In Defense of Television

Cable TV is much maligned just about everywhere these days. This American Life had a show where David Rakoff tried to watch the average amount American’s watch (29 hours). He was appalled. The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly have both had posts on how to eliminate TV from your life.  Most of the bloggers I read regularly either don’t own TVs or have gotten rid of cable.

I have a confession: I am a total TV junkie.

I would estimate Chad and I have 15 shows we watch regularly (well, we DVR them but that’s the same thing), not including sports or movies.  The TV is on probably about 2-3 hours on the weeknights and even more than that on the weekends.  Chad likes to fall asleep with the TV on (even though it keeps me awake).

Why am I admitting my shameful secret?  Because I think TV gets an undeserved bad rap.

Cost Analysis

We pay about $65 per month for DirecTV. Over the course of the year, that’s $780. (We haven’t been paying that much the whole time – we were paying about $45/month for the first year we had the service.)  We have about 6 months left on our contract.  I made a list of the shows we watch regularly; there are 15 of them, most of them one hour long.

If we did what Ramit often suggests and bought only the shows we watch, at $1.99 on iTunes, here’s how much we would pay (assuming 24 episodes per season):
15 shows x 24 episodes x $1.99 = $716.40

Of course, spending $2 per episode might cause us to drop certain shows, but even with that, I don’t know what we’d drop. Heroes, probably. It’s so bad this season.

We could also buy seasons on DVD, but at $40/season it still comes in at $600. Of course, we don’t get the daily entertainment that you get from a weekly episode. You could try waiting and watching one episode per day, but just try to not stay up for 24 hours straight watching Lost. You can’t do it.

We could join Netflix, and that is something we’re considering for the future. I have heard that the internet content isn’t as good, though, and even 3 DVDs at a time doesn’t sound like it would provide a lot of entertainment time.

Per hour, just for shows we watch regularly, TV costs breakdown as follows:
at 40 minutes per show, (1 hour shows, less commercials) we pay roughly $3.25 to watch TV.

Neither of these calculations includes sports, and Chad watches more sports than any other person I know. Regular season college football games are about 3 hours long and there are 12 – 14 games per team per season. We follow Penn State and USC religiously. NFL teams play 16 regular season games; I am an Eagles fan and Chad roots for the Jets. Even though we only get about 25% of the games (no market for Philadelphia teams in Los Angeles), that’s still 8 3-hour games.  Chad is also really into baseball (they have 162 games!) and March Madness.  The boy likes his sports, and while I don’t always understand his compulsion to watch every game he can, there really is no good replacement.  Going out to a sports bar can run you from $10 – $50 for beer and food, at least here in LA.

The calculations also don’t include movies.  During free preview weekends for HBO, Showtime, etc., we page through the TV guide for movies we want to see and then use the DVR to record them for later viewing.  No need to rent movies, and we usually end up with enough to last several months.

The average American watches 39 hours of TV per week.  At that rate, TV only costs $0.38 per hour.  Even at half that rate, you’re still paying less than a dollar per hour.  Even going to the gym costs us more than that!  Chad and I went hiking in Malibu a few weeks ago; we hiked for about 5.5 hours, drove about 45 minutes each way and paid $10 to park + $10 for a half tank of gas.  Even that cost more than clicking on the TV for a few hours!

The Value of Multitasking

You’re not supposed to multitask, I know.  But the truth is, I spend a lot of the time I’m watching TV doing something else.  I’ll straighten up the room, or dust, or fold laundry while watching TV.  Sometimes I’ll send my brain into melting overdrive by watching TV and surfing the internet at the same time.  I do homework with the TV playing in the background.  And as weird as it is, I like to read while the TV is on.

TV is the one activity where your mind doesn’t have to be completely focused, where your hands can be doing something and your head can be doing another.

It’s interesting to note that no anti-TV PF blogger ever recommends giving up internet, and sometimes they even recommend watching TV on your computer.  There’s just as much crap on the internet as there is on TV, sorry to say.

Common Arguments Against TV

It’s too expensive! I agree, actually.  But compared to other things you could be doing, it’s not that bad at less than $1 per hour.  So get out your baskets of unfolded laundry and let your mind go numb as your hands clean the living room.

You could be exercising! There are so many times when I could be exercising instead of doing what I’m doing.  When I sleep late, I could wake up and go running instead.  When I’m reading, I could be doing yoga.  When I’m lingering over dinner and wine with friends, I could be at the gym.  If you think about it, watching TV and exercising aren’t mutually exclusive.  Do some crunches during the commercials, or ride a stationary bike during the actual show!  Let’s not blame TV for the poor choices people make.

You could learn something new! I watch the Food Network and learn how to make a new meal.  I watch The History Channel and learn about how the Nazis built giant bomb shelters underneath Berlin.  Used to be you could watch Bob Ross and learn to paint.  Or you could make fun of his hair.

You should be social. Have you ever watched a football game with a room full of people and a giant plate of nachos?  It is possibly one of my favorite things to do.  And clearly you have never brought up The Hills in a roomful of educated people who secretly, guiltily watch the show and hate every minute of it, yet keep watching.

You should be reading! I actually am a voracious reader when I’m not studying orbital dynamics all day.  I can probably read Anna Karenina in the time it takes you to read The Giver.  Let’s face it, though, people aren’t going to be reading Proust after a day at work.  People don’t read “good” books for entertainment!  No one likes reading The Scarlet Letter! I call reading my “intellectual television.”  There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s not pretend that reading Confessions of A Shopaholic is any better than watching it on TV.  Let’s not pretend reading Twilight is better than watching Slumdog Millionaire.

You’re not doing things you should be doing when you’re watching TV: playing with your kids, taking care of bills, talking to your wife,  etc. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the things we don’t want to do won’t get done.  If you’re not spending time with your kids because of TV, you probably would find something else to take up that time.  If you’re not taking care of household chores, you’d find some other way around it.  If you don’t like your wife enough to talk to her during a TV show, you wouldn’t talk to her the rest of the time, you’d just feel more awkward about it.  Leonardo da Vinci was pretty famous for being a procrastinator; his journals are full of brilliant ideas that were never realized, he accepted payment for paintings that were never finished.  How long did the guy work on the Mona Lisa, and he was still playing with it when he died!  (P.S. There were no TVs back then).

I’m not suggesting that zoning out in front of the TV is the most productive way to spend your time, but I don’t think it gets fair treatment.  There are some high-quality shows out there – it’s not all reality shows and MTV and celebrity biographies.

For the TV junkies out there, here are some fun links to make you feel better around your smug TV-hating friends: The Onion: Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn’t Own A Television and Stuff White People Like #28: Not Having a TV.


15 Responses

  1. Fair enough, fair enough! You got me…. I totally dropped an “I don’t actually own a TV…” the other day, I love reading what white people like because so many of them apply to me that it makes me laugh out loud, and I’m an eco-snob, so I get to pick and choose my evils and I just so happen to put televisions and microwaves in the same category of evil american throw-away consumerism that people in the developing world have to absorb the real cost of in the form of water and soil contamination… I think I said that last bit without breathing. I like your title, “In Defense of Television” because it reminds me of Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food”….

    Anyway… you make some excellent points here. TV works for you, and your soon to be hubby. Quite honestly, there are days when I wish I had one around (like last night, when I wanted to watch The City, even though I’m embarrassed to tell anyone outside of the blogosphere that I love it! Just like The Hills! MTV has really got a hold on me….) but I usually just motivate myself to go to the gym, for some mind numbing television while on the elliptical….

    Great post, by the way

  2. eek! I my comment first under my real name! Please delete the first one 🙂

  3. What White People Like is too funny. I always laugh when I read the hummus one… I HATE that stuff, but I’m white. Hmmm….

    I agree with you. I understand why maybe people shouldn’t have all the fancy schmillion and one channels when they’re in debt, but I watch a bit of tv (not tons, but enough) and I wouldn’t cut my cable. I don’t rent movies, I watch whats on tv. I often have friends over to watch a favorite show instead of going out and spending money to socialize. And, I do ENOUGH reading for my grad degree that I can’t do reading for fun right now. Sometimes I just need zone-out time, and whats so bad about a little tv entertainment? And, I don’t know if I could live without the ritual/tradition that my boyfriend and I have about watching The Office together. Its a BIG DEAL to us!!! I dunno, its a bonding thing I guess, but all the funny jokes have worked their way into our lives (and millions of other peoples’ I’m sure) and we have a special connection through them.

    I agree that its gotten a bad rap. There’s certain times and places where I think its totally fine. It all comes down to personal choice, and people should stop preaching their views on being “cable free”. Again, I think its a good tip if you’re wasting your life in front of a box, or if you’re BONE BROKE and still spending money on it. But otherwise, its a little luxury for people who enjoy it, so let them have it if they choose!

  4. 15 shows? You will be kidding me.

  5. Ha ha. First of all, ain’t nothing wrong spending your Saturday mornings getting ready to watch some USC foosball. Secondly, all (if not most) of my cultural knowledge is from pop culture, not high culture. Without TV, I’d be the bigget cultural ignoramus. 😛 I agree that TV gets a bad rap. But like all other things, so long as it doesn’t make you into an invalid, TV is a cheap source of entertainment.

  6. We watch TV but don’t pay for cable or anything, I don’t have enough time to watch much broadcast TV so cable would be a waste. By the way if you drop Direct TV you can still watch Heroes for free, it’s on NBC. I think Hulu has episodes as well. I don’t think TV is evil, but for us it’s a waste of money to pay for it (well other than the cost of the 37″ LCD we bought a few years ago).

  7. I think I could go without a TV, but i tend to waste my time on the internet (and I “waste” plenty of time). But since I already have a tv and I get 30 channels free, i’m not going to get rid of it.

    What is it about the Hills? I can’t stop watching after YEARS

  8. @SG: Done! I actually had to change around a lot of my stuff so that I wouldn’t be automatically signed in & leave messages under my real name!

    @ bike games: I am not kidding, sadly! I mean, they’re not all on at once – the seasons are staggered – but throughout the course of a year, yeah, there are 15 of them. Want a list?

    @ Miss M: DirecTV has a crazy cancellation fee, so when that expires we’re either going to bargain them waaaaay down or switch to something else. I’m trying to convince Chad that we can get by with Hulu + Netflix + iTunes, but the sports are where we run into trouble!

    @ SP: I think I watch it because it gives me something to be angry about.

  9. lol…ok, I get it! I wish I didn’t have a TV at times (I don’t have cable) but I understand they’re not evil….HOWEVER (and for me this is a big one) I think your post is great as it applies to ADULTS. I don’t think it should apply to children, and I think that today they watch WAY too much TV, and with cable all over the place they are allowed to see way too much. Sure, I know there’s those Vchips, but do people really use them? (I know the BF’s parents don’t with their now 13 year old). TV isn’t evil, but I think its doing a lot of kids a big disservice.

    Anyway. =] Sorry, that was my “evil/strict schoolmistress” rant (as the BF enjoys calling me).

    By the way, I think having TIVO or a DVR greatly increases the value you get from TV. It might lead you to waste more time on it, but at least you get your money’s worth!!

    One final note (@ Flirty almost 30): Hummus rocks!! But only when its home made. You must be eating the wrong stuff! lol (I too love reading “what white people like”….I’m SO white, except I’m not actually “white”, lol)

  10. Great post. My BF and I don’t have cable, but boy, can we run through some Netflix discs. 🙂 And I must watch the Biggest Loser every week. I totally agree that having cable and/or Netflix can save you money. And I agree that as long as TV is not the only thing you do, who cares if you watch 15 shows? And let’s not forget the awesomeness that is PBS, which I watch CONSTANTLY and so do most of my friends. You get travel, history, documentaries, art…you name it. Sometimes I feel better after watching PBS for a few hours than I do after reading a book! (And I read a LOT.) Some of the nicest times I’ve had with BF are staying in, watching a movie, and making dinner together. Beats going out and spending who knows how much at the bar and feeling like crap the next day…

  11. “No one likes reading The Scarlet Letter!”

    I politely disagree. 😉 I actually adore The Scarlet Letter. It’s one of my favorite books. I found an old gold-leafed copy at a used book sale and snatched it up!

  12. Totally agree! BF cannot fall asleep without the tv on (deep seated childhood habit i cannot break…I don’t like it but can tolerate it). He also tends ot just have it on for the sake of it. Sad to say I’ve gotten used to doing it too! We’ll just have total crap on in the background. I don’t even want to think about how many hours a day it’s on…especially now he’s got his brother’s PS3 at our place.

  13. My main complaint about TV is having to pay for it! I wouldn’t suggest cutting out all TV, but instead watching online with for regular shows and for sports. That’s $700 you can spend on vacation! 🙂

  14. I have to say, I love TV. It’s dumb at times and horribly addictive. But you know what? I’m home all day. For the last 10 months, my husband has been at home & unemployed so he’s been home all day. It’s a huge sanity saver.

  15. if you enjoy it …. keep it ! I used to think that not having one would increase my productivitly , but there are other ways to suck time. I play on the internet too much. Everyone has their little vices . It sounds like you should keep the T.V. service.

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