I’m in a real slump right now when it comes to the television shows currently playing. The tube is going down the tubes, so to speak. It’s not that you can’t find something to watch. Just head off the main highway and drive the back roads until you encounter the fresh stuff sold at a fly-by-night farmer stand. Know what I mean, bean? But some days the mindless actions of the networks that ruin anything good, in all violation of the iron rule of making money, gets me down.

I cancelled my cable a few years back, because I’m sick of paying sixty bucks a month to watch two or three channels that sometimes have something entertaining on. Come on, TNT, I’ve got all the good James Bond movies on DVD and can watch them whenever I feel like. Are crummy “Bond marathons” the best you got? Cartoon network makes me ralph my cookies. I can get just about all my fave cartoons on DVD now (save for a few minor gems, like Marine Boy or Prince Planet), and adult swim can jump the shark already. All the good stuff will be there, eventually.

See, I’ve gotten into the habit of just waiting for the good stuff to come out on DVD. I don’t care about the television channels anymore because they don’t know how to manage good programming and they waste my time with 5 minutes of commercials for every 7 minutes of show. I remember when the big networks laughed at the idea that anyone would “pay” for television. Now you pay for television AND get commercials. That’s in addition to a general decline in quality of shows, with less risk taking and more franchises/re-imaginings. I can tune into my parent’s cable channel with the sound turned off and go, “oh, look, another cop show that rips off Hill Street Blues.”

I think the corporate seizing of “intellectual property” has choked off innovation. Networks are repeating themselves over and over, and nothing new is coming out. When a fresh idea comes about by accident, you get an instant glomming over to that new idea to exploit the show for cash and residual merchandizing. That’s why we get crummy programs that last two or three seasons way after the original idea was burned out.

Then there’s the Internet’s ability to grow a consensus rapidly about a show’s shortcomings. Maintaining a show’s image has become harder for networks because they can’t milk an audience as easily. The pressure on the actual creators of a show has only increased. The public relations of a show can reach ludicrous proportions, with outright lying and manipulation to keep people watching for that “one big twist” around the corner. Meanwhile, the show’s quality crumbles and crumbles.

The other day, my folks told me they’re canceling their cable. The cable company hiked the rates and they didn’t think it was worth what they are paying. I’m like, “Whoa, what are you going to watch late at night while you’re drifting off to bed?” They ask me about setting up a DVD/VCR upstairs and getting a Netflix account versus satellite versus Verizon Fi-OS. They want to watch the Best of Johnny Carson to start with, and then this list of other shows. I’m seriously doing a double take here. I don’t know what they’ll ultimately do, but I can’t help but feel it’s a sign that something is going on.

I’ve been hearing about ‘ala carte’ television for a while now, and it hasn’t happened yet. But I think the time for it can’t be far off. What happens when people can share ‘libraries’ of movies as easily as MP3s? Granted, I think that’s happening in some form or another now. I see it happening with younger folks on a limited basis. I certainly don’t mind loaning a friend, say my Buffy DVDs to watch their Star Trek DVDs. In other words, there’s a marketplace of entertainment taking shape where people exchange common interests and ideas and see what the best thing is for themselves. The television channels are all merging into a single experience – the preview channel.

Or look at this way. Most everybody I know in my various different social groups knows someone who has a tricked up home theater setup. You know, the Best Buy/Circuit City mega-destructoid system. How can you compete with people’s prime enjoyable experience of media being in their own living room, or the living room of their friend? Theaters can’t compete with the home ground advantage. It’s not that there won’t always be a place for neutral ground for dating purposes, for example. But it’s going to be a greatly reduced part of what people do to entertain themselves.

The networks are going to have to reinvent the way they do business, maybe actually generate some new material, because they are on the outskies. It’s going to be in production or nothing. You got fifty new shows? My friend has two hundred old ones in her library, and can tell me on a personal connection which ones are any good. Can your dullard entertainment reviewer on the payroll do that? Every social group will have like one or two people who watch what the “preview” companies put out, just to be able to tell us what’s going to be part of “must see” and what can go in the garbage compactor as “same old”.

So I’m glum that things right now are so boring and difficult and disappointing. But the times they are a-changin’. I’m not going to shed a tear over the cable companies or the networks. They had their chance, and, to quote Lord Summerisle, “Blew it.” I’ll be watching their demise on my friend’s super-system while we drink the beer I brought over.