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There’s Nothing on TV

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It has become quite commonplace in the past decade or two for people to complain that there is nothing on TV. I hear it from my parents frequently.

Hundreds of channels and not a single thing worth watching. It’s a pet peeve of mine to hear this, and it makes the speaker sound ignorant. To those people, I say “nonsense!” There is plenty on. They just have to know where to look.

For some people, it’s become a badge of honor to deride television, proclaiming it an inferior form on entertainment. While many of the popular shows of previous decades may have been only entertainment, not for the “thinking man,” the modern era has gone in a different direction, getting into heavy drama, and expanding the limits of what makes it on the air. Suddenly, we have plenty to celebrate and honor on our sets.

It’s true, the vast majority of the channels on your cable lineup broadcast drivel. They are full of reruns of shows from the 1980s (edited down since we have more commercials now), reality junk, and talk shows. Does anyone ever even turn on the music channels, of which we all have dozens? Yes, I agree that all of this is a waste. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing on TV.

Let’s be clear about my definition of what constitutes a good television show. Competition and game shows don’t qualify, nor do most shows with a host, save The Daily Show and a couple of others. I also hate sports, and shows that follow the “real housewives” or a “celebrity” around. I enjoy scripted series, with great acting and smart writing. As a fiction from way back, I want my TV series to contain interesting story arcs week to week, and characters that grow, meaning, most procedural crime shows don’t do it for me.

Even within those guidelines, though, there are quite a few choice programs. Between my two TiVos, I can record 450 hours of HD, and I’m at 95% capacity right now. That oughta tell you something. If you look for it, there’s plenty of good stuff out there.

One issue could be that there is basically nothing on TV except between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. For those of us with TiVos and other DVRs, this isn’t a problem, because we record programming during those times, and then view them later at our leisure. So if you do not have a DVR, you’re actually hurting yourself, and no wonder you think there’s nothing to watch.

As for channels, it used to be the only good things were on ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX. And there are still some decent offerings on these networks, though there are also a lot of primetime duds. The key is to know the difference.

Grey’s Anatomy, nine years in, has never been better. The Office, Community, New Girl, The Big Bang Theory, Nashville, Grimm, Parenthood, Arrow, Once Upon a Time, Bones, Elementary, The Good Wife, Happy Endings, How I Met Your Mother, and Revolution are among the broadcast series I am watching right now.

The best stuff is on AMC, HBO, and Showtime. From Dexter to Game of Thrones to The Walking Dead, each of these has award-winning, high quality stuff. They also offer Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Veep, Californication, The Big C, Hell on Wheels, Shameless, and many more.

There’s also fantastic stuff on FX, TNT, and USA, like White Collar, Monday Mornings, Justified, The Americans, Archer, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Louie, Psych, and Royal Pains, to name just a few. With the recent launch of Vikings, History Channel is entering the fray, too after its success with Hatfields and McCoys. That means there are more and more players in the scripted game, and more and more worthwhile shows to choose from.

Yes, that leaves us with maybe a dozen channels, out of the hundreds in a typical cable package, that are worth paying attention to. And some of these cable channels I list only air new fare one night a week. However, there are nights like Sunday, where one can record at least 10 shows in a good week, and that provides plenty to watch during the slow nights.

Reruns can be a problem for some, as there is little more disappointing than turning on your set ready for a new episode, and finding a repeat, or so I remember from the dark days when I used to watch live TV. But if you have a TiVo that holds a bit, you can record and store, as there are plenty of nights too much airs to watch all at once, so you’re good to go on any night of the week.

The expansion of cable means that even summer is not a wasteland anymore. Last year, HBO’s The Newsroom, USA’s Suits, and TNT’s Falling Skies were among the many series delivering fresh episodes during the hot months. So even if NBC and ABC are taking some time off, there’s something out there to find. Not to mention, anything left over from the spring season can be caught up on then. I still had episodes of Private Practice from April and May to watch in August last year.

And I didn’t even mention Netflix and other streaming services, which are great for shows everyone still talks about, now gone off the air, that you haven’t gotten around to watching yet. It’s never too late to pick up Lost or The Wire. Netflix is also jumping into fresh content, with House of Cards and the upcoming new episodes of Arrested Development, so it looks like there will soon be even more on TV.

The point is, the next time someone says there is nothing good on TV, they only have themselves to blame. There’s plenty out there. They just need to make a slight amount of effort to find it. And if you don’t want to do the hunting yourself, just follow my reviews and twitter feed. I’ll tell you what I consider good on a daily basis, and since, being a reviewer, I watch a lot of shows, surely we’ll have some common ground.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome is the creator and writer of It's All Been Done Radio Hour, a modern scripted live comedy show and podcast in the style of old-timey radio serials, and the founder of the Columbus-based entertainment network, IABDPresents. He is also the Chief Television Critic for Seat42F.com and a long-time contributor for Blogcritics. Plus, he works fiction into his space time. Visit http://iabdpresents.com for more of his work.
  • Igor

    You need to switch to OTA: that’s right “Over The Air” TV. You need an antenna and a good receiver. Get rid of your satellite and cable: they are degraded quality anyhow.

    Every American resident (even a renter, even if you’re in someone elses building) is entitled to have an external antenna. Landlords hate it, but a 1950s law requires that every American have access to free OTA television.

    Look around for OTA web clubs in your area.

    San Diego HDTV

    San Diego free TV

  • That said, there is another channel that we receive called AxsTV – owned by Mark Cuban – that has a lot of good programming (exclusively in HD) with very few commercial interruptions. They broadcast the excellent Dan Rather Reports, among other things.

  • Igor, you’re lucky in that your local PBS station seems to be well-enough funded to be able to purchase a lot of original, quality programming. Down here in San Diego, not so much. Last night I had a look at the upcoming schedule for the next two weeks, and could find nothing that might be worth watching except the news and the third season of Downton Abbey, which I’ll probably pass on anyway as I didn’t catch the first two seasons. The rest was all kids’ shows, new-agey “self help” propaganda broadcasts and repeats of music programs that have been shown hundreds of times before.

    I ingest very little TV anyway so perhaps I’m being too harshly selective, but if I’m going to sit down and actively watch something I want it to be worth my time.

    As for Nova and the other exemplary documentaries (not to mention those classic British sitcoms) that we got in the PBS market where we used to live, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them on the schedule in the year and a half we’ve been down here.

  • Igor

    I think there’s a LOT on TV. Yesterday I turned on the PBS station at 11AM, just as a test since I usually have other things to do at 11AM, and was treated to a NOVA documentary on the separation of two conjoint twin girls (a medical adventure as great and exciting as any made-up adventure on CSI-TV). After that was an Alan Alda documentary on “The Human Spark” dealing with the evolutionary history of various hominids over the past 100,000 years. After that was a Yul Kwon narrated documentary in the “America Revealed” series about the transportation system in the USA.

    Three hours of absolutely fascinating viewing. I know that it had been shown before, but I’d not seen it and that’s one of the blessings of PBS: they do rerun what you missed.

    Perhaps your jaded view of TV betrays that you are watching too much commercial TV.

  • Igor

    Sports on TV enjoyed a revival about 10 years ago when HDTV was introduced, because they could shoot the whole baseball infield diamond and a viewer could watch the runners prepare for the pitch, the basemen adjust their positions, etc., then follow the whole play as the ball is delivered. It was almost as good as being there! Conventional baseball broadcasts were ruined by the poor visual resolution that required focusing on a small field and then jerking the camera around. It was exhausting to view a game!

    Other games were improved by the HDTV opportunity: basketball could show an entire half-court, soccer could show the defensive field, football could show the entire backfield, tennis showed the whole court. For awhile HDTV tennis performed a real service by shooting at waist level so that one could see players moving around in the “athletic posture”, knees bent, butt pointed downward, which is the key to success and survival in sports. The “athletic posture” is taught by all good coaches because it improves speed and recoverability and minimizes injuries, but it’s difficult to teach because people watch sports from an elevated viewpoint that eliminates that perspective.

    But then HDTV cameramen reverted to the bad habits of their predecessors, jerking and panning the cameras.

    That, plus the lamentable propensity of sports executives to be “up close and personal” (with people I had NO interest in being close to) brought back the scrotum-scratch in HDTV, with a vengeance.

    Maybe the only TV sport still worth watching is Aussie Rules Football.

  • Igor

    The best music program on TV is Classic Arts Showcase, which is distributed free and without commercials worldwide. It’s also available on internet and even a C-band satellite broadcast (in case you’re in darkest Africa).

    The CAS videos have been upgraded over the past few years and augmented by some stunning interviews and other archival footage.

    Of course, a number of those videos are now available on youtube and other feeds, where you can pick them out individually, but the serendipitous pleasure of seeing, e.g., Anna Netrebkos performance of “My Kisses Are like Fire” at the Promms is hard to beat.

  • Igor

    I don’t watch the commercial stations often: the commercials are offensive and the fare is thin. In fact I seldom watch drama and fiction anymore except the many “Wallender” movies: I’ve just discovered the marvelous/execrable Rolf Larsgard as the rumpled Swedish detective, and enjoy it immensely. I’m a fan of “Montalbano”, too.

    Boycott the commercial networks and watch PBS and PBS-like networks such as the local KCSM feed (2 subchannels of WorldView and MHZ and then you can always go to the fabulous KCSM jazz audio feed, at least in NorCal).

    PBS-KIDS is better than the competition, with programs like Dragonfly TV and Science Quest.

  • Dr Dreadful

    I don’t know what we ever did without DVR, especially now that most broadcast shows are at least one-third commercials. We scarcely ever watch live TV in our household any more.

    The big networks are still good at churning out dramas and comedies but most of their output is nevertheless garbage. Sadder still is that even many of the cable channels that used to be a bit more cerebral, such as the History Channel, Discovery, Science and Animal Planet, now broadcast 90% dreck.

    And as for news – forget it. You’re better off on the Internet.

    PBS is the only one with consistently high standards but really you have to be fortunate enough to live in a market where it’s well-funded. In my city, the vast majority of its content is repeats and I often find myself searching in vain through the schedule for something worth recording.

    That said, TV with low nutritional value is probably a blessing in disguise, if it gets one off the sofa and out of the house to do something more worthwhile.

  • John Lake

    Hundreds of stations and I’m watching a Mary Tyler Moore rerun for the third or fourth time. Have to wait thru that long drawn out theme and credits.
    I relax with the Music Choice. When there’s no one around, its “Singers and Swing” every time.