics that the later was no more than a guilty pleasure. Creator and writer Aaron Sorkin is accused of being sanctimonious, sermonizing, smug and intellectually self-serving. One article even criticized him for being incapable of writing the antihero. This is, after all, the age of the antihero. Huh? As I read more became angry and defensive.
I’ve found Sorkin’s “The West Wing” on Netflix and, having not watched a single episode when it aired in prime time, am getting my fix in daily binges. His writing might be unrealistically optimistic and sentimental, but succeeds in making me feel rewarded, educated with at least semi-realistic insight into behind-the scenes news and politics. I find myself caring about the characters and cannot admit that about much on television. So, if the emmy wins and nominations aren’t enough validation, Aaron Sorkin, you now have this unabashed acknowledgment.
During a Morning News interview today Norah O’Donnell bravely suggested to Mandy Patinkin that Showtime’s “Homeland” might have jumped the shark in its most recent episode. I was disappointed but not surprised. I have no emotional investment in that series, yet have been insulted and betrayed by television before. This might become a living blog entry because there are too many examples to list at once. Perhaps let this serve an therapeutic venting as well as a categorical list of dramas that I allowed myself to develop a relationship with, only to be let down.
David E. Kelly’s “Boston Public” initially comes to mind as one that reeled me in only to deliver a sucker punch. It showed real promise in the beginning, tackling social issues in and outside of the microcosm of an inner city high school. At the end of season one the stage was set for a weekly dose of intelligent writing, brilliant acting and reminders of meaningful life lessons. Then it all went to hell. The plots became silly and unbelievably contrived. It was as if Kelley handed over the writing keys to someone whose life experience was limited to children’s literature. One character even developed a prosthetic hook arm reminiscent of J.M. Barrie.
Not long ago was binge viewing “Breaking Bad” as the season two cliffhanger tied several of the stories together in a twist that nearly crossed the line. I forgave the series – every program gets one free pass – because, despite the unbelievable coincidences, the obvious intent was to demonstrate the interconnectedness of lives. “My so-called Life” veered dangerously close to the supernatural in “So-called Angels“, giving us a glimpse of guest Juliana Hatlfield’s homeless character’s angel wings. Again forgiven, because it hit home a powerful ‘so have you done unto the least of these’ theme.
I’m not so jaded that I need to be reminded it is only television. Some of my favorite programs, “Saving Grace” (which began with angel wings) and “Dead Like Me” (which began in purgatory) intertwined real life drama with the supernatural. The free pass lasts the entire lifetime of a series when it is the premise and quality writing and acting remain consistent.
An enlightening experience after moving into a new apartment. I was primarily concerned with an internet connection for work, so only asked the cable company to turn that on until I could get a digital box for “the works”. Watching TV was not foremost on my mind. Who has time? Well, it turned out I did. Even without the box for premium channels, the tuner detected a dozen or so stations. Unwittingly I had the networks and and assortment of other local channels. Much of the prime time programming was, in fact, high definition. I didn’t need “Honey Boo Boo”, “Jersey Shore” and the like in my life . I went back to watching news at 6pm instead of 24/7.
It reminded me of the days of analog television, when a choice between “M*A*S*H”/”One Day at a Time” (CBS), “Police Woman” (NBC) and and “Eight is Enough (ABC) on a Tuesday night in 1977 seemed like too many options. We didn’t even have VCRs… if you missed it, you missed it. No one then entertained the possibility of watching “Star Wars” repeat on a s-f channel… and choosing NOT to watch it! I was wonderfully close to rediscovering the pleasure of books.
Now that I have Comedy Central, BBC America,. etc, . again wonder how I lived without. Television doesn’t have to be a vast wasteland.