thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Ditching Live TV

In Streaming, TV, Viewing Habits on February 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Phoebe B.

When I ditched cable–just a short six months ago–I was nervous. After all, I study TV. What would I miss? How would I keep up with conversations about contemporary TV? What if I couldn’t get access to my favorite shows? What would life be like without Tuesday night Pretty Little Liars dates or Monday nights with Castle? Sure, maybe this all sounds overly dramatic, but I was seriously anxious.

Nonetheless, after a big cross-country drive and a move from Portland to Atlanta, it felt like a good time to give streaming television a shot. After all, cable was and is super expensive and we were aiming to save money. Moving cross-country is by no means cheap and I have a deep and abiding love for British murder mysteries like Midsomer Murders and Inspector Lewis and the fantastic Canadian Murdoch Mysteries, so streaming seemed liked a win-win. I mean, I already had a Netflix subscription and Amazon Prime and I could get Hulu Plus. Surely, I figured, I wouldn’t miss too much.

After six months without cable or any live television, it is safe to say there is something lost in watching certain television shows the day, or sometimes week, after they air. However, there are very few shows that meet this criteria for me: ScandalPretty Little Liars, and perhaps Drop Dead Diva are truly the only shows I watch that fall into this category. When I had cable, I made appointments with these shows each week, sometimes with friends and wine and sometimes with just me, myself, and I (and usually wine).

I miss the sense of real-time community that unfolds as viewers discuss the latest twists and turns via Facebook and Twitter. Plus, the knowledge that people across the country (or at least in my time zone) are all tuning in at the same time to do the same thing has long intrigued me. Even if I couldn’t see them, I knew they were there, and there is something comforting about that sensibility. And then, sometimes too I miss just putting on the almost-everyday NCIS marathons on USA. I love NCIS for reasons that are mainly Mark Harmon. I love the team too, but now with Ziva gone, I’m no longer too interested in the new episodes. And, watching it on my computer (I can’t get it to stream on my TV) just isn’t the same as USA’s marathons. Even so, the perks of day-after watching–for me at least–outweigh the benefits of cable and live TV.

Initially, I thought being able to stream television would make even the act of it watching more intentional. Instead of just allowing the NCIS marathon to run in the background, I would actively choose to watch the next episode of NCIS. Alas, it turns out that my habits haven’t really changed. In fact, I’m listening to Psych on computer as I type right now. I certainly do not watch less TV. It’s possible I even watch more TV than I used to. I mean, after all, it’s research. (Sort of.)

While my habits remain virtually intact—for better or worse—the content of my  TV marathons has changed fairly dramatically. Now instead of USA’s NCIS marathon, I create my own Rosemary and Thyme or Luther or Bletchley Circle marathons. It does feel different though, broader perhaps in scope and style because with streaming the boundaries of American television seem to be more porous. Without live channels, I’ve indulged in my British murder mystery addiction and I get to watch them all on TV, rather than my computer.

Without live television, quite suddenly all television is equally available to me from Aussie and Canadian detective programming to British dramas. Strangely, or perhaps only strange to me, streaming television has flattened the world of TV and introduced me to television in its global incarnations, in ways I was more reluctant to track down prior to the last six months because it required less effort to just turn on USA and its many marathons.

As a result, much of the television I’m watching is no longer American or is American and no longer on the air (I’m looking at you Crossing Jordan, Veronica Mars, and The Game). From Swedish detective shows to watching every BBC murder mystery I can find, then moving on to my new favorite Australian show Mr. & Mrs Murder, streaming television on my TV has more clearly removed the boundaries of American television than watching on my computer ever did.

Yet, I have a strange sense of being out of step with the television-time. I am no longer beholden to pilot season in the same way, nor do I watch on any networks’ schedule. Instead, for instance, I just finished reveling in Amazon’s pilot season.  On the upside, it was awesome and I hope they make at least three of those shows, but mostly Mozart in the Jungle because it stars Gael Garcia Bernal and I love him.

My main sadness in living without live TV is that I miss the sense of community I got from watching with other people, even if I never saw them or knew they existed. But, as Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Kickstarter, and youtube stations like Pharrell’s iamOTHER (among so many others!) support more new programming, maybe streaming will be the place to be. Or, maybe it already is and has been for a while.

Maybe, even if fractured by time and space, I can find a similar sense of community online, after all it’s the internet, and perhaps it will be more expansive and awesome. So, I guess I miss live TV, but not enough to get back together with it.

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  1. Have you tried the PBS Mystery! series? I highly recommend Agatha Christie’s little Belgian detective Poirot.

  2. I do indeed watch Masterpiece Mystery! They are the best. I just just started my first episode of Poirot last week …

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