It’s become a famous saying, since cable took over the television universe: “I’ve got 200 (or 300, or even 500) channels and there’s nothing on!”
If you’re one of those people who’ll watch endless reruns of “Meerkat Manor” or Rachel Ray’s “$40 a Day” rather than pick up a book or pop in a DVD, you’ve probably said it yourself. At the other extreme are people who permanently say “no” to TV. They don’t own a set and don’t plan to buy one. According the the Census Bureau, that’s about 1.8 percent of the population. The rest of us could give them a TV and not miss it. Most households have two or three.
The go-to guy for comment on stories like this is, of course, SU’s Bob Thompson, who probably brings the University more publicity than anyone or anything else, with the possible exception of basketball. It’s amazing he’s got any time left to teach, between watching TV and stating his opinions for articles like this one by the Washington Post’s Korin Miller.
“To aggressively not have a TV is to take yourself out of the loop of American cultural conversation,” says Robert J. Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. He says people are often shocked, then reverential upon learning of someone’s TV-free lifestyle.
For inveterate TV viewers, network efforts to counter the cable channels have led to confusion about when new episodes of any show are on. There are rating period “stunts,” and there is now more than one “season” for popular series both on and off the major networks. “Must see” shows for many, like “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives,” can be in reruns for months during what used to be their regular seasons (ABC seems to be the master at sowing the seeds of viewer confusion), and sought-after cable entertainments like “The Closer,” “Rescue Me” and “Monk” seem to come and go without warning or very much promotion.
Maybe the scheduling chaos is a sign of that we’re nearing that often-talked-about time when we’ll be able to watch what we want, whenever we want through an expansion of on-demand cable, or a melding of TV with the internet. Until then, keep close watch on those listings- or just head for the bookstore.