Happy to be a Zero TV Home

When we moved into our new house, MG and I didn't bother calling the cable or satellite TV company. Instead we decided to became what is called a Zero TV home. Yes we still have a TV but anything we watch are online or through inexpensive subscription services like Netflix. (Marathon Girl is streaming a show on Netflix as I write this.)

Apparently this is becoming more and more common:

Some people have had it with TV. They've had enough of the 100-plus channel universe. They don’t like timing their lives around network show schedules. They’re tired of $100-plus monthly bills.

A growing number of them have stopped paying for cable and satellite TV service, and don’t even use an antenna to get free signals over the air. These people are watching shows and movies on the Internet, sometimes via cellphone connections. Last month, the Nielsen Co. started labeling people in this group "Zero TV" households, because they fall outside the traditional definition of a TV home. There are 5 million of these residences in the U.S., up from 2 million in 2007.

Marathon Girl and I have been happy being a Zero TV home and have no plans on going back to regular TV ever again.

Just a few of the positive changes we've noticed since cutting the cord include:

  • We spend more time together as a family.
  • We spend more time together as a couple.
  • I spend more time writing.
  • The kids fight less.
  • We spend more time outside.
  • We watch less TV. A lot less. The few shows we do watch tend to be only those we find worth our time and we watch then when it’s convenient—not when broadcasters want us to.

Here’s a list of negatives: .

For those who haven’t tried it, I highly suggest giving Zero TV a try for a month. I think you’ll notice a positive difference in your life too. More time and freedom is a wonderful thing.

Go On is Still Worth Watching

Back in August, I reviewed the pilot episode of the Matthew Perry comedy Go On. I said the show had lots of potential and hoped that the subsequent episodes would be as funny as the pilot episode. Since then the show’s aired three other episodes—all of which have been just as funny, smart, and heartwarming as the pilot. For those who aren't familiar with the show, Go On is about a sports talk radio host Ryan King (Matthew Perry) who has recently lost his wife and is trying to move forward. As a condition of employment he has to attend a support group. Since the pilot episode we’ve learned more about the different people in the support group and that moving on isn’t as cut and dry and the King character wants it to be.

Trying to make people laugh about grief and loss isn't easy yet somehow the writers continue find a way to humorously address issues about loss without going over the top. (And for those who think you shouldn't make light of loss, grief, or moving on, please grow up.)

Hilarious highlights of recent episodes include:

Go On is a comedy that just about anyone can enjoy. The only people that may have a hard time with it are the recently widowed. If the loss is too recent the humor of a widower trying to move on will probably fall flat. But for anyone else, the show’s worth at least one episode of your time.

4.5 stars (out of 5) for the first four episodes of Go On.

You can watch the most recent episode below.

Cutting the Cord

One of the changes we’ve made since moving into the new home is that we no opted not to get cable or satellite TV. We can’t even get over the air TV because the digital TV signals are too weak in our neck of the woods.

Much to my surprise, I haven’t noticed much of a difference in my TV viewing habits. To be honest, writing takes up a big bulk of my free time so I don’t watch much TV anyway. Aside from live sporting events I really only have time for maybe one show a week. But when I do want to watch something, it’s usually content from Hulu, Netflix, or one of the websites or apps for the TV networks. If I want news, there’s hundreds of news sites where I can read what I want in about 10 minutes. And if I want live sports, well, there are places where one can watch those events too.

The only show I’m watching with any regularity is Go On and I’m fine curling up with Marathon Girl after a long day and watching that the day or two after it airs. Even the kids, who limited TV watching consists mostly of shows on the Disney Channel can watch the latest shows on the iPad.

Back when I was a kid, if you went without TV in a way you were cut off from the world. Today, you’re not. If anything it frees you to watch things on your own schedule. I love it. And right now I see no reason why I’d ever go back.

Random Thoughts

(With apologies in advance to Thomas Sowell.) For the first time in years I’ve had a hard time getting up in the mornings to run. I think it’s because school’s started and the boys don’t have time in the mornings to come with me on their bikes.

I will move to the Houston area one day. If Houston doesn’t work out, then I’ll move somewhere in Texas. Yes, even Austin. :-)

After watching the Detroit Tigers once again collapse after the All-Star Break, I wonder how much long-term damage I’m doing to my kids by letting them become Tiger fans.

I wish I was a good artist. Then I could write killer stories and turn them into awesome graphic novels.

I can’t get the song “Love Is All Around” out of my head. I blame Marathon Girl since I’ve done nothing but stay with her all day.

Forget writing groups, I want a brainstorming group. You know, one where I can share at least one half-dozen novels that are floating around in my head and get some feedback from readers and writers. Isn’t that one of the things that a writing group does, you ask? Yes. But a writing group requires a long-term commitment. I don’t have time for that right now.

Between Hulu, Netflix, and all the other network websites I find that I don’t miss TV at all. Not. One. Bit.

Johnny Damon hasn’t done much for the Tigers but I was glad to see him stay in Detroit. Maybe next time Red Sox fans will think twice before coming vitriolic toward players who leave their team.

The nice thing about discovering an author that you haven’t read before is that he or she has usually written several other novels that you can dive into. My new author discovery this summer? Harlan Coben.

I need more than six hours of sleep a night.

I’m glad football season is about to begin. I’m looking forward to taking the kids to some low-intensity college football games in the coming months.

I Won't Be Watching LOST :-(

As much as it's going to kill me, I won't be watching the season premier of LOST tonight. Prior obligations means I'll have to wait until Wednesday night to see it.

All I ask is that no one spoils it for me. If anyone does, they'll end up as one of the bad guys in my next novel. :-)

At least I got to watch the first four minutes. It looks like they hit the reset button.

To TV or not to TV – That is the Question

Digital TV

Back in October I was deciding whether or not to get a digital TV converter boxes. The main reason for wanting one was so I could watch season five of LOST without having to wait until the next day to watch it online. Then Congress, in their infinite wisdom, decided to push the digital TV date back from February 17 to June 12. My problem was solved – at least for four months. I ended up watching LOST and forgot about the entire digital television switch until Friday when Marathon Girl called and mentioned that the kids couldn’t find the one afternoon TV show they watch because of the switch.

"How are they handling it?" I asked.

"Fine," Marathon Girl said. "They’re playing with trains instead."

Over the weekend we talked about buying a digital converter box so we could at least get local channels (which is somewhat risky considering that the TV signal we did get was good but not great) or getting a satellite dish. In the end we decided not to do anything – at least for now. It’s not a question of expense but whether or not a converter box or a satellite TV would even be worth it considering that our viewing habits don’t involve sitting in front of the boob tube flitting through channels deciding what to watch.

With the exception of LOST all the other shows we watch take place on Friday or Saturday night via Hulu or DVD. If there’s a new series we’ve heard a lot about, we’ll go online and watch an episode or two to see if it’s worth continuing to watch online or put in our Netflix queue. In the last year we’ve watched Battlestar Galactica, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, The Office, Moonlight, the HBO miniseries John Adams, and a handful of other programs this way.

And we’ve really come to prefer it – especially for exciting, well-written shows like Battlestar Galactica where we can get two or three episodes done in one sitting instead of spacing them out a week at a time. Even things like local news, which a decade ago I watched with religiously, are better online. Instead of sitting through a 30 minute newscast, I can pick the stories – If any – I want to watch when I want to watch them. A decade from now I wouldn’t be surprised if most people watch TV online as opposed to tuning in and watching it live and TV networks do away with things like fall lineups and instead start shows at odd times.

The solution isn’t perfect. Sometimes I have to close my office door when the guys at work are talking about a show I haven’t caught up on – or even seen – yet. But even if I overhear a spoiler or two, I’ll take the freedom that comes with watching shows online or on DVD over having 100+ channels to surf through. I get more writing done and spend more time with the family. And I can learn to live without the live sporting that may catch my eye.

I have no idea what I’ll do when the final season of LOST comes around. At some point I’ll probably be overwhelmed with the desire to watch it live and Marathon Girl and I will have this debate in about six months or so. But odds are we’ll end up watching it on Hulu the next day.

I'll learn to live with it.

It’s a small price to pay for freedom that comes with it.

ABC's "V" Trailer

If you grew up in the 80s like me, you probably watched the show "V." I can't remember much of the show other than it gave me the creeps every time I watched it but was really fascinated with the idea of aliens coming to Earth and pretending to be good guys but secretly eating everyone. Now ABC is brining "V" back and from the trailer below, it actually looks like it might be worth watching. And since Elizabeth Mitchell stars, maybe that will get me over my LOST withdrawal until January.

When Less is More at the Gym

Treamills with Televisions

My gym’s going upscale.

In a bad way.

They’ve spent the last few days adding flat screen TV monitors to the treadmills. By the end of the Thanksgiving holiday they’ve promised us that these sets will be functional and we’ll be able to stare blankly at whatever channel we want (Really? Any channel? I see a lawsuit coming.) from a screen 12 inches from our faces instead of staring blankly at the ones on the wall.

Here’s the problem: When I worked on the other side of town, the gym on that side of town did exactly the same thing.

I hated it.

Since running on a treadmill is infinitely more boring then running outside, I can see the need for a distraction. When Marathon Girl was forced to use the treadmill in our basement, you can bet she has a move playing to distract her. When I run at the gym, I usually find a treadmill near to the TV with ESPN so I can glance at the football highlights (or whatever they’re showing) while I run.

But I don’t plug in the earphones to listen to the sound because I’m usually 1) thinking about what I need to write that night in my book 2) silently mocking the people on the treadmill who are trying to talk on their cell phone and “run” or 3) checking out how fast other people nearby are running and, if they’re running faster, seeing if I can keep up with their pace for five minutes. All of these are in infinitely more interesting than staring at a TV screen.

Now instead of having a TV monitor that I can glance at occasionally, I’m going to have a screen right in front of my face.

It wouldn’t be too bad if I could move the monitor and push it out of my way, far from my line of sight, so I could glance at it occasionally like I do now. Instead they’re attached to some kind of titanium bracket which I doubt even the Incredible Hulk could bend.

Then to rub salt on the wound there’s no way to turn the TV sets off.

So you have to stare at something, even if you’d rather stare at nothing.

At the very least, it would have been nice if they left a handful of treadmills without the TVs for the few souls like myself who would rather do something than watch television. But no, they converted every damn one of them.

The elliptical machines are next.

It makes me glad I cut the number of runs I do each week at the gym from five to three and replaced the two runs with two 30-minute swims. As far as I know, they haven’t found a way to put TV screens in the pool.

Knowing How to Tell A Story

LOST cartoon

Writing in the (Salt Lake) Deseret News, Scott Pierce makes the following observation:

On multiple occasions in this column, yours truly has written that "Lost" took a sudden turn for the better.

That, once an end date was announced, the show quickly became much more watchable. Actually, that it stopped being unwatchable after a second season that drove viewers away by the millions. I'm not the only one who thinks so.

"That made all the difference in the world," executive producer Carlton Cuse said. "We now basically knew exactly how much time we had left to tell our story, and we were basically able to blast towards that ending. I think that really completely changed our storytelling approach."

I made a similar observation last year when ABC gave LOST and end date because I knew it would give the writers a time frame to work with. It’s a lot easier for the writers to tell as story when you know the story’s going to end. That gives the writers the ability to have all the pieces fit into place.

I hope the final two seasons of LOST prove to be a big success because I think all television networks should examine their hit shows and decide years in advance when to end them. That way you avoid the "ER" debacle where the show has just dragged on and on and lost any sense of what it was. (USA’s "Monk" is heading down a similar road.) It also avoids the fate of "The X-Files" where the last episode ranks as one of the worst finale of a long-running television series.

Were I in charge of a TV network, after a show has had two hit seasons, I’d sit down with the producers, creators, and head writers and figure out where the show it going and a good time frame to end it. I think that would increase or, at the very least, stabilize the number of viewers and give them a hope that their favorite TV show will have a satisfying ending.