11 October 2009

how I learned to love television by never watching it

Television and I have always had an arm's-length relationship. When I was a kid, we lived in the country, and depended upon a TV aerial (it had its own tower, about two stories high) for signals. We watched a lot of TV Ontario: science shows and British sitcoms. Saturday mornings were for cartoons on Global and WUTV, and that was about it.

I knew a lot of TV-bashing people in university and after graduation, and for a time I was one of them too. Mostly I just didn't understand (still don't) how people can rush home on a schedule just to tune in to the next episode and the next dose of washing powder ads.

And yet: There are a lot of great shows on TV. There also were a lot of great shows on TV, which now can only be watched on DVD or (worst case) YouTube segments. There are lots of internet sites which rebroadcast shows, some with the copyright holder's blessing, some not.

The thing is, the TV shows whose DVDs I own now or that I've rented I enjoy as much as the shows I used to watch when I was a kid, and that never happens with the stuff I see broadcast in the 500-channel universe. There's something more contemplative, more direct about watching a show on disc than via a random button-press on a remote. Plus, you can appreciate the writing and set design better when you watch several episodes in a short space of time.

Can TV shows exist without TV stations? I think they are already starting to. Witness the popularity of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and other webcasts. In the end, it's not about whether the show is broadcast, streamed, or on a disc. It's about whether it's good or not.

UPDATE: I just got another incentive for not paying for cable or a dish. Bell Canada (whom I have a phone account with, but not any television services) just sent me an e-mail directing me to a web site called Stop the TV Tax. I'm not advocating for or against the tax — but I do note that any additional fees are an economic disincentive to pay for news and entertainment I can already get from sources I already pay for, ie: an internet connection.

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