When I wrote my first book several years ago, I did most of my writing after the kids were in bed, tapping away at the keyboard until midnight or 1 a.m. Typically, my wife would be unwinding from a day of juggling a three year-old, a baby, and a part-time job, and would turn on some mindless Real Housewife/Bachelor/Home Renovation TV-version-of-meth. And I would write. To be fair, my wife has a master’s degree and was a National Merit Scholar, so she approaches these shows with the intellectual glee of someone who has been pooped and spit-up on all day. I, on the other hand, cannot believe he gave a rose to Katie C. on the group date!
This formula worked until I hit some really tricky health issues and now, by 10 p.m., all I can do is watch whatever she picks… which recently has changed. Because we cut the cord.
It’s all part of earning our Eagle Hipster Parent Badge. We already started shopping (a bit) at Trader Joe’s, we made some of our own soaps, and we regularly listen to the M. Ward/Zoey Deschanel Christmas Album (my wife objects.) So cutting the cord was the next logical step. Actually, I’ve wanted to do this for a while, and here’s why. First, we were sending Bright House err.. Spectrum nearly $200 per month for our “bundle” of cable, internet and phone. We tried shedding elements of the bundle that we didn’t use (I didn’t even know my landline’s number; it wasn't even programmed into my phone). But we learned that one item by itself costs $194, and you basically add the other two for $1. On top of digital cable with DVR and HBO (which we paid for so we could watch a show that isn’t even on anymore), we were also paying for Amazon Prime and Netflix. We were spending over $200 per month so we could stream Pixar movies and watch unmarried “housewives” fall down drunk.
So I called the only other internet provider in our neighborhood and learned that for about 1/4 of the cost, we could get even faster internet. They didn’t even try to sell me TV service.
Once the switch was made, we had to explain this to our kids. Dr. Spock doesn’t have a chapter on explaining TV vs. streaming vs. You Tube to a four year old. First, kids, all those movies on the DVR are gone. Cars 2, Madagascar 3, Rango (my favorite), “Yo Gabba Gabba” and daily recordings of Ninja Turtles: gone. On the rare occasion we were watching a live cable channel, a commercial would come on and my son would say:
“Daaaad, can you fast forward the commercial?”
And I’d say, “No, this show is on right now.”
And he’d get this bewildered look, and say, “Wait,” (every other sentence from a 7 year-old starts with “wait”), “Wait, you mean this is happening… right now?”
And then I’d have to explain, “No, Rachel and Ross are not having an argument on Friends right now, but this show is airing on a television station right now.”
And he’d give me that blank stare he gives when I’m purposely giving him a false answer to a question he’s too young to know the answer to. And then I’d begin a monologue with, “When I was a kid we had three channels, and you watched whatever was on.” Which explains why I watched hours of shows like The Waltons.
It was a concept they just couldn’t grasp. He’d want to fast forward football games. For this generation, TV has always been on demand.
I remember when one of my college friends came back from a trip to Orlando where the cable company was piloting a DVR system (circa 1995). He explained how you could pause a show that was on and go to the bathroom and come back and play it where you left off. I was incredulous. Surely he was mistaken. I simply didn’t believe him, and decided he’d misunderstood what he was experiencing.
I’d like to say that cutting the cord was totally successful. But there have been a few hitches.
First, on day two my wife spent $2.99 to purchase ONE episode of a show on Bravo, which I will not name. See, the season wasn’t over when we shut off cable. Now, I know that there’s a Hulu or a Roku or a Sling that will get us everything we want for under $10 per month and not $3 per episode. But we haven’t settled on a service because we weren’t sure what we needed. At this rate, one season of “Top Chef” is going to cost us close to $100. This will not do.
The second issue was that after an afternoon of streaming Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse and YouTube videos Dan TDM (if you don’t know what that is, don’t ask), our “smart” TV decided it needed a rest and began restarting itself any time you tried watch something. I spent an hour troubleshooting — software updates, factory reset, blah blah blah. Then one night, my wife fixed it by unplugging it for a few minutes, instead of the 30 seconds I was willing to give it. There’s a lot to be said for patience. I was ready to buy a new TV.
So we’re beginning to settle into more of a routine. We’re discovering that Amazon and Netflix create far better content than the networks (not that we’re surprised) and the long list of documentary content has us feeling outraged at… well, everything, and the one about Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Andy Kaufman is better than any “reality television.”
The kids have adjusted too. With fewer options they, like their parents, are driven to shows with better moral content, which they find less entertaining and thus end up playing together more. We’ve learned that none of the good Christmas movies are free, but there’s a bad knockoff for each classic. This had my kids watching a bizarro version of Frosty The Snowman in which Frosty talks like a mental patient and encourages the kids to be bad, the evil school principal bribes a child, and the parents form a lynch mob. Burt Reynolds cashed a paycheck for narration of this holiday blessing.
As for me, when I began writing this column I had to set it aside — because the Amazon series about Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald is fascinating. Hey, at least I’m turning my brain to mush with a literary theme.
Bad genes forced Jonathan Kile to give up a life as traveling salesman. Good genes make him a fine and — some would say handsome — writer. His first book, The Grandfather Clock is available on Amazon. The sequel, The Napoleon Bloom, will be ready when it's ready, dammit.