Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Boob Toob 2009

Television has changed since I was a kid. I remember when I was around ten my family often referred to me when they wanted to know what was on. The reason was because each week when the TV Guide arrived on our doorstep via postal mail or from the supermarket or from the Sunday paper, I'd be the first to grab it and I'd practically memorize the whole thing. Certainly the prime time schedule and the cartoons on Saturday morning. I was a walking encyclopedia of useless television information. I knew Farrah Fawcett was the oldest Angel (30). I knew Kristy MacNichol and Leif Garrett had a thing for each other (but it ended in tears). I knew the names of all the Smurfs. You get the idea.

Today it's different. My television is in a corner of my room gathering dust. Its darkened unblinking eye reflects the distant light from my computer monitor as I type these words. I used to look at it but now it's looking at me, perhaps wondering what it did wrong. I used to enjoy passive entertainment. Now I still do, but I like a more interactive element to my entertainment. Or rather, I like the illusion of interactivity. I like making notes about shows I watch and I do enjoy comments and replies from others about these shows, but sometimes I wonder if I didn't get any feedback or input, would I be doing this anyway? I like to criticize the shows I watch, but I don't know if I'd like to do anything about it. Would I want to improve it? Could I if I were given an option? Most likely not. I used to believe I could make a living with ideas in my head. So far that hasn't materialized. I only make a living by blindly following the whims of other people's ideas, which is perhaps more than anything why I refuse to discuss 'work' in my blog. Well, that and office politics and nondisclosure agreements and things I don't understand. I go here to get away from all that stuff. 'Nuff said.

So today when I say "television" I'm not actually referring to a television. I watch pretty much all my TV online, so it's no longer really TV. It's Hulu or DVDs or YouTube or whatever I can find. I stopped paying for cable television when the SciFi Channel canceled Mystery Science Theater 3000. I had wanted to quit cable for a long time because I couldn't rationalize paying for all these channels that were subjecting me to commercials over and above my subscription fee. I thought the whole purpose behind Pay TV was to make commercials obsolete? Further, when MST3K was removed from the airwaves, it occurred to me that whoever the people behind cable television were making cable television for? It wasn't for me. They were keeping stuff I didn't like on the air and removing stuff I did like. So I left cable over a decade ago now and I have no desire of going back.

Hulu has been talking about going to some kind of pay model. If that happens, I fear I'll have to look elsewhere. If I were made of money it wouldn't matter, but already I pay to get on the Internet. Then there's ads all over the place. I'm not going to pay to access every website on top of that, and a pox on you if you give in to that. That would be like going to a club in Deep Ellum, having to pay to drive there (gas), then having to pay to park, then having to pay to get in the door (cover charge) then having to pay for everything I drink or eat at outrageously jacked up prices, then having to tip the bartenders and waitresses, and then having to pay the band for playing for every song. Yeah, I stopped clubbing about a decade or so ago too.

The cost of living is just too expensive to enjoy. So instead I like to spend my free time on the Web. The last bastion of serenity in a life where I'm pretty much waiting stupidly for something interesting to happen to me because I'm too cheap and lazy and unproductive to just go out there and make something happen to me.

Back in 2003 I boycotted FOX because they canceled Firefly, Tru Calling, and a host of other programs I enjoy. I was livid and felt helpless. I didn't quit on FOX because I thought it'd make a difference to them. I knew they wouldn't notice. I just no longer wanted to even passively support a network that refused to cater to my interests. This eventually expanded to most other networks too but to lesser degrees.

I have since gone back and looked for what I missed on the FOX network. The only show that comes to mind that I wish I'd seen as it was broadcast was HouseMD and recently I've 'caught up' on that one. DVDs are wonderful things. I still don't watch the Simpsons anymore, and pretty much everything else on FOX between 2003 and now has been kinda... well, Lie To Me is cool, but that's a relatively new show. I dropped my boycot when Whedon and Dushku got with FOX to bring Dollhouse to TV. I thought I'd give the network a second chance.

Today, I understand that FOX has canceled Dollhouse, but it doesn't really mean anything to me now. It has no relevance, because FOX and ABC and NBC and and Scyfy and BBC and CBC and Discovery Channel and Comedy Central are to me really all Hulu. HBO is a pain in the ass because it doesn't put jack shit on Hulu. So I don't watch Bill Maher as often as I'd like. When I do it's in pieces over at YouTube. I've only started watching Monk because it's now available on Hulu, but unfortunately I started liking it just in time to watch it end. CBS also hasn't entered the 21st century yet so I have to find Big Bang Theory by 'other means.' These networks, both the ones getting with the program and the ones holding out, are in fear of obsolescence. They want to still matter. They still want you to know that LOST is on ABC or HEROES is on NBC. I know this, but it's about as pointless to me now as memorizing the special guest stars appearing on Happy Days back in the 1970s. It might be a novel thing to know, but it's trivial, because it has no practical usefulness to me any longer. The networks can fret all they want, but they're already obsolete.

They can either speed this process along and embrace their own extinction, or they can fight it, but the latter won't even slow it down, and the former won't be a more noble way to go out. Just as the dinosaurs couldn't stop the meteor from slamming into Earth, television has no way to stave off its own execution. It has served its purpose for almost a century, but now it's going the way of the dodo. One could argue that it's because people like me no longer wish to pay for it, but I think that's more of a symptom than a cause. It's an after effect.

Recently I saw a news report claiming that nearsightedness is on the rise in America, just as obesity is. The question then became is that because more Americans are embracing entertainment via smartphones and laptops as opposed to trying to make a three pointer shot in the basketball court of a community YMCA? Or is it that we human beings tend to prefer entertainment that is less taxing, and lends to our strengths? I'm near sighted but I've been nearsighted since I was a kid. Granted, I was practically born and raised on television, but I think this is a kinda 'chicken and the egg' deal. In my youth I liked TV cuz it's easier than trying to entertain myself by going outside to play. Today, I prefer the web because it's cheaper and when it tries to tell me what to spend what little money I have, I can usually squelch the noise. I don't have that option with television, and with billboards getting bigger and becoming more and more prominent on my daily commute, real life is becoming more and more annoying.

The Internet allows me to create my own network. ZachTV. My programs are broadcast when I want to see them, not when some guy in a suit decides its most ideal for some demographic. My programming never conflicts. If CASTLE and HEROES are on the air at the same time for the rest of the world, I just wait a day and watch them at my leisure, in whichever order I prefer. I can include in my virtual network programming that regular networks would never touch. My programs don't have to be thirty minutes or an hour long. They can be five minutes long, or three hours long. Whatever length is necessary to accomodate the needs of the program itself. I get my news from Jon Stewart, Marta Costello, Uncle Jay and The Onion Network. My programs don't get pre-empted by the President's speech. In fact if it weren't for Jon Stewart telling me on The Daily Show that the president recently had a speech, I wouldn't know about it at all, and that's just the way I like it.

Aside form network shows like Dollhouse, Castle, Monk, Big Bang Theory, Heroes, Fringe, House MD, Sanctuary, Lie To Me, Lost, and The Daily Show w/Jon Stewart, I also regularly watch Mister Deity, Felicia Day's The Guild, Mediocre Films, 2 Hot Girls In The Shower, Rooster Teeth, Kilplixism, The Art Of The Drink, The Onion, Val's Art Diary, Gnooze & Uncle Jay Explains The News. In conventional network television, these shows don't belong together. As far as I'm concerned, this is the best that today's entertainers have to offer me, so for me they're all one big happy family.

I was watching Kevin Pollak's Chat Show until recently. Even though the show actually still exists on the web for anyone else to see, KPCS is currently on hiatus in my virtual network with a demographic of one. I'm debating whether or not I want to renew it for a second season. There are some things about it that I like and other things about it that I don't. I guess that's like how Fox Network executives feel about Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. It's a good show, but for some reason just doesn't accomplish what it needs to in order to keep the audience at an acceptable level of interest.

I used to blame networks for that. Now, I have no one to blame but myself if I watch something I don't like anymore.

1 comment:

Jonathan E Johns said...

Great post. (I, too, have similar thoughts/feelings about "My" TV vs Network TV: )

I also watched NETWORK again recently, and almost ripped the cable out of my wall, imagining the other end being loosely wrapped around some Execs neck.