It’s now been about five months since my household cancelled our satellite TV and started getting broadcasts with a good, old-fashioned, over-the-air digital antenna, just like our pioneer forefathers.
The good news is that we’re all still relatively sane; I haven’t started talking to imaginary house guests or buried an ax in Scatman Crothers’ chest. However, going from a satellite TV package to broadcast TV isn’t simply a reduction in channels; it’s like stepping through a door to an entirely different world; a world full of awkward game shows and infomercials that look like they were shot on a set that Entertainment Tonight threw out in 1988. A world that is, in a word, terrifying.
With only broadcast TV, you’re forced to watch channels that you would never watch if you had any other options, and you see some strange, disturbing things. Things that make the current state of humanity look much bleaker than it does when you’ve got access to a 24-hour-a-day cartoons and House Hunters International (Oh, how we miss you, Suzanne Whang!).
Here are the unsettling things we’ve learned so far:
1) America has been thoroughly overrun by ambulance-chasing lawyers like a zombie plague if zombies had capped teeth and double-breasted suits. Please know that I am not exaggerating when I say that, during mid-afternoon and late night, every second commercial features some lawyer screaming at me that I’m not getting the money I deserve from insurance companies/Social Security disability/the BP oil spill settlement. I imagine this is so because they draw their clientele from the ranks of people who aren’t getting up early to go to a job during the day and are looking for low-impact ways to pick up some cash. And, judging by the volume of air time these law firms are buying, this seems to be working really well for everyone involved.
You have your pick of two–count ’em, two–legal advice shows on local stations on Sunday nights. And this is in Birmingham, Alabama–not exactly a densely-populated part of the country. What percentage of the population must be engaged in–or considering becoming engaged in–legal action for two stations to put up these shows in the same time slot? Did they decide to put on competing career advice shows? Did they decide to put on competing financial advice shows? No, they put on competing legal advice shows, because that’s where the demand is. America is doomed.
2) America’s biggest growth industry, aside from lawsuits, is pain-free catheters. There must be at least a hundred companies advertising Virtually Pain-Free Catheters at No Cost to You!
And, more generally speaking, there are many, many more companies advertising products designed for an older demographic. Catheters, motorized chairs, motorized stair lifts, hearing aids… and this is not even counting the commercials featuring people wearing adult diapers just because they’re stylish and comfortable. America is getting old fast. Either that, or America is getting too lazy to get off the couch to pee, which is much worse.
3) Tuesday nights are the programming equivalent of the Midwest steel mill town where the steel mill went bankrupt twenty years ago. It’s obvious that broadcasters have simply given up on certain times and certain days. Even the infomercials aren’t trying very hard anymore. This is not necessarily terrifying, until you find yourself watching re-runs of The Odd Couple and wondering what’s happened to your life.
4) Commercials for callous removal products and toe fungus cures are plentiful, and they are the most gruesome, horrible displays you will ever see this side of your nightmares. Why in the world do these commercials have to be so graphic? If I have toe fungus, don’t I already know what it looks like? Why would seeing it blown up ten times normal size on my TV make me more likely to buy a given remedy?
Also, I bet some product manager got a big bonus when he figured out that all those unsold cheese graters could be re-purposed as callous removal tools. Watching those women drag that thing back and forth over the soles of their feet is like watching a scene from Saw. But, it’s still better than the toe fungus thing.
5) Local news broadcasts peaked in 1994. I seem to remember local news getting better–more professional-looking and technically advanced–pretty steadily when I was a kid. But somewhere in there, the must have leveled off, because you could put a broadcast from today side-by-side with a broadcast from 1994 and you couldn’t tell a difference, even counting the anchors’ hairstyles.
6) No matter how little crap you’re allowing into your house, you’re still allowing some crap into your house. One of the things that finally convinced me to cancel the dish was my realization that a large percentage of the channels we were paying for broadcast a lot of things that I didn’t want my children to see. “Why am I paying to bring this into my house when I’m going to have to turn around and hide it from my kids?” I thought. So, we stopped paying for that stuff, and I felt pretty good about it.
But my dreams of every night in my house being “The Wonderful World of Disney” were crushed the first time I saw a promo for “Mistresses” on ABC. Even The Mouse’s network was less “Wonderful World of Disney” and more “Wonderful World of Ho Bags.” You can’t even watch a sporting event with the family without seeing commercials featuring all kinds of stuff that, in another age, would’ve been kept behind the counter in the video rental store.
Unfortunately, even if you have very little TV in your house, it turns out you still have to play defense against it. At least I’m not paying for the privilege anymore.