Hollywood Beat: Notes On Cutting The Cord And NBC's Genre Programs

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, USA (@peteramartin)
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Hollywood Beat: Notes On Cutting The Cord And NBC's Genre Programs

I cut the cable cord last year, but I'm not always happy about it.

I had to wait a year before seeing Season 2 of Game of Thrones, for example, and will have to wait to see Season 3 until next year. I only have to wait to see Mad Men or Breaking Bad until the day after the episodes air, but then I have to buy the individual episodes via a Video On Demand service.

Other than my own impatience, though, and frequent irritation with social media over spoilers, I'm very happy to remain within my limited budget and not feel completely deprived of the television experience. Even with poor over-the-air broadcast reception, I can keep up with a decent number of programs, either watching them live when I'm home or via the Hulu Plus streaming service, which features a good number of shows that air on Fox, NBC and ABC. As it happens, I get good television reception of the local CBS and The CW affiliates, so I watch those few program on those networks that I like -- 60 Minutes and The Good Wife on CBS, Beauty and the Beast on The CW -- live as they're airing.

And what I've found is that I watch even less TV than I did in the past. When I had cable, I was always tempted to graze through the channels, inevitably finding something that caught my eye and wasting a fair amount of time just flipping through the hundreds of options available. Or, I might leave one of the cable news networks on in the background while I worked. Nowadays, when I watch TV, it's with a purpose: either to sample a new show or keep up with a favorite.

As a byproduct of watching more shows via Hulu Plus, I've become less aware of the nightly schedule, and even which network broadcasts which show. So I was a bit surprised that most of the shows I've been watching have originated with one network: NBC.

hannibal-tv-350.jpgStill, I was disappointed to learn that NBC's Hannibal has been left in limbo. As our own Andrew Mack has detailed in his reviews, the series has become more compelling as it finds its own feet -- and as Mads Mikkelsen put his own stamp on the iconic character of Hannibal Lecter. But that hasn't translated into the kind of ratings that NBC wants or needs, so the series has been put on the back burner; it's not officially cancelled, which means it could return, potentially, as a mid-season replacement.

Community, whose creative woes have been chronicled by ScreenAnarchy's Ben Umstead this season, is, will return at mid-season for 13 episodes, but whether that's a good thing in its current incarnation is highly debatable. I found myself watching more out of a sense of obligation than enjoyment; it wasn't quite "hate watching," but it approached that sense of dread as the season wore on. The better alternative on Thursday night is Parks and Recreation, which remains fresh and funny and features a similarly talented group of performers. It's not a show that I'd want to analyze too closely, but the chemistry between the characters feels real. As a bonus, there's a minimum of mean-spirited behavior, which has increasingly soured me on other highly-touted comedies.

I've also grown to enjoy Grimm, and it will be returning for a third season this fall. Its procedural, 'monster of the week' nature can become predictable, but the (so far) endless supply of mythical creatures who visit Portland, Oregon, as well as the developing depth of its characters and strong and bloody action beats are all ticking like clockwork. It will be teamed on Friday nights with a new version of Dracula, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who can be a persuasive performer, but its continued existence will depend on whether it can possibly provide any new angles on the story.

My viewing options may have been compromised to an extent by cutting the cable cord, but I am reminded of Theodore Sturgeon's adage: "Ninety percent of everything is crap." I'm just watching less of it.

Hollywood Beat is a column on the film and TV industry by ScreenAnarchy's Managing Editor Peter Martin.

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Chuck May 21, 2013 12:13 PM

I have done the same thing and my wallet thanks me for it.Not having to pay for TV saves me about $150 a month and I am lucky that I live in an area that offers Fiber Optic internet for a steal of a price (35.99 a month for 100Mbps down /20 up). I use a cheap antenna to get the BIG 3 and PBS and I use Hulu and Netflix for all other watching. I also find that both me and the wife watch way less TV then before and for things like Game of Thrones you always have the internet for either A. watching it on HBO Go or B. downloading the Torrent of it once it airs.

pootietangMay 21, 2013 1:45 PM

On the topic of genre programming on NBC, I must admit that, although not a fan of anything on broadcast TV, they are continually pushing boundaries on the drama side. Shows last season's AWAKE (one of the best shows of the season IMHO) and a few that never made past the pilot stage, and now HANNIBAL, have shown that NBC is indeed trying to be different. The problem lies in the fact that they're still a broadcast network and thus are hindered by that framework. The shows they're putting out deserve a cable treatment to reach their full potential. If NBC cancels the series, and it looks like they very just might considering they lack of action, I hope a cable network, or even a Netflix, picks it up.

Peter MartinMay 21, 2013 4:20 PM

Agree about the high quality of last season's AWAKE -- I would have loved to have seen what they did in future seasons. I'd guess part of their willingness to take chances has been their overall dip in ratings share, which has, perhaps, made them more open to new ideas. HANNIBAL has some international backing behind it, so that could make a difference as far as its future is concerned, whether on NBC or elsewhere.

Peter MartinMay 21, 2013 4:24 PM

That's a great price for broadband. I'm paying $60.00 monthly for a slower service than you. I supplement OTA viewing with Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime, which gives me enough movies and older TV shows for now, and will add Netflix back into the mix as soon as I can.

But as far as I understand, HBO GO is only available for cable subscribers, and I refuse to download illegal torrents. I'd rather HBO offered a quicker option to buy episodes, but until -- or if -- it ever happens, I have plenty of other things to watch.

Less Lee MooreMay 21, 2013 9:38 PM

I agree with your assessment, but I'd like to mention that living in Canada presents far fewer legal options. We can't access Hulu and don't get channels such as The CW via OTA antennas. We are frequently geoblocked from watching US shows online. Even our Netflix options are limited. I feel compelled to mention this because rarely does anyone mention it on film blogs or articles about non-linear TV.

Peter MartinMay 21, 2013 10:32 PM

Thanks for your comments. In future columns, I'd like to give more attention to viewing and streaming options outside the U.S,. This is a good starting point for the discussion.

calciferbohemeMay 22, 2013 2:03 AM

I wish we could cut out cable, or at least switch to a basic package. But the channels my girlfriend watches are in the digital package, so there's not much i can do about it. I have a TV in my work room, but it's only on for my must watch shows or so I can put on a dvd. Most of my viewing these days is online.

benuMay 22, 2013 6:09 PM

Such a prime (time) piece, Peter. A personal tale/take on this is what we always, always need.

As a child of the 90s who never, not once lived in a household with cable (it was on occasion that strange thing the neighbors had) I've been more than happy as a twenty-something adult who uses online services like Hulu, Amazon and the network's own sites to watch television programs. It gives me distance to media and the medium when I so desire it, gives me added control (or at least a stronger illusion of control) to what and how I watch.

Though I greatly enjoyed watching X-men, Batman, The Simpsons or Seinfeld every week (or weekday as it were), and later such things as Alias and Lost, I always found cable TV to be very overwhelming. Network television seemed to be enough for me as a kid, though I could care less now due to some of the reasons you sight above. Still, too many channels and nothing on is still a sentiment I could get behind in regards to cable.

This past week when the cable was still hooked up at my sublet, I turned the TV on and enjoyed a few repeats of Seinfeld, reveled in watching Mad Men and Doctor Who on a TV (what a novelty!), but otherwise was turned off by all the "noise", and just decided to turn it off.