Column: With little on the tube, losing cable is no big loss

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 5, 2002

&t;I&gt&uot;I find television very educational.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

&uot;I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on, I go in another room and read a good book.&uot; – Groucho Marx

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Have you ever noticed that no matter how many channels you have, there is never really anything good on television? I used to subscribe to cable, but I had it disconnected last September. I couldn’t justify spending more than $40 every month for 60 channels when I only watched about four of them. It seemed like money being thrown away.

Now I don’t pick up any channels, not even the local ones. That doesn’t bother me, though, since there is even less quality programming on network television. That’s why it’s free. Maybe if we were paying for network television the way we do for cable, they would feel more compelled to produce higher quality programming.

For all practical purposes, I haven’t really watched TV since September. The exception to my moratorium has been mainly when I’ve been at the home of someone who happened to be watching something at that time. It has been difficult sometimes. I do occasionally miss some of the programs I used to watch, particularly &uot;Law & Order&uot; and &uot;The Simpsons.&uot; I also miss CNN.

What I don’t miss is the &uot;chaff.&uot; – the 90 percent of the trendy, synthetic junk that makes up most of television, especially so-called reality programming. I don’t understand the attraction for shows like &uot;The Real World,&uot; &uot;Survivor&uot; and &uot;Temptation Island.&uot; They certainly aren’t realistic. Shows like those are actually some of the most fabricated garbage producers have come up with to date. Whatever realism there is has to be altered to hold the fickle interest of their target market. If you want true reality television, set up a closed-circuit camera somewhere and don’t let producers or script writers anywhere near the project.

I also never cared for &uot;extreme&uot; game shows like &uot;Who Wants to Be a Millionaire&uot; and &uot;The Weakest Link.&uot; My problem with &uot;Millionaire&uot; was the lack of challenging questions compared to &uot;Jeopardy.&uot; To relate to more viewers, they started out contestants with insultingly easy questions with multiple choice answers the average person could answer. When the tougher, higher-dollar questions came around, the contestants were given lifelines, in case they didn’t know the answer. It seemed to rob the game of some of its challenge. What I dislike the most about the show, however was that it spawned the most annoying catch phrase of all time: &uot;That’s my final answer.&uot;

Even before I had decided to give up cable, I had decided to give up watching football. What decided this for me was year after year of watching the Vikings every Sunday, all season long. I lived and died with every play of the game. I watched and hoped, especially during the playoffs. The final game I watched was the 41-0 loss to the Giants in the NFC playoffs the season before last. After that, I decided I wasn’t going to invest the three hours every week anymore. With how this past season went, I was glad to have made that decision. The next football game I watch will be when the Vikings finally make it to the Super Bowl.

What I miss least of all, though, is probably the commercials. I still see a few of them every morning in the newsroom, during the local news. Whenever I see the commercial that uses those stupid &uot;Ole and Lena&uot; voices, it really makes me glad I don’t watch TV at home.

Six months without television has forced me to find other ways to spend my time. I have been writing a lot more than I used to. I have also been reading more books. I spend more time using the Internet. There’s always something on the Internet. The only thing that limits what you can find there is your imagination.

Switching from television to other forms of entertainment has been, in my experience, the mental equivalent of switching from a fast-food hamburger to a home-grilled steak. I may someday have cable reinstalled, now that I know I can live without it. But I doubt I’ll ever let mental junk food replace the real thing.

Dustin Petersen is an Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.