Warming Glow: Enough cable to hang itself

October 28, 2010

One evening this summer, my father came home to a disturbing scene: I was sprawled on my couch in front of the television, eating cereal out of the box and too dazed to notice that he’d entered the house. Looking at the screen, he was startled to see high-heeled, tight-dress-clad women lined up on a football field like contestants in a dog show. He stomached only a minute of what I informed him was Ochocinco: the Ultimate Catch before he declared, “That’s it, we’re throwing out the television.”

A few years ago, I would have jumped to TV’s defense. But times have changed, and now the wealth of online alternatives has called cable’s relevance into question. In 2005, if you got hooked on Weeds, you needed premium cable. That meant paying for 500-plus channels—which include a lot of foreign language stations and shopping networks, and a shitload of I Love Lucy reruns.

These days, you’ve got alternatives, and not just the download variety which melts your hard drive into a steaming pile of spyware. Online rental services have made TV-on-DVD easy to appreciate. Netflix is leading the charge with a growing instant-viewing selection and a virtually unlimited supply of DVDs delivered to your mailbox. It’s a glorious step in the direction of complete reclusiveness—add groceries delivered by Peapod, and you’ll never have to leave home again.

Beyond Netflix, there’s a plethora of cheap and legal ways to get your idiot box fix on the Internet. Hulu is good, but it only has shows from affiliated networks, and you wind up with a weird mix of material (Only a few episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but the entirety of Cannibal: the Musical? What?). But you can augment that with iTunes, and even Amazon has made individual TV episodes available for download. Two bucks a pop is a bit pricey if you’re on a single-day, full-season Mad Men binge, but for the occasional episode it’s reasonable—especially considering that over a year, a premium cable package can cost more than a grand.

But before you rip out your cable box, I will say that the boob tube has qualities that the Internet just can’t replicate. Commercials, for one. I may be alone in feeling this, but there are some commercials that warrant the interruption for their entertainment value. Think of those wonderfully bizarre berries-and-cream Skittles ads, or the adorable kid from last year’s Superbowl who told us to “keep your hands off my mama, keep your hands off my Doritos.” I’d rather them than Entourage any day.

Many of us watch the game between the commercials, which leads me to television’s other main line of defense: live sports. The Internet is majorly lacking in free, or even cheap, live sports broadcasting. Of course, that’s what sports bars are for, and for football season and big games, that’s a pretty good option. But it can get impractical when it comes to sports that are played more than once a week, ultimately hitting both your wallet and your sobriety.

The Internet falls short the most when it comes to good old-fashioned channel-surfing. I’m as big a fan of trashy cable TV as the next person—in fact, I’m likely the bigger fan—but even I won’t devote my time trolling the Internet for Tool Academy like I do for The Wire. It’s good entertainment for when nothing else is on, but actively searching out bad television is a low that few are willing to hit. You may not be sacrificing quality, but if we eliminate channel-surfing, certain shows are destined to fall by the wayside.

Even after this mini-sermon in defense of cable, however, I need to make a confession: In the months that I’ve been writing this column, my television has been sitting unplugged under my bed. Hey, I’m a poor college student—and Megavideo has a hell of a selection.

Tell Leigh how much you’ll miss her late night programming at lfinnegan@georgetownvoice.com


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