Reeling: The End of Cable TV

By Diana Estigarribia
February 21, 2005

There comes a point when a film intellectual has to face facts: you’re spending too much time in front of the television when you should be out, taking in festivals, first-runs, and art house revivals. Thus, the day I thought would never come is here: I am giving up cable at the end of February.

This move isn’t entirely motivated by a commitment to theatre and film. It’s financial. Rates have risen so much in my area that I’m looking at over $980 a year in cable charges. That’s a pretty nice vacation, right there. A new pair of Manolos. Heck, two pairs of Manolos, if they’re on sale.

Besides all that cash I’m going to free up, I’m starting to get the distinct vibe that Cable Isn’t Cool Anymore. Lots of people I know have already left the cable colony in favor or DVDs. While going over to a DVD habit exchanges the cable fee for a Netflix fee, for example, I can see why more and more people are choosing this lifestyle adjustment.

I’m certainly going to feel the void of movie channels. Having no cable means no Sundance Channel, no IFC, or — most wounding of all — no more Turner Classic Movies, the very lifeblood of this film geek. I have a TV relationship with TCM host Robert Osborne that is perhaps a tad unhealthy. I look forward to his introductions and codas, filled with nuggets of Old Hollywood trivia and history, almost as much as the films themselves.

Giving up the premium movie channels will be painful, there’s no denying it. After all, they’re the chief reason I pony up nearly $40 a month. Where else can I see films by Kubrick, Scorsese, and De Sica? TCM’s Silent Sundays increased my knowledge and enjoyment of Keaton, Chaplin, and Murnau. The channel’s weekly showcase of a foreign film was one of the first places I caught the works of Carl Theodor Dreyer. TCM enriched my understanding of Hollywood history, including the long forgotten and ignored accomplishments of pioneering women like Alice Guy Blache. And with the ownership of the fabled MGM library, TCM is the only place to catch Gable, Hepburn, Tracy, Crawford, and Garland, any time, day or night. Like MGM was in the old days, TCM is “more stars than there are in the heavens.”

So stop resisting then, right? Just get Netflix. Ah, yes. I see them everywhere, the little red-and-black packages of filmosity that arrive in the mailbox. But something about my Luddite, traditional nature continues to resist.

I struggle against it because a big part of being a film geek is actually “going to the movies.” Getting out of the house, buying a ticket, buying a snack, settling in to my favorite seat. At the Walter Reade theater, that’s seats 112 or 113, about 10 rows back from the middle separating aisle. They’re just about center screen but off to the side a bit. At a mainstream movie house, it’s on the left-hand side, about halfway back from the very front row.

At home? Well, hello same old couch with loose springs, sinking lower every week. Moviegoing is a public experience. Inside that dark room with a bunch of people, all sorts of people of all ages, strangers, but not really. We’ve all made the decision to watch this one particular story. Something about the premise of the film draws us. Or the star who’s our movie crush, old friend, or reliable entertainer. It’s communal, like the theater.

With television, you need the watercooler (or today, the Internet) to recreate that experience. That’s why we spend so much of our free time talking about stuff we saw on TV last night. Even though we’ve watched TV privately in our homes, we still need to come together to discuss it, or even better, scream and chatter about it on some blog or forum on the net somewhere.

No, it’s not for me. I’m not against DVDs naturally, however, I’m finding that most of what I’m buying are television programs: Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Lexx, The Simpsons, to name a few recent purchases. There’s just no substitute for 24 frames per second.

So I look boldly to my future without cable television. No more scanning of the TV listings for that 1960s Roger Corman Poe adaptation or a month of Claudette Colbert films. Yes, that’s too bad. But I also don’t have to click past the twentieth repeat of The Core on Showtime, or even worse, yet another reality show. Eh, you know what? I won’t miss it— much.