Looking at the channels of the 25 shows I have DVRed for later viewing, I see only 14 different channels. To that add the live sports I watch on four other channels, and we get a grand total of 18 channels a month. Feeling further the outlier, I see that every single taped show is from prime time. In fact, the only TV shows I watch NOT in prime time are sports and news.
Now, none of this counts what I watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime, which -- unlike my kids, who can't afford cable -- isn't much (at least until we see how long it will take someone to try and assassinate Francis Underwood.) By the way, if you try out the new WheretoWatch.com site launched by the film and television industry’s lobbying arm, which "makes it easy for consumers to find where their favorite shows are available," you will find descriptions of shows like the “Battlestar Galactica”-sounding “Ascension” that are not yet available, well, anywhere. But to be fair, the site is in beta.
What I find so interesting about all of this is that it only reaffirms how central TV is to our lives.
While we no longer gather around as a family to watch one of only three available broadcast networks (who can forget Jack Parr, Ed Sullivan, "Amos & Andy," "I Love Lucy," and "The Mickey Mouse Show"?) these days, most suburban homes have four or five TVs all equipped with some type of DVRs so that everyone one can watch what they want when they want. If they don't want to see it on a glorious 50-inch HD screen, they can generally find in on their iPad or laptops -- so that teens can act out their conviction that the rest of the family "just sucks."
We have gone from the marriage-ending single-screen "battle for the remote" to the "have your lawyer call my lawyer" accusation of who deleted what episode before someone else watched it. On-demand has saved more than one marriage.
All of this convenience has come at an extraordinary cost. Gone are the days of the one-time costs of the TV and the roof antenna. My current monthly cable bill (a third consumed by Internet costs) is about $350. Which doesn't include the added costs of Netflix and Amazon Prime -- or, when the kids are home, the movies they buy on-demand (which they assume isn't real money, since all they have to do is hit the Yes button right before the words "Your Film Will Now Begin" fill the screen.)
The net effect of all this pricey convenience is that I find myself watching more TV than ever. Don't know about you, but I don't miss the days of having to reorganize my social life so I wouldn't miss an important episode of a series I loved (like "Gunsmoke" -- or, more recently, "The Sopranos" or "The Wire"). Now it's a matter of avoiding social media so when you time-shift an episode, some moron who already saw it in say, England, doesn't give away the plot line. (And adding "Spoiler Alert" does not make it cool.)
I find that discussing shows that my kids and I both watch (NEVER in the same room or at the same time) is a way to get some insights into how they view the world, a valuable perspective not provided by the "Fine" said in response to the requisite dinnertime query of "How was your day?" So, although we are not all sitting huddled around the 15-inch black-and-white, there are times when TV still knits us together as a family -- and at times, a nation.