Posts from September 27, 2004

TV and me

TV and me

: I came to a shocking realization over the last few days:

I don’t watch broadcast TV anymore.

Now that’s shocking because I love TV. I was the TV critic for TV Guide and People magazines and I created a damned entertainment mag and appeared on TV and watched TV. I kept four VCRs going at once almost every night. I knew what was happening in every corner of prime time. This weekend, when I took my son on the NBC studios tour in New York (our clever avoidance of a visit to the American Girl store with the women of the house), I was the only person in the group who could name every founding cast member of Saturday Night Live. TV was my life. Was.

But here comes the new fall season and, frankly, I couldn’t give a damn. I’m not watching any new series. I’m not following old series. I’m not watching broadcast TV. Three reasons:

1. The internet and the distraction of blogs. I spend a great deal of my day doing just what I’m doing at this second: reading and writing on the internet. I don’t consume media anymore; I live it.

2. Cable is so damned good. There are great shows on cable, especially on HBO, and I watch them with the same devotion I used to give to Cheers or Hill St. Blues and Seinfeld. But The Sopranos and The Wire and Curb Your Enthusiasm are better and more addictive. And even when I’m not watching them, I’m watching niche TV: We love do-it-yourself home improvement shows, for example. As with all other media, one-size-fits all is dead; nice programming — quality niches, special-interest niches, audience niches — are taking over.

3. Broadcast is getting so damned bad. I am not now and never have been and never will be a snob about TV. I look down my nose at people who look down their noses at people who watch TV; I distrust anybody who brags to me that they don’t own a TV or just watch PBS. Bull. But I do have to say that I have not become a regular with The Apprentice or Survivor or American Idol and I do believe that — as with all other trends that threatened to eat TV — these, too shall pass. And then where will the networks be?

All of this is to say that the studies showing a decline in TV viewership tied to an increase in internet usage are right. I’m the damned poster child.

A greater percentage of the Internet households surveyed by the Digital Future Project indicated that they spent less time watching TV in 2003 than previous years. Nearly 38 percent said they spent less time watching television in 2003, compared to 31 percent in 2002, and 33 percent in 2001.

The greatest impact on television viewing was seen among veteran users with 7+ years online, with 45.5 percent saying they watched less since they started using the Internet. In 2001, just 35 percent said the Internet caused them to watch less TV. That swelled to 38 percent in 2002.

Just wait until TV explodes with alternate means of delivery — via the internet — and alternate sources of programming — the citizens. The death of the network age, so often predicted, is upon us.

Issues2004: Energy police

Issues2004: Energy police

: This is an easy one, right?

We want to end our dependency on foreign oil, right?

Then why the hell have we not made one damned inch of progress toward that goal?

My big break as a cup reporter came in ’73-’74, when I worked for Chicago Today (a paper that had no tomorrow) and ended up covering the energy crisis. I lucked into covering gas lines and ended up on the front page day after day because — if you’re old enogh to remember, you will remember — we were caught in a national gasoline panic. There were shortages and lines everywhere. Prices skyrocketed. Price controls hovered. We vowed we would get out from under the thumb of the Arab oil oligarchy.

How soon we forget, huh?

We’re just as dependent upon foreign oil today as we were then. And, no, I’m not going to go blaming SUV drivers (who often buy for the four-wheel-drive, not the extra ton). It’s bigger than that.

It’s a failing of government policy and business innovation and national will at every level.

And now we are paying the price. Oh, boy, are we. So what should we do about it? Well, as I emphasize in all these Issues2004 posts, I am no expert. But I’ll start here:

: Gasoline: We must reduce our driving dependency on gasoline. Hybrid engines are a start, at last. So let’s find every possible way to encourage more gas efficiency. I suggest a self-liquidating, Peter-Paul tax that gives rebates to efficient car buyers paid for by inefficient car buyers. It’s not a tax. It’s a transfer of wealth and energy ethics.

: Nuclear power: I would far rather deal with the devil atom than the devil Arab. I’m as freaked as the next guy at scenes from China Syndrome. But it’s time to get over our nuclear jitters. I now (suddenly) believe that the more we can generate energy with nuclear power, the better. Let’s be smart. Let’s be safe. But let’s not be stupid and let our fears of nukes prevent us from using this using this powerful energy source.

: R&D: We have to cut through all limitations to create a Manhattan Project for energy independence, bringing together academics and corporate scientists — antitrust be damned — to find new ways to reduce our oil addiction. This includes reducing regulation and increasing tax advantages for R&D and even creating the means for scientists to communicate openly. You want to have a 9/11 Commission that actually accomplishes something meaningful for our future and our safety, start the Energy Commission and put former Presidents on it along with CEOs of energy and auto companies and energy utilities.

: Reduce Arabs’ dependence, too: As we cut the Arab world off from dependence on our oil dollars, we must replace it with new economic relationships not with Arab governments but with the Arab people: That is, we must create jobs via commerce and, yes, outsourcing. Otherwise, we’ll only create more desperation and anger. If we do this properly, we transfer prosperity and economic power from corrupt Arab governments to the Arab people.

Your thoughts?