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Life Without TV: Viewing Strategies

I got rid of my television set a couple of months ago. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My apartment now feels like a house after all of the kids have moved out -- sad, empty, devoid of life. I get home from work and spend long moments communing with the empty space where the TV used to dwell. I can't bring myself to put anything else there -- books, plants, a tiny memorial plaque -- because the pain is still too fresh. Dammit, I've lost a friend. Well, returned a friend to the people I'd been borrowing it from for the past year, but hey, it still hurts.

When I originally conceived of this mad plan to live television-free, I had lofty visions of occupying my eons of free time with all those sophisticated and personally enriching activities that television supposedly insidiously replaces. I'd learn to play an instrument, brush up on my French, and start cleaning the bathroom on a regular basis. While none of these high-minded expectations have materialized, I have become more creative about finding ways to spend my time. As a public service, I'd like to share a few of the coping solutions I've discovered:

1. Make new friends. Being forced to fill acres of free time led me to get out and meet new people -- and luckily, I found some whose television habits sync quite nicely with mine. Now instead of spending hours sinking slowly into the depths of my own couch in the blue glow of the TV screen, I spend hours sinking into someone else's couch, clear on the other side of town. I'm truly amazed to have met other people whose typical weekly viewing choices include Gormenghast, Xena, Keeping Up Appearances, and that Tales From the Crypt episode where Ewan McGregor plays a zombie with a Brooklyn-by-way-of-the-Highlands accent. I even got my new pals to sit through part of The Red Green Show recently, and now I think I owe them my first-born.

2. Go on vacation. I like to tell people that I went to visit my parents last month, but what I really did was fly to the other side of the country to spend a week or so with their TV set. I got to see some marvelous second-season episodes of Homicide, caught Nicole Kidman pitching "Moulin Rouge" on a rerun of The Tonight Show, and reconfirmed my crush on one of the reporters on New England Cable News. Oh, and the parents are doing fine.

3. Catch a live performance. Imagine my glee when I put together the following facts: A) I live in Pasadena. B) Hey, that's close to Hollywood, Burbank, and Studio City. C) Wow, they film TV shows there. D) And they let people into the studio while they do it!

I've now attended a couple of the Friday night tapings of Titus, including one episode guest-starring Jay Leno. Watching it live beats the hell outta broadcast, because you see it twice, it's usually different and funnier the second time, and they feed you during the break. Now if I could just get paid for being there...

4. Do some shopping. I staggered into Circuit City a mere few days after giving up my TV, intent on comparison shopping for a new stereo. I was inevitably drawn, siren-like, to the television department. There I discovered that some fellow-nerd employee had put "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" on a bunch of the sets, including one with a deluxe infinity-sized screen and googlephonic they-can-hear-that-in-Nevada speakers. Was I going anywhere? I don't think so. Only the barest veneer of civility prevented me from pulling up a chair and sending out for pizza. Instead I lollygagged, browsed, perused, hovered, glanced, gawked, and pondered, then feinted occasionally in the direction of the computer department, all in an attempt to masquerade as a typical shopper while I covertly ogled Jedi on the wall-sized tv screen. I did ultimately end up buying a walkman and a three-month supply of batteries as cover for my nefarious voyeuristic intentions, but I'm not sure anyone was fooled.

5. Read. To quote the aging-but-still-with-it grandfather from "The Lost Boys," "If you buy the TV Guide, you don't need a TV." Yes, I do still read TV Guide on occasion, in an effort to cling desperately to the fringes of the pop culture loop. But here's a publication that does its job a little too well. TV Guide gives me enough information about current programming to feel informed without having to watch TV at all, while simultaneously reminding me of all the crappy shows I'd have to dodge around if I did try to watch. TV Guide is obviously intended to supplement one's TV habit, but I'm finding that it makes a pretty decent replacement. And, there's the added bonus of the "Cheers and Jeers" section.

Don't take any of this the wrong way -- I am not advising anyone to get rid of their TV set. I'm not one of those knee-jerk reactionaries mouthing mantras like "Kill Your Television!" and sneering contemptuously at anyone who admits to more television involvement than the occasional polite flirtation with PBS programming. I still love television, and someday I'm going to own a TV set again. Or several of them. Or one for every room, and a waterproof model for the shower. Until then, I'll just have to keep relying on my coping mechanisms, and on the kindness of friends... or the kindness of strangers.

Now, who wants to invite me over to watch The Simpsons?


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