By Ron Scopelliti
Cutting the Cord
Let me continue… Or haven’t I started yet? Sorry, but I’ve been having a tough time getting this month’s column started because I recently made a major change in my life, and it’s been interfering with my typical thought patterns. The big change is that, after months of consideration, soul-searching, rune-casting, and number-crunching, I decided to abandon cable TV and rely strictly on streaming through a Roku player.
One contributing factor was realizing that during the winter, my cable TV bill was higher than my gas bill, and during the summer it was higher than my gas and electric bills combined. But the big thing that convinced me to leave cable behind was when AMC canceled “Lodge 49.” That was the last straw. They went and canceled a smart, funny, under-publicized show that had great music and all sorts of Thomas Pynchon references, but they keep renewing “The Walking Dead,” a show that had me rooting for zombies to kill off the main characters after the second season.
“Lodge 49,” on the other hand, had constantly-developing characters living out a funny-yet-poignant storyline. It had outrageous conspiracy theories and poked fun at everything from alchemy to MonaVie, which, now that I think of it, may be the same thing. It had guest appearances by Bruce Campbell, Cheech Marin, and Paul Giamatti, who was also an executive producer. How could it not become a cult classic? How could AMC not see the long-term benefits of keeping the show going for at least one more season? You’d think they’d be making enough money off Walking Dead merchandise to subsidize “Lodge 49” which, admittedly, was performing pretty poorly in the ratings.
So for the past couple of months I’ve been living cable-free, and it’s had a number of effects. First, it made me realize that I’m just not part of the audience that cable is now aiming at. Cable TV used to be edgy; it used to be a mind-broadening alternative to the “big three” broadcast networks. But now, instead of being an alternative to the mainstream, it’s gone mainstream to an extent that broadcast networks never even achieved.
Back in the day, cable networks used to have great late-night music shows like “Night Music,” hosted by David Sanborn and Jools Holland. There’s a great clip from of the show floating around on YouTube where the band Bongwater performs with guest musicians Bob Weir and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and another where Debbie Harry sings backup for Pere Ubu. You’d never see anything that cool on modern cable. Instead you’re overrun by Kardashians, “housewives,” inept and overbearing political pundits, and Pawn Stars.
Given the bleak entertainment landscape on cable it should be easy to leave behind, but it hasn’t been. I grew up in a house where the TV was always on, and it became almost like a timepiece. I’d know it was 6 p.m. when I heard the news come on, and I’d know it was 11:30 p.m. when I heard the “Tonight Show” theme. I hadn’t realized how much I’ve carried on that tradition until I stopped watching live TV. It’s changed my perception of time. I no longer think of Wednesday at 9 p.m. as time for “NOVA.” These days, my time exists completely apart from the timeline of television schedules, except for my plan to watch the Indy 500 on May 24 via digital antenna.
And since I’m actively choosing what I watch, I’m less likely to leave the TV on as pacifying background noise. Instead, I’m listening to music, or just enjoying the silence. I think my cat’s noticed the change in the soundscape, because he seems more vocal than before. It could be, however, that he was equally vocal before the TV transition, but I just couldn’t hear him over the My Pillow jingle and the “ba-bams” of those Sparks Law commercials. I’ve also found that I spend a lot more time talking to my cat, which may not be the healthiest thing, especially now that I’ve started asking him for lifestyle advice.
So now it’s 9 p.m. on a Sunday, and I no longer consider it time to watch “Masterpiece” on PBS. Instead, it’s time to do whatever I feel like doing, and watch whatever I feel like watching. Maybe it’s time to set aside my bitterness toward AMC and focus on all that streaming has to offer. Or I can put on an episode from the single season of “Firefly,” and renew my bitterness toward Fox. The cat seems to agree that I should go for the latter.