TV is Dead (stunted wonderment killed it)

Two million people stopped watching television this last year.

In TV’s worst spring in recent memory, a startling number of Americans drifted away from television the past two months: More than 2.5 million fewer people were watching ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox than at the same time last year, statistics show.

I say good for them. Let’s all stop watching TV. Kill the bastard.

Actually… I don’t really mean that.

You see, this is coming from someone employed by the television industry; so either I’m stupid for endorsing that idea or I’m in the wrong business.

Probably both.

But television has been so diluted over the years that’s it already a staggering, wounded version of its former self. Few programs create water cooler conversation anymore, Idol being the possible exception. Television is no longer the gate keeper to the national discourse.

Now, cute otters holding hands can build a media dynasty.

The expansion of cable. Competition from the Internet. TiVo and file sharing networks that enable viewers to watch on their own time. There are many reasons Television doesn’t have the impact it once did.

The ad men are trying to figure how to price their products. I could care less. I’m more interested in the cultural aspect of the death of TV and the new ways people are receiving their information, their stimulation, and their entertainment.

Don’t mistake my schendenfrued for loathing of television. I think there is a lot of worth to the medium itself, and being able to chose what you want to watch and when is a beautiful thing. I hope to tell some stories on television one day.

It’s the antiquated delivery system I have a problem with.

I’m very select.

I mostly only watch TV late at night. When my eyeballs are sick of looking at a computer screen, I look at a TV screen. Then at the very end of the night I read a book. My eyes are constantly feeding on information.

They’re hungry little fish.

Unless I have company it’s impossible for me to eat a meal without some sort of distraction. I’ll leaf through an apartment guide or even a magazine in Spanish, and I don’t speak Spanish, rather than look at nothing when I eat, than not do something with my brain.

Buddhism tells you to be in the moment, to slow down and appreciate the present. When you eat; just eat. Reminds me of a story, of which I just remember the gist:

A monk was chased off the edge of a cliff by tigers, and as he is hanging on to a vine, at the bottom of which was a half a dozen snapping alligators, he notices growing out the side of the cliff a small patch of strawberries, and the monk reached out and ate a strawberry, and noted that it tasted most beautifully precisely because of the situation, not in spite of it.

I guess he survived to tell this tale, anyway, the point, how it relates to television and the decline of viewership, is that perhaps there is a mini-awakening happening, people are chosing to live their lives, they’re going outdoors, they’re spending time with family, their reading more books. They’re plucking the proverbial strawberry from the cliff, and relishing it. This is good news. Great!

Except it’s more likely, thanks to modern technology, that we’re just watching TV at different times or on different formats that Neilson doesn’t track.

This year, for the first time, Nielsen is measuring viewership in the estimated 17 percent of homes with digital video recorders _ but it only counts them in the ratings of a specific show if they watch it within 24 hours of the original air time.

Is it any coincidence that the shows with dropping neilson numbers are ones that have continuous storylines. Shows like Lost and Heroes, even Desperate Housewives. The type of pulpy, on-going plots that make people not want to miss an episode, or compels them to skip the commercials — in other words, record the suckers and watch it on their own time.

So television shows aren’t dead, just the old concept of TV — the custom, centered around certain nights of the week, specific times, the whole family home at 8:30 sitting on the floor in front of the “boob tube” like leave it to fucking beaver, held captive in Madison Avenue and Corporate America’s commercial loop, then everybody yammering about it the next day at work like trained seals clapping their fins for the beach ball — that TV is dead. It just doesn’t do it for us anymore, it’s not as immediate.


The Internet has a Wild West aspect to it, the ability to throw down your stake and lay your claim, build your own little community in the wired-world. We can make our own TV shows too. Youtube has hundreds, thousands of homemade videos for songs, most of them horribly wretched-emo; nevertheless the power to create our own waste of time is now in our hands. Blogs multiply while you’re not looking, when you’re asleep. Self-expression has never been so cheap.

We are a nation of Lonelygirls55.

So scram, America!

Go. Be. Create.

Be Bohemian.

Carry with you Buddha’s dying words.

Everything that is born is subject to decay. Since their is no external saviour, it is to each of you to work out your own liberation… These are my last words.

It’s nice that Buddha even goes to the trouble of noting his last words for the record, but I wonder what he would have done if he wanted to add something. “oh, oh, oh, wait, and be chill and all that, you know, like, don’t be all ugly to each other. Okay, that’s it, those are my last words now. ”

Look at that! I can’t even contemplate the death of Buddha without turning it into some kind of sitcom scene. Something is wrong with me.

I can’t sit still.
I need to be constantly titilated.
Endlessly captivated.
I belittle things people cherish, for fun.

I have stunted wonderment. These are the symptoms:

  • I don’t know if I can’t cry because I’m hollow, or if I’m hollow because I can’t cry.
  • I can only look at a sunset for 7 seconds then I get bored.
  • I have a slightly higher threshold for babies, of which I can goo-goo-ga-ga for 16 seconds before I turn away.
  • Puppies can elicit almost half a minute of my adoring affection before the ennui returns.
  • I get mad when I see someone on a reality show talk about their feelings. I find it selfish, like I give a fuck.

I’m trying to break out of it. Trying to fight it, you know. Do what the Buddha said: be chill and all that, you know, like, don’t be all ugly to each other.

— Tune in next week for my daring report on the death of radio. Good night, artofstarvers.


How many of you TiVo? Who doesn’t watch TV at all? Thoughts on anything: what the heck to make of Jacob? NBA Playoffs? Paris going to Jail?


4 thoughts on “TV is Dead (stunted wonderment killed it)

  1. As someone who also works in the television industry, I throughoughly enjoyed your column. I must say, that I do not have cable, because unlike some of the bigger paid televisvion execs, I have yet to make a pay check that covers my rent in a week. But I stay on, keep hoping, and waiting for that day when I can take home a check and say, ‘wow’ the work I do IS worth something! Because right now, its my soul. We check our souls at the door before we come into work, manipulate people to make them look interesting, creative, engaging, when if fact they are people who should never be on television in the first place. Let me see a doctor cure cancer. Let me see a rocket scientist build the first real terminator and have it kill him at first spark. ( or computer engineer or whose ever job it is to destroy the world with technology, Bill Gates? I dunno. I have a Masters degree, but television stole my brain) Something anything. I don’t care who ” Loves New York” or which Idol has the worst hair cut. I find myself laughing when people on these reality shows cry. And I hate them as well.
    So maybe we should all join, become part of a revolution and stop this reality crap, and stop crappy tv in general.
    Unite! All I have to say, “Who’s coming with me?”
    Oh, and please look out for the documentary I’m doing on an up and coming band.
    I’ll post the dates for you. 😉

  2. As I read this I’m currently watching my favorite television show of all time, Futurama, on DVD. Thanks to Netflix I can now rent all of my favorite television an catch up with a whole season in a weekend. Thanks to the internet I managed to catch up to Heroes by watching the entire series with one thirty second Nissan Commercial between every act. I’m also hooked to an entire “television” Soap Opera/Serial that can only be found online (it’s called Prom Queen, I’m pretty sure you won’t enjoy it.)

    I took a television studies class in college that taught me how completely innacurate Neilsons ratings have been since the invention of VCR. I hope, for my jobs sake, that television continues to evolve, because even if you feel that you might be constantly over stimulated, something interesting is happening to the world…it might be getting smaller. It’s the information you choose to digest, out of all of this, is what really matters…I think. And despite quantity, there are always people out there who are looking for quality.

  3. You, my dear Becky, are a perfect example of why Neilson ratings don’t work. It pisses me off that they cancel good shows like Arrested that aren’t getting ratings when they know people are watching and buying the DVDs, just not tuning in at the right time to be counted. It’s bullshite.

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