Boob Tubes


My brother posted on Facebook the other day that he'd finally cut the cord and ditched cable TV. This isn't news, or interesting, but it seemed important to him. Yay.

It's just that all the cool kids are doing it, including our household waaaaay back in 2010 or 2011. I went down this road, and now it's so much smoother. We all have different needs and wants, but I'm thinking this was discussed and contemplated and it's not going to be a big deal at all.

And they'll save a few bucks, which is the only real reason to stop consuming. I could make a case for the vast wasteland, but most of us are aware that this is a golden age of television. Sure, you might have 300 worthless channels, but 50 others have seriously good stuff to watch.

We got rid of cable because no one was watching. I wasn't. My wife had no time. My son had no interest. None. The bill wasn't killing us, and its absence didn't change our finances in a significant way. It just seemed dumb, if a little daring eight years ago. Now, eh. 

Although I noticed one of his commenters seemed very confused. "What will you do for TV?"

I have some thoughts.


A 70-year-old today has possibly been paying a cable television bill every month for 40 years. There are generational overtones to all sorts of subjects, but this one is an easy call. One generation considers cable a utility, and doing without akin to doing without indoor plumbing. It feels like taking a step backward, and calls up dim pictures of rabbit ears and snowy screens. This isn't what's going on, but we can understand the reaction.

I certainly can, if only because I've seen it in action. In the beginning, I'd mention to older neighbors from time to time that I no longer had cable, and they'd nod with a baffled look and change the subject. It seemed weird to them, maybe. Like joining a cult. I could be overthinking it.

So, one generation, hooked on cable TV. Another generation wants nothing to do with it. I'm pretty sure my daughter, now 33, has never had cable TV, or considered it. Around 20% of Americans live in a household without cable television, and that number's soft. This is a wave, and it's the future. Some people are always going to get left behind. We can poke fun at them with their landlines and wallets full of cash, their AOL accounts, their big cars, but it's understandable and really inevitable. The world is turning.

And it's obviously not just older Americans, but that's the demographic driving this divide. It's driving a lot of division, in fact. Just as obviously.


Steven Spielberg has a new movie out. He had a new movie out a few months ago, too. He's a master storyteller, and while it would be easy to suggest he's fighting irrelevancy, I think he just still has stories to tell. More power to him.

He's also been griping, quietly and subtly but definitely griping, about Netflix and other producers of filmed entertainment. He wants to draw the line, identify it, mark it, set it in concrete, between what he does and what Amazon Studios does. For example. 

He makes the case that the practice of releasing a film in a few theaters for a week or so, just to give it a shot at award nominations, before releasing it on their platform for streaming is cheating. He says these are essentially TV movies, a snotty phrase that implies lower quality to people of a certain age, and must be incomprehensible to others.

He can make a case. He's Steven Spielberg. It tends to crumble, in my mind. Quality will out itself. Nobody cares about Spielberg's lines in the sand. People will watch what they want to watch.

And Steven Spielberg is 71, and worth over 3 billion dollars. He's in his own little demographic, and he's essentially a dinosaur. The world turns.


I saw a friend's cable bill the other day, by accident. It was amazing, although I'm sure not unusual. Still. It was a car payment, more or less.

I saw it because I was borrowing their password. The biggest drawback to dumping cable is sports. Football isn't a problem, and basketball can be accessed, although it's harder. All of this is changing, but for now the sports packages cable companies force on us are crucial to these companies surviving in the near term.

And Major League Baseball belongs to cable. I like baseball. I haven't been able to watch my Mariners in years. Baseball is made for radio, of course, but I'd still like to see a game on TV from time to time. So I borrowed my friend's cable password, hoping I could stream the games through her account.

They definitely saw me coming, which makes sense. Password sharing is widespread and known to them, and they ignore it for the most part, but again: Sports is a sacred cow, obviously. They know I'm not my friend, or at my friend's house. No baseball for you. I'll survive.


You know what's on my mind, though? Roseanne. Roseanne and Sinclair.

You've probably seen the mashup of Sinclair Broadcast Group's local anchors all reciting the same canned speech about fake news. It's eerie and a little scary, not Orwellian but just essential Orwell. Or that's what it feels like. And you've certainly heard about Roseanne Barr's reboot of her famous show from the 1990s, and her affection for Donald Trump.

I don't have a problem with Roseanne, or Roseanne. I didn't watch the show a lot, but I was aware. And she's very funny, and always has been. I've heard a number of interviews with her over the years, and she always delivers. I don't quite understand her feelings about politics, but I get it. I've paid attention.

Roseanne is sort of stupid. I mean, she just is. She's uneducated and has bizarre ideas that jump out from tabloid back pages, next to the human-giraffe hybrid and Elvis's secret hideaway in space. She has insight and great observational skills, and tremendous wit. It's hard to say where she would have ended up had she just paid attention in school, but then we might not have laughed so much. It's not like I'm going to be watching the new show, even out of curiosity. Too many things to watch.

And that's my point. Her first show had huge ratings, upwards of 16 million and more. So essentially in the low single digits in terms of percentage of Americans. About 5%, let's say. Pretty huge in TV terms. In population terms? No one is watching.

No one is watching anything. Not at the same time. Not together. There are over 100 million World of Warcraft accounts, just to make a stray comparison. More Americans believe in Space Elvis than watched Roseanne.

Likewise with Sinclair. We can gnash our teeth and rend our garments, and there's good reason to be concerned, but local news? Plenty of people trust it, and watch it. But they're mostly over 60, like FOX News viewers. The world, she keeps turning. You see.


It's not that these things don't have cultural significance, or importance. Well, not Roseanne so much. But those were huge numbers, in TV world. They just don't mean much.

And I'm concerned about the Sinclair story, and at the same time yawning. I can't help people who get their news from television. I can't. I had this discussion yesterday with my wife: I'm certain that it would take me around 15 minutes a day to become more informed that probably 95% of my fellow citizens. A lot of this is skill learned over the years, but c'mon. We have as much information as we need, right here at our fingertips. It doesn't take time; it just takes knowledge, and effort. Not haircuts and suits. Not corporate commentary. Not anchors whose credentials are primarily cosmetic. You just have to read, not watch.

I dunno. I'm mostly just interested in the disconnect between conventional wisdom and what's actually happening on the ground. We can scream about Sinclair, or even Roseanne, all we want: The end result will always be about numbers, because numbers don't lie. Nobody is watching anything. Yawning again, doggone it.

Chuck Sigars4 Comments