CBS

My Life Without TV

When I was growing up, my TV choices were limited.  We had the three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) in Omaha, PBS, and on a clear day, a second CBS from Lincoln.  It was a big deal when the local Fox affiliate started as it greatly increased our TV options.

We lived out in the country so cable was not an option.  Our house was in a wooded area so one of the old school satellite dishes wouldn’t work.  In short, if I wanted to experience the magic of cable TV (MTV!  HBO!  ESPN!  Nick at Night!  Baseball games from Chicago and Atlanta!  Random 80’s movies!) I needed to go to a friend’s house in town or wait until we visited my Grandma.

By the time I went to college, I was more than ready to experience life with more than five channels.  Over time, I came to accept cable TV as a necessary part of my life and watched a variety of shows across many different channels.  The introduction of DVR only strengthened that bond.

But along the way things changed.  My monthly bill for cable and internet climbed past $150.  Our DVR queue was a mix of reruns, crappy faux-reality shows, and old series we were watching for the first time.  Last July we hit the tipping point:  the adoption of our youngest daughter meant that we needed to cut some expenses.

The cable boxes went out and Netflix (streaming over our DVD player) came in.  A few months later, we added Hulu Plus and a Roku box.  Nine months later, and the majority of our family has never looked back.  My wife loves being able to plow her way through her favorite shows episode by episode, season by season.  The kids like the variety of animated movies and their favorite PBS shows.  We were getting most of our TV entertainment needs met for a fraction of what we were paying.

But cutting cable has been hard for me.

It’s not that I can’t find things to watch; I’ve also worked my way through some very enjoyable series.  And it is definitely not because I miss giving $1,800 to Time Warner every year.

It’s the sports – or more appropriately, the lack of sports.  I miss being able to watch a game.

As a fan of the Kansas City Royals, I’ve grown accustomed to watching many of their games on Fox Sports Midwest.  It really stunk that the Royals started playing some of their best – and most successful – baseball in a decade after we dropped cable.

College football season was brutal.  I loved being able to watch the big games on Saturday and catch the highlight shows at night.  This year, when my beloved Huskers were playing on the road, I had to work an invite from one of my friends so I could watch at their house.

I’m not a big NFL fan, but I’ll often turn a game on for background noise while cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry.  But not this year.  We did watch the Super Bowl by streaming the game over the laptop*, but it was a herky-jerky mess without most of the good commercials.

*You may be saying to yourself, “But Dave, most Sunday NFL games and the Super Bowl are aired on the (free) networks.  Couldn’t you watch sports on those?”  

My initial response would be:  “Good question.  Our TVs do not have digital antennas built in, so I bought one the week of the Super Bowl.  It was a complete failure.  I bought the best antenna I could find that did not involve me climbing on the roof.  This supposedly got me a 35 mile range, but there were two downsides:  1) not all of the networks have a tower within 35 miles of Lincoln, NE, and 2) I couldn’t get the antenna properly aligned without having to go through multiple interior walls which, according to the tech support person I called in a panic on Super Bowl Sunday, greatly reduces the signal strength.  At best, we had two clear channels and one fuzzy station.”

My second response would be “Let me know if you are interested in purchasing a like-new digital antenna that Best Buy won’t take back because it is outside of their 15-day return policy.”

Gee thanks, $90 digital antenna.

My wife and I broke down and ordered the very lowest cable tier (20 channels) when we realized that neither one of us wanted to miss the Winter Olympics.  And we’re keeping those basic channels through the completion of the NCAA basketball tournament*.

*Watching the tournament has really changed in the last few years.  What I once viewed as a great step forward – having every game broadcast start to finish on one of four networks – really sucks when you only get CBS.  There were several times in the first weekend that the CBS game was in commercial, at halftime, or a boring 1 vs 16 blowout, but I was stuck watching it.  How I longed for the old days when they would do the “live look in” on other games in progress, cut over to a close game in the final minute, or switch over from a blowout.

With the excellent NCAA March Madness app, I can watch any game I want.  But the definition of irony is watching a buzzer beater on my four-inch phone screen while my 46″ LED sits idle a few feet away.

After the tournament is over?  Cable will go away again, probably for another long stretch.

I may* investigate some less than ethical ways to get access to streaming feeds of games.

*Or, readers from the NSA, FBI, ESPN, or other concerned parties, I may not.  Especially if any of those methods would be considered illegal by a court of law.

Otherwise, while you’re watching that amazing Thursday night game with national title implications, I’ll be watching season three of some cop show with my wife and secretly wishing I could tune in.

There’s No Song Like “Home”

The other night, we watched “A Home For the Holidays” on CBS, which is a lovely Christmas special focusing on families who have been blessed by adoption.  They show little vignettes of families sharing their adoption stories and have different musical performances for a studio audience of adopted kids and their families.

One of the musical performances was American Idol winner Phillip Phillips performing his hit song “Home”, a beautiful song that was very appropriate for a show about adoption.  If you are one of the six people in the world not familiar with the song (or if you, like me, like to listen to it) you can play it here:

But that was not the only thing to stick out to me – it is (at least) the fourth different television network to use that song.  The unofficial list:

  • FOX:  Where it all started:  American Idol
  • NBC:  “Home” was played during the Summer Olympics whenever they were getting ready to show a women’s gymnastics segment.
  • ABC:  Used it in promos for Extreme Makeover – Home Edition
  • CBS:  A Home For the Holidays, live performance

While I’m sure I’m missing some other examples, I find it fascinating* that all four of the broadcast networks have used the same song fairly prominently in their programming.

*Even though I am a big dork for obscure observances like this, I’m using “fascinating” very loosely.

In this day and age, playing songs during TV shows is very common.  Grey’s Anatomy helped The Fray sell millions of albums.  And I’d be willing to wager that ESPN plays more music than MTV does.  But for the most part, these songs tend to be pretty exclusive to a network – or at least a corporate structure.  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another song that has been used this prominently on multiple networks – let alone the big four broadcast networks (but if you can, drop it in the comments).

Sandy’s Audience

Yesterday, with the mega-Franken-hurri-storm-of-the-Century-cane attacking the east coast, a number of TV shows taped in New York City were cancelled.  Two notable exceptions – The Late Show with David Letterman, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon – kept their shows going, but did so without studio audiences.

The results were fascinating.

This piece from Slate has some video clips of what viewers saw – an odd attempt to hold a normal show under very unique circumstances.  Obviously, the most noticeable difference was the lack of a studio audience.  You could tell both Letterman and Fallon missed the laughter, applause, and other feedback they get from their audience.  Fallon especially – he performs his monologue like normal, but you can see how the lack of laughter really throws off his timing and makes him uncomfortably nervous – which in turn makes for interesting TV.

As for Letterman, apparently the guy who does the graphics for the Top Ten list couldn’t make it in to work, so they went decidedly low-tech:  the opening title and each of the Top 10 Rejected Names for the Storm were written in marker on poster board.  Letterman’s interview with Denzel Washington (a pretty big name for such an odd show) was even more casual than the typical talk show interview.

The whole experience was unique, memorable, and slightly surreal.  Watching The Roots laugh heartily at Fallon’s awkward monologue and seeing a very relaxed Denzel slouching on Dave’s couch transformed the shows from two popular late night shows to their elemental state:  a random cable-access talk show with good guests and house band.  In other words, it was like Wayne’s World filmed in the Ed Sullivan Theater.

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