How to stop watching so much TV: a step by step guide
The Problem: Peak TV
You may have heard the phrase "Peak TV" on various blogs and sites that talk about the state of television. The phrase refers to the sheer quantity of high-quality television we have access to today. There are a number of steps that brought us to this point.
1. Movies went broad
First, movie studios are spending more and more money to break even and turn profits. This led to the rise in franchise building, as studios banked more heavily on reliable earners. Decades ago a few "tentpole" films would afford a studio the opportunity to take chances on films that may or may not make money. Today, every film has to make money, and big-budget "art" films are harder and harder to come by. (See "Valerian and the city of immense foreign presales and tax-breakscovering finances). This has led to an amazing exodus of creative types from film and into television.
2. TV went niche
While theatrical release films went broad, TV went niche. TV used to be broad. My dad tells me there used to be 3 channels, and the reason he's a Dodgers fan is because they were the only baseball team he could watch in South Dakota in the 50's and 60's. In those days TV had to be broad. Now TV is niche. The balloon on the number of cable channels has burst, but the addition of other content hosts has made up the gap. TV shows no longer need to be for everyone - unless they're on CBS. Now TV shows just need to find an audience, any audience will do.
Jerry Seinfeld talks about this with comedy. It used to be that to make it big, you had to figure out how to make everyone laugh. You had to go "broad." Which, by the way, he suggests is harder. Now comedians just have to find an audience that already likes what they're doing. They can stay niche. This has happened across television.
3. Creators went to TV.
Those "auteurs" that moved from movies to TV did so because they can continue to create for an audience, without having to create for everyone. "Broad" and "good" don't have to be mutually exclusive, but anyone who's worked on a group project in school knows that 20 people who get together and think "a" can decide on "b" in the interest of compromise. The more people to have to be appeased by a creative decision, the more opportunity there is to move away from plan A and towards plan everyone. When TV started letting creators create, we started getting more creators who wanted to make great TV.
4. Increased TV competition made owning original content king
As I mentioned earlier, once Netflix and Amazon and Hulu started creating original content, and other sources are also working on generating their own original content. WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, was somewhat prescient in how valuable original content would be, buying up other wrestling organizations tape libraries ahead of launching their own Netflix style over-the-top streaming service the WWE Network. These other content creators added to the competition, not letting anyone rest on their laurels (except for Big Bang Theory).
5. I had too much TV to keep up with
By last count, there were at least 25 shows that I wanted to keep up with on a weekly basis. Obviously they did not all turn out new episodes every week. But watching that much TV was a part time job, and did not include binging TV on over-the-top services, live sports, or even the news (There has been SO MUCH NEWS this past year!). If you added in watching all of the new episodes of House of Cards dropping at once, or figuring out why I didn't like this season of Transparent as much as the first two, or whether that new Aaron Paul show was worth getting Hulu Plus over, and there was way too much TV for me to keep up with.
The amount of TV I was consuming was negatively impacting my life
What I did about it
1. I won't waste a lot of time on the obvious. I canceled my cable and netflix and hulu and WWE Network accounts. I kept Amazon prime because I'm a sucker for 2-day shipping, so that temptation would remain.
2. This was part of a larger effort to reclaim my life. I had recently moved back to the midwest and experienced a lot of depression related symptoms during my first winter in almost a decade. My life had devolved to work, eat in front of TV, sleep in front of TV. My motivation for change was larger than just watch less TV. I set goals.
- canceling those services meant a financial savings. I had significant debt that I could deal with more aggressively
- finding other things to do with that time was even more healthy than just not watching as much TV
3. Canceling those television services saved me almost $90/month. Canceling my unused gym membership was another $20/month. Around the same time I started meal planning from home and cut my food costs by half by rarely going out to eat. I made significant dents in my debt, that kept me motivated when I was tempted towards old habits
4. Just doing less of something is a recipe for failure. I looked to other things to do with my time savings. I started cooking a lot more of my own meals, which I found really fulfilling. My default answer when opportunities to do things with other people trended towards "yes" instead of "no." As an introvert, this was a big one for me. Even when I knew I would have a great time, I still had to fight the internal struggle in the car ride over, as a part of me would rather go home and be by myself.
- my apartment was never cleaner than when I stopped watching TV. I made it a goal to do at least something in the area of cleaning every day (like dishes or wiping down surfaces or laundry) and something significant at least every couple of days (like scrubbing the bathroom or vacuuming all the floors)
- My meal planning helped me begin dropping a significant amount of weight. This continued to motivate me towards this end when I was tempted towards old habits. Please note that I had still canceled my gym membership. My exercise was essentially housework and I dropped 50 lbs over 3-4 months.
- I started reading again. Like actual books this time. My reading attention span had been dropping ever since college. I would scan dozens of articles on the internet rather than sit and read for an hour or two. I enjoyed getting immersed in longer fictional stories. I've always enjoyed reading historical biographies. I even picked up some current memoirs from people I respect and want to know more about.
- I purged stuff. I'd like to live abroad at some point in the next few years, and having less stuff is part of the process. Like lifting the weight of all the TV shows I had to keep up with, having less stuff has felt like a weight off too.
In short, having goals bigger than "watch less TV" and specific activities to replace that TV watching time were the two biggest reasons for my success.
It was about more than just watching less TV
It was about reclaiming my life
Its been several months since I made those initial changes. I've paid off all my credit card debt. I've significantly reduced my expenses to make a charge at my student loan debt. My meal-planning has been inconsistent, but I'm still healthier than I was. I did get a gym membership again. I've started swimming as both a healthy activity and something I can do instead of go home and watch TV. I've started researching ways to live and work abroad and have found some really interesting options.
And I haven't missed TV. At my breaking point I realized I was "hate-watching" several of the shows. The reason I watched them at all was only because I had watched up to that point, and felt a compulsion to complete the experience. I have made some allowances. One simple rule of thumb was that I would watch youtube clips, including TV clips. This was never a moral stance against watching any TV, this was a practical exercise in reclaiming my life. I will probably watch shows regularly on TV again this next year. To date, the only show I plan to watch is Lethal Weapon. I don't know why. Its a ridiculous over-the-top show that still makes me feel emotions. I think the leads are just perfectly cast and the writing is just good enough.
Just like having less stuff has lifted a weight off and made options like living and working abroad seem more possible, having less connection to TV has made a ton of options (like writing articles on a website) seem more possible.
TV was part of a larger problem
Reach your breaking point
When is enough enough?
Realize what you want
What are you missing out on?
Reclaim your life
What will you do about it?
The longer I live the more I'm convinced that things I want to do don't have to be dreams, they can be goals. I may not get to do all of them in my lifetime, but I can take steps towards them today. There are certainly things outside of my control, but what I do with any free time I have today is up to me.
I'm fully aware that for many people, the changes I've outlined in my life are things you consider normal adult living. I'd ask that instead of letting me know how lame I am, you'd understand that I've made being more like you a goal. That's a good thing!