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Television’s Over (at Our House)


I hate television’s mass pandering to our most puerile instincts, I despise its addictive influence on our western society, and many has been the time over the years that I’ve threatened to remove it from my family’s lives completely. (Mostly that’s been when Campbell, cross-eyed and overly-wired from cartoons, has objected to turning it off. Other parents will sympathize.) When we got our ‘weekend’ house Upstate three years ago, we opted not to continue the previous owners’ contract to satellite system Direct TV, and decided to forego Internet access too.

Apart from the occasional rush back to the Big Apple in time for our Sunday night HBO fix, we felt all the better for the tube’s absence in our lives – particular on winter Saturdays, when Campbell would rush off to Hunter Mountain to snowboard without Cartoon Network as a competing option. Meantime, the lack of e-mail was only ever an issue if we were Upstate during the working week, and was then easily handled by visiting the computer store in town, plugging in my laptop and working off their high-speed connection for an hour or so. This enabled our holiday home to be truly a holiday home – and not one of those work-away-from-home homes.

But in making the permanent move Upstate, we accepted that such frugality was no longer a luxury and, well in advance of the actual move, I contacted Time Warner to get Roadrunner broadband and Cable TV installed. Several phone calls elicited the same response: the closest house they had in their system was several street numbers away from us (which, in the country, could mean a mile away or more), but they would send a survey crew out, look at the land, and call us back. I got a friendly call from an eager salesperson only a day after a survey member had called to confirm our home’s precise location, and so, assuming all was well, we booked a technician for the following week. I was almost as excited as Campbell, given that the Fox Soccer Channel would be part of our basic 125-station package: I would not need lament the absence of a nearby NYC bar showing the English Premier League, only that Crystal Palace are not part of it!

Then came the rurality check: the technician showed and expressed immediate surprise that he’d been booked, as the nearest cable connection he could see was a solid half-mile up the hill. Turns out the sales person had jumped the gun over the survey team and as the technician left, the mail man showed up with Time Warner’s official response to our request for their services: laying the cable line that half a mile would cost us $4563.62. Ouch. (We’re meant not to be upset about this: Time Warner pay the other ‘half.’)

That was that option out the window. I quickly signed us up to a dial-up account with my old NYC DSL provider – the highly reputable acedsl – which at least enabled us to get online. (And as previously noted, those 56k dial-ups are more reliable than they used to be. Plus, with all-in-one packages from the phone company, the dial-up calls are free.) Next, we contacted the dreaded Verizon, who had been bombarding us with flyers and phone calls for their Direct TV satellite service these three years. Once they’d successfully replaced AT&T as our long-distance company (inevitably a crucial part of the process), we booked their technician. Meantime, we checked their price to turn that Satellite TV hook-up into Satellite DSL. They wanted $600 for the extra installation, for what is an apparently slow and weather-hazardous service. Another ouch. We passed. Dial-up it remains for the time being.

So, last Friday the technician showed and, despite the prominent presence of a Direct TV satellite dish at the foot of our driveway, a hold-over from the previous owners, promptly told us, with every bit as much certainty as the Time Warner technician, that he could not hook us up. He pointed to the evidence. We are, it is true, surrounded by trees. Very tall ones. Most of them well over a hundred foot high, some much higher than that. And there are, literally, thousands of them, leading all the way up the side of mountain. It turns out they’ve grown so rapidly over the last three years that the previous dish’s placement was now ineffective: the unobstructed route the dish needs to reach the satellite signal in the sky is now completely blocked by forest. (Naturally, the Direct TV satellite is sitting ‘behind’ the mountain, and not above the ‘other side’ of our road, where there’s a big valley and plenty opportunity to secure a signal.) To my persistent complaint that surely anything was possible in this day of smart bombs and Google Satellite Maps, the technician told me that even though he’s entitled to free Direct TV as a perk of his job, he too lives in the woods, can’t clear the path for a clear signal and has to do without.

Touché. For now. Funnily enough, before he showed up, I’d bought that day’s NY Times. (Yes, the NY Times makes it out to the woods, even if cable and satellite TV don’t.) When I finally got to open it, the next morning, there was a feature in the Escapes section all about this very issue: City people moving, part or full-time, out to the country and being both baffled and frustrated by their inability to “stay in touch.” The opening paragraph was about a lawyer for whom “Getting high-speed Internet access … was a six-month ordeal that involved digging under the road, cutting a trench through his yard and shutting off power to the house twice.” I’m beginning to know how he feels.

Part of me is thrilled not to have a television. With my high-speed internet access at the office, I’m completely connected to news from across the world. Many web sites now show clips of TV shows; many web sites host their own TV shows. It’s much more convenient to watch a promo music video at an act’s web site than wait for it to show up on MTV. We have several hundred VHS cassettes that made the move Upstate with us, and our DVD library is growing steadily. There are movie theaters nearby, including a Drive-In at the top of the hill, and video stores in every town. I don’t have to wonder at my motives for watching hurricanes wreak their havoc across America, shield Campbell from the more violent aspects of the news reports, or try and rate the content of his mid-evening cartoons. He can no longer tell me relentlessly about the latest expensive toys on the market, and I don’t have to watch politicians lie to me with a straight face.

All felt fine in the world. For 48 hours. And then, last Sunday night, as our newspaper reminded us with features on each show, HBO kicked off a brand new series of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm AND followed it up immediately with the new Ricky Gervais series, Extras. And there we were, saddled with a blank screen. We don’t want our MTV. But we do want our HBO. And I still want that Fox Soccer Channel.

So here are our options. Feel free to offer your recommendations in the Comments sections below.

1) We hook up a TV at the office, buy a TiVO box, tape shows during the evenings and weekends when I’m not there, then bring home the tapes to watch on our VHS at the house.
2) We persist with trying to find somewhere on the very limited grounds to install a satellite dish? (Without cutting down trees.) Then find someone to install it. And then hope Direct TV will actually put the dish on it.
3) We meet Time Warner’s extortionate demand. (Strike that one.)
4) We continue to sit out TV (and high-speed Internet access) until we move into our permanent home, at a point still undetermined down the line.

In the meantime, I’ve started unpacking the VHS cassettes. And last night, in lieu of FSC, I watched the first hour of a BBC special from 1994, Goal TV, which someone (my mother?) had taped for me over the course of one long night. Over the course of a highly entertaining hour, I got to watch a tribute to the Brazil‘s World Cup winning team of 1970; the highlights from Real Madrid’s magical 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in the European Cup Final at Hampden Park in 1960; and Hugh McIlvaney’s 1970 TV portrait of George Best. Anything wrong with that picture? Not that I can think of.

No prizes, but there are two song titles in my headline. Can you name them?

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Discussion

9 Comment(s)

  1. Kevin

    28 September, 2005 at 4:54 pm

    Tony,

    Did you contact Dish Network — not quite sure but maybe their feed comes through the valley side?

    – Kevin –

  2. 28 September, 2005 at 10:20 pm

    Good point Kevin, we’re looking into it.

    Tony

  3. Adam

    29 September, 2005 at 1:11 pm

    Have patience Tony and go with your instincts. You have the right answer already – you just have to hold firm. Extras will be out on DVD in the UK at the end of October. Amazon.co.uk is your friend.

    I don’t have any of this satellite/cable stuff (I live in London) and I don’t want it. So I don’t get Curb on TV but I have the first four series on DVD. I have to wait a few months to see it but I’m still out of Murdoch’s reach so that’ll do for a trade.

    My sister-in-law, another exiled Londoner, lives in Western MA, she and her local-born husband have made a decision not to have a TV, only to buy/rent DVDs and use whatever radio stations meet their needs. They read a lot. It’s working out.

    Can’t help you with the football but Chelsea won the 2005/06 title before the cricket season finished – and that’s going to be the pattern for a while now. The press is in a right lather about it over here. You aren’t missing much. Doesn’t help you out with Palace but [insert your own facetious joke about being spared the pain].

    Good luck

  4. Waspman

    29 September, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    Hey Tony,why don’t you look into buying a DVD recorder with it’s own built in Hardrive about 80/ 100gig .A bit like a SKY + box but you can just record from the tv even pause the tv ( i think) because it has so much back up memory.

    Good luck

  5. 29 September, 2005 at 4:01 pm

    Adam

    Thanks for posting and welcome to the community here. It’s amazing how many people do NOT watch big series any more at the time they’re actually broadcast. There’s a whole palava going on in the States about ‘spoilers’ – viewers acted affronted when a series ends and some reviewer gives away the ending. seems like a lot of people want to be able to wait until the DVD series comes out without somehow knowing what happens.

    I don’t really mind not having the TV… except to be able to see the news as opposed to just reading and hearing it. And expect me to comment a lot on these old video tapes I’m digging out!

    Tony

  6. 29 September, 2005 at 4:02 pm

    Waspman

    the DVD recorder is widely available with new cable/satellite set-ups – but absolutely useless unless the companies can actually set up the cable or satellite!

    Thanks anyway

    Tony

  7. Waspman

    29 September, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    Tony

    I meant that you could record of the tv in your office with it ,up to 8 hours worth

  8. 29 September, 2005 at 5:08 pm

    Ah Waspman

    I see what you mean. Right now I don’t have a TV at the office because I didn’t see the point of it. If the Dish Network doesn’t work then I would hook up a TV here and tape programmes to bring home. Either use a TiVO or jump ahead to a hard drive recorder as you suggest. Thanks for the clarification, good point

    Tony

  9. 30 September, 2005 at 3:15 pm

    Tony, far from being an all-round solution, but one option available to you is to download some content at the office via BitTorrent from the uknova.com site. Without getting into a debate on the legality of it, uknova only posts content that is not available commercially – as soon as Extras comes out on DVD, it will not be available on uknova. This seems to be an “arrangement” (implicit rather than explicit, I’d guess) that has kept it from being shut down when a lot of its comparable sites have been.

    This really only covers UK stuff, but you should be able to get Extras and Match of the Day and maybe even some Sky coverage of the Eagkes. I just finished watching the outstanding second series of Shameless … and consequently the word “massive” has temporarily entered my vocabulary.

    Once downloaded (takes a while, but runs in the background) you can burn to a CD-R – if you do it in VCD format, you can pop it in the DVD player at home.

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