The Great Television Rant of 2009 (or How I Learned to Stop Paying for TV)

There are a whole lot of online articles about people giving up television or pay television, and some went on to discover what is available online.  We’ve all read them.

A few years back, I went on my own online tv search, paralleling an article.  I put a few links aside for later, in case I wanted to review them or was without tv.  The latter is laughable, as I don’t watch too much tv.  I used to, until I discovered guitars and computers.

My wife, on the other hand, is powerless over the effects of television on her life.  When she’s not watching tv, it’s on as background noise.  Unfortunately I get exposed to a lot of tv this way.

The event that started this whole dance off was my wife misfiling a bill, resulting in the Dish Company turning off our service.  Why this had to happen immediately and without so much as a phone call is beyond me but who am I to question the ways of Dish Company?

This left us with a few options:

  1. watch over-the-air (OTA) tv via the taxpayer-subsidized converter box
  2. watch tapes and dvd’s
  3. watch nothing

I was fine with number three but I was the only one, apparently.

So on went the converter box and we started watching OTA tv.  OTA is a potentially wonderful system, whereby each former channel got enough space to send three separate channels of programming to everyone.  As we all know, theory and practice are two wildly different concepts.

Assuming you have the correct antenna, which is a totally separate rant in itself, you’ll notice that some channels fill one of their spots with only weather.  When cable tv first came out, there was no end of jokes about twenty four hour weather channels.  Now OTA tv has at least two, possibly more.

As with any broadcast medium, there is no shortage of religious channels.  In fact, there are tons more religious channels than before we went digital.  I’m not going to do the math: it would only make my head hurt.

There appears to be about five channels of Indian programming.  Nobody knows why.  I dare not call the converter box’s help line to find out.

My wife is a fan of B-movies.  When I say B-movies, I mean Z-movies.  The ones that could never hope to run before B-movies in theaters or on tv.  She will buy (alleged) horror movies at convenience stores for $1.99.  Does that give you an indication of the quality of the programming?

Strangely enough, my wife hit a bullseye with something called THIS.  I am at a loss as to how to describe the programming on this, for lack of better term, network.  Z-movies purchased at all-night truck stops would be a great improvement over THIS fare.  THIS plays all the worst movies you’ve never seen, starring people who knew stars before they were stars, but not featuring any actual stars (unless you consider Robby Benson at 14 a star).  These were the bad movies that were bad movies when you were growing up and run only after one in the morning, to be used solely as sleep-aids.

Their station identification consists of some female whispering “THIS”, at which point I look up and yell “SUCKS“.

As bad as the alleged programming is, the commercials are many steps below.  I used to think the worst thing in the known universe was Dish Company commercials.  That was right up until my first night of THIS commercials.  In both cases, the same commercials are run over and over again.  In THIS‘ case, there were only five commercials run all day, over and over again, until your head exploded, in a scene that was way too detailed and fun-filled to be broadcast on THIS.

There are a bunch of different sell your gold for cash commercials, two aftermarket car warranty ripoffs, a bring in your car title for cash commercial, and a few that try to sell you things, featuring inserted footage of the president, as if he’s telling you to purchase them.

The `programming’ is very considerate.  I keep noticing it protects me from hearing words every now and then.  I watch the actors’ lips move yet I hear no sound.  Yes, they’re protecting me from hearing words.  Words that no doubt would leap from the speakers and assault my virgin ears.  Did you know that you can say dammit but not God-dammit?  It’s simply wonderful of them to protect us from words like these.

My marriage has survived more grief and carnage than any four marriages you can mention.  We’re still together and still happy.  However, watching OTA tv has put more stress on our union than anything else in fourteen years.  It’s driving me up a wall and down another one – and I am not the one watching tv.  I’m sitting there with a laptop or cooking or relaxing after work.  Since my wife likes her audio at eardrum-rattling levels, it’s somewhat difficult to ignore.

Finally, out of patience and earplugs, I remembered those online tv links I put away from a rainy day.  Since it was raining (“It’s Always Raining in Philadelphia”), I got them out and started some evaluation and research.  My wife wanted nothing to do with this.  She likes her large tv and surround audio system…. a laptop just won’t do.

I remembered my prior evaluation efforts as spotty, with many online providers failing to provide.  Tons of broken links and little in the way of things I wanted to watch.  That turned out to be pretty accurate.  What was different this time was that I managed to find some decent, reliable feeds and content.  You could have knocked me over with a feather.  Some networks stream their own content online, which I had heard about but was still somewhat surprising.  More and more is making it online these days.  If you haven’t checked, it might be worth your time.

In addition to the networks, there are a ton more `less official’ content providers or linkers.  Again, service is spotty but you’d be pretty surprised at what you can find.  There’s also the torrent route, which takes too long for me.

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My wife started going through detox from Dish Company content pretty early on in the process.  She explained what happened and paid two months at once.  Dish Company told her there would be an additional $150 charge for reconnection.  I didn’t pay $150 for connection, no less reconnection.  I told her to cancel the service if that was their attitude.

While she’s deciding whether she can live without her dish or not, I finally introduced her to Laptop TV, for lack of better term.  And wasn’t I surprised when she took to it like mad, staying up most of the first night while the kids watched everything they could find.  I saw that coming from miles away.  The only surprise was that it took so long to notice it for the first time.

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SO WHAT CAN I SEE?

Good question.  Here are a few of my decent findings:

Choose and Watch has a pretty interesting variety of links.  There are even adult and movie downloads, but watch out: they’re commercial.  You can choose by category or country.

Like Television will feel comfortable and familiar, largely because of the tons of old programs and cartoons you can watch.  Classic TV, the Addams Family (my favorite), cartoons, movies, weird toy commercials… great stuff.

TV Channels Free has a lot of potential but it tends to get squandered in failed links that refuse to work.  Again, you can categorize by country or type.  As they claim to have over 3600 feeds, it’s worth checking out.  They do a lot of work, maintaining things so there’s a category of recently fixed stations to check out.  At least you know they work (hopefully).

Open Hulu will make your head spin.  The sheer variety and quantity is frightening.  Are you ready for Adam 12, Bionic Woman, Kojack, Scrubs, and Doogie Houser (back when he was straight)?

For something completely different, check out Hulu.  You can check out popular clips, featured videos, and full episodes.  This is where I saw Warehouse 13, which I like a lot.  Lots of current content, no broken links, great quality.

Streaming TV Episodes features the best live operating room footage you have ever seen.  No, I’m just kidding.  It features streaming tv episodes.  Who woulda guessed?  Good place to watch complete episodes of the Daily Show.

Sidereel is a good place to catch House, for one.  Or a Harry Potter trailer.  We call him Hairy Cocker for reasons you can imagine.

All of the networks have their own pages with their own content, like ABC, CBS, and NBC (dot com).  You can watch full episodes online there too.  And why not – all you have to do is sit through a few less commercials than you would watching OTA tv in the first place.  By the way, the commercials are way less stupid and annoying, trust me.

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I used to think cable/dish tv was one hundred channels of nothing to watch.  Let me update this: with one hundred channels of junk, pay tv is heaven compared to OTA tv.

This is not to say that all OTA tv is total garbage.  Only 99% of it is garbage.  Since I haven’t watched OTA tv in many years, I didn’t know you could get away with some of the things they do on Two and a Half Men.  This is a funny show, in spite of its co-star.

I didn’t know that Mental came from OTA tv.  Wow, I have to say something nice about Fox now: it’s probably going to snow.  They also have Family Guya must watch.

Warehouse 13 is a very good new series from Sci-Fi, which you can catch online.  It looks quite promising.

I desperately miss Animal Planet, History, and National Geographic, as those were pretty much all I would voluntarily watch.  However, if you have some curiosity and sense, you can find the individual programs online or for download.  The new season of UFO Hunters starts soon and I’d hate to miss Bill Birnes twitching and declaring everything an alien artifact.

One of my wife’s favorites is Nurse Jackie (Showtime?).  She says she’s never seen anything closer to real life on tv before (with the possible exception of snorting oxycontin).

Everything else is garbage, ok?

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So there you have it: my comprehensive (brief) guide to online tv.  Please leave your suggestions and comments in the (drum roll, please) comments box.