Television? What’s That?


A funny conversation over the weekend with a friend who doesn’t own a TV and is being bullied by the government to buy a licence. It seems they can’t grasp that someone might not own a TV, and are now threatening him to buy a licence or got to court.

While we have a TV, it’s used for DVDs and broadband, but never to actually watch TV channels. I haven’t seen regular television for at least five years, although I’ll use iPlayer on my computer. This means that whole fads and crazes pass us by; X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, meerkats and Michael Winner saying ‘Calm down, dear’ all have to be explained, and the explanation is usually more interesting than the programme.

If something happened to sweep the channels away, I’d keep the various BBCs and er, that’s it. Who watches wine channels, holiday channels, religious channels, channels so small that their audiences aren’t measurable? I used to think this made me a freak, but I’m meeting more and more people like me. After a while you can’t get back into TV because it has become completely self-referential, and the channels’ stables of comics just make jokes about TV shows you’ve never seen. I do remember Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, but I guess they’re getting on a bit.

It’s starting to feel as if TV was a postwar pastime that’s going the way of the jigsaw – young families keep the viewing figures stable while older people switch to multi-media computers – isn’t this the wrong way around?

11 comments on “Television? What’s That?”

  1. Alison says:

    I suffer from much the same lack of TV watching as you (is suffer the correct word?) I have no clue at all about X Factor and Strictly and so on (makes life SO difficult when one is getting one’s hair done, darling), and I’m proud to say I’ve never watched an episode of EastEnders, nor one of Coronation St since Elsie Tanner left. I watch DVDs if I even bother switching on the beast in the corner, but usually I can be found hunched over a book or listening to the radio. People think I’m ‘quaint’ and assume I’m terribly clever.

  2. Vicki says:

    Another advantage is that you have absolutely no idea who or what the Daily Mail are on about in their ” entertainment” pages 😉 Downside is that in our last pub quiz we got 2 out of ten for entertainment( Kim Kardasian – who?) but still won as we got ten out of ten for geography! Now where is that Atlas?

  3. Matt says:

    I’m mostly with you, but there are some benefits to a range of channels. I recently discovered one called Sky Arts 2 which shows obscurely fascinating documentaries about violins and classics of pre-war German cinema and all sorts. Not that everything has to be high-brow, either, there’s some good comedy on these days, as ever. You can watch TV without watching dross, just like you can read books without reading Twilight. It’s a very ignorant snobbery that prompts people to say they don’t watch television, because it’s beneath them.

  4. Antony Clayton says:

    You’re quite right Chris about the fate of TV – there are growing numbers of people out there switching off, although I still like doing jigsaws. I’m now of an age where I feel no shame and even some pride at having to have a celebrity/ smash hit show reference explained to me. On the other hand, I’m surprised how many people, even of my age, have never heard of someone like Aleister Crowley when I mention his name. Never seen Strictly, BB, X Factor, My Family etc. Mind you, Mad Men is good – watched it on dvd.

  5. Laura Wilson says:

    I have a lot of sympathy with your friend. My 85-year-old mother, who has never owned a TV and never intends to get one, is constantly being hounded by the licensing people, who greet her protestations with utter disbelief.

  6. Gretta says:

    Terrestrial TV in NZ is beyond dire(Maori TV excepted). Take all the foodie, reality and ‘freak’ shows out and you’re left with absolutely nowt. My weekly watching currently consists of Downton, and even that is an hour-long procession of eye-rolling until we can get to a one-liner from Dame Maggie. I was pleased to see that Game of Thrones and Treme were here, but then hmphed to find out they were only available on Sky, which I refuse to get.

    Alison – Elsie Tanner! Now *there* was a woman. I saw in passing an episode recently, and all the Coro women are orange with bottle-blonde hair. Errr…?

  7. tankard says:

    …what is also annoying is when folk ask you did you see such and such last night and I say No, I don’t have a telly. They then proceed to try to discuss the programme with you. Listen matey, I-do-not-have-a- telly; which means that I haven’t got the foggiest notion of what you are on about. They actually have no ability to comprehend the fact that you do not watch TV. Full Stop.

  8. BangBang!! says:

    TV seems to be no different now than it’s ever been – a curate’s egg. There is some great stuff to watch and a lot of dross. For every Mythbusters there’s an X Factor. For every BBC2 there’s a Sky Living. I treat it as I would a library or bookshop and have a good hunt around and pick out the good stuff. If I can’t find anything I….. ahem …read a book. Ok, bad analogy!

  9. Daniel says:

    I think the reason it tends to be the older/better off/more intellectually engaged who make the switch away from scheduled broadcasting, either ditching the telly altogether or else consuming it on more individual terms, is that the people who fall into the categories I mentioned are more likely to genuinely understand that in entertainment, just like everything else in life, there are other options if you want them. With the exceptions of the very poorest or most technology averse, there’s no other reason in this day and age for taking your screen entertainment on somebody else’s schedule.

    There are very few things I watch at the time of first transmission which aren’t a sporting event of some description, although there have a been a few dramas lately which I’ve been so keen to keep up with that I go out of my way to watch them as soon as possible. (The Shadow Line, Boardwalk Empire, Treme, Game of Thrones) Otherwise, it gets streamed, DVR’d or bought as a boxset. To quote a line a friend of mine used about herself, “My various queues, hard drives and DVDs show that I want to watch quality programming, just not right now.”

    I would add a slight caveat to what I said above when it comes to “event” programming, such as X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. I think they tap into the same part of the brain as sports; people watch them as much for the sense of inclusion as they do for the entertainment value inherent in the format. As a lifelong football and cricket devotee, I can vouch for the ability of a sense of inclusion and dedication to keep a person watching even the direst of stuff.

  10. Sparro says:

    I remember BBC2 starting, and it purported to be a culture and arts channel. Now look at it, although I don’t look at it any more, or any other channel. If it wasn’t for my partner watching The News, I would not have a telly. I watch programs on i-player on my computer, bu then I’m a Radio 4 enthusuiast.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    I liked Daniel’s remark about inclusion. That feels about right somehow. I’m glad BangBang mentioned Mythbusters as it is one of my favourite escapes. I even found myself in a lunchtime queue discussing the testing of American Civil War cannon with two young men self described as a nerd and a geek. Didn’t watch Downton Abbey but did watch Foyle’s War. I’ve found fascinating documentaries and interviews, both local and international, and I occasionally watch sporting events (baseball, hockey, and soccer although I will not watch N. American football)and there’s a detective series set c. 1900 in Toronto, Ont. of which I’m very fond. I can remember years ago people saying they wouldn’t have a tv because it was just trash, and today it’s the same thing with the same trash, but there are other things too. Watch what’s good and if there isn’t anything good at the moment – read a book, go for a walk, do a crossword (provided the clues aren’t all sports and tv) or a jigsaw, have a discussion. It’s all good.

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