How do you people do it?

Sandra and I watched a few episodes of CSI that had been Tivo’d by my Father-in-law. Naturally, they had the requisite amount of commercial material inserted in the appropriate places.

How do you people who watch television put up with this? We fast-forwarded through most of the commercials, but even then the banality, the sheer commercial pedestrianism was painfully obvious. PAINFULLY. I felt physically ill. I felt I.Q. points being stripped away in the odiferous wind of 30-second spots. I had to close my eyes.

The last time I remember feeling this way was on my first visit to Las Vegas, when I stood transfixed, watching a withered crone pump quarter after quarter into an airport slot machine. I was depressed by that sight, and felt physically ill. And yes, TV commercials this evening made me feel the same way.

11 years ago Sandra and I decided that we couldn’t afford cable TV, and that an antenna was too much trouble for the three channels we’d get. So we started to do without. Today I look back at that decision and wonder how different our lives would be had we given something else up in order to afford cable. And then I shudder involuntarily.

Turn off your television before it’s too late. There is nothing out there worth sitting through commercials for. NOTHING.

–Howard

55 thoughts on “How do you people do it?”

  1. I agree. While cable is provided with our apartment, we never watch it (in fact, it was months before we even hooked the TV to it, and that was just to watch election stuff). My mom frequently watches TV, though, and when I’m unfortunate enough to be spending time with her when she does, I am inevitably struck my the utter stupidity of commercials and wonder why anyone watches TV if it means they’re going to be bombarded with the idiocy. While I might have to be careful to avoid spoilers for certain shows, I’d much rather do that and watch them commercial-free on DVD than deal with the crap that comes with watching broadcast stuff.

    1. Seconded. I think I actually remember less than 10 commercials that didn’t cost me that posh job as a nuclear scientist.

      I love the DVD mania of TV stuff, of course I can now buy more DVDs than I can watch in a human lifetime….

  2. I have a roommate that used to travel quite a bit. He quit watching TV, and started buying DVDs. It puts you a couple years behind on series, but they are yours, and you can watch them anytime commercial free.

    Then he got a DVR. Enough said.

  3. When I watch TV, I’m usually doing something else at the same time. Like watch Star Trek: Deep Space 9 + clean or + grading. I can still have my show to keep me from getting bored, and get work done during the commercials. And since I’ve seen most episodes a few times, it’s not going to kill me if I miss part of one from lack of unmuting.

  4. Tivo.

    Or, alternatively, wait until they come out on DVD.

    Actually, right now, my technique is “procrastinate until I forget about it”. It’s doing wonders.

  5. I completely agree. I haven’t watched TV at all for the past year and a half, except on special occasions (read: a good movie is on). I prefer to sap any intelligence I have by sitting glued to my sweet mistress internet.

    1. Agreed.

      That’s what I’ve been doing since probably shortly after 9/11.

      ‘course, the internet is starting to take a back seat to Worlds of Warcraft for me, at least. ::snicker::

  6. Like a stableboy-turned-masked man, you start by building an immunity.

    American television is virulent anyway. Start with something lighter and less commercialized. NOT BRITISH TV, despite its occasional gems.

    1. I get hooked on television series by word of mouth now – and you can rent ANY series, just about, now from Netflix or blockbuster. I have a friend sending me digital copies of BBC’s Dr. Who (which is very cool) – and I’m trying to convert her to Babylon 5. Just in DVD format I’ve gotten hooked on Dead Zone, Monk, LOST and I’m starting in on 24

      1. You evil, evil person. A friend hooked me and my wife on B5. We’re about halfway through season 5 now.

        Our next purchase on Amazon is going to include the movie pack.

  7. I haven’t seen commercials past a fleeting glance at televisions in bars and restaurants, for over three years now…being a college student, and deciding cable television is not worth the money, and being generally broke, are major influencing factors.

    Besides, any television shows worth watching I generally get via other channels on the Internet anyway.

  8. *chuckles* I’m 20. My family has never had “real” TV. It’s always been videotapes and DVDs.

    Of course, I’m weird and like to watch commercials to see the psychology that’s being used…

  9. It takes a *lot* to get us to watch TV. We tried for the revival of Family Guy, but gave it up after a few shows because of the ads, it just wasn’t worth it.

    With the scarcity of good TV shows, it’s actually cheaper to go and buy the seasons of the shows we want to see than it is to have cable.

  10. Hear, hear!

    I think there is (finally) a major nationwide kickback against excessive advertising starting to happen in the US. I think it’s long overdue. As you point out, it’s not just that there’s so MUCH advertising (I’ve timed as much as one minute in three), it’s that it’s so mindlessly stupid, often so dishonest, and frequently so demeaning. I had a friend once who used to work in sales and marketing — he told me the industry divides their audience into four groups, A through D; that category D is housewives; that the joke is D is for Dumb; and guess which group the advertising is targeted at.

    I remember when cable TV was first introduced, and the promise was that it would be entirely supported by subscription fees and would carry no advertising. Yeah, RIGHT. That lasted a long time, didn’t it….?

    Right now, we don’t even own a TV. When we did, we had Dish Network service, and basically we watched:
    – Discovery Channel and similar
    – A couple of selected sci-fi shows
    – Foot Network, primarily Alton Brown (hey, the man is a food geek) and Iron Chef
    – And there were a handful of other shows my wife watched that I didn’t. Whenever it went to commercials, there’d be a scramble for the remote and the Mute button. We’ve occasionally thought about a DVR, just so that we can hit the 30-second-skip button instead.

    The industry, of course, hates DVRs. They’re trying to get them declared illegal, just like that asshat from Turner who asserted that people who don’t religiously sit there and watch the commercials are criminals, thieves who are stealing their programming. Guess again, Mr. Asshat; YOU are stealing MY time. You want me to watch your commercials? You can pay me my standard hourly rate for it, and for anything as unpleasant as watching commercials, that starts at $100 per hour. Pay up.

  11. We haven’t had cable since we moved to Houston 5 years ago. Now, irony of ironies, I am working on a degree in Communications and have to study ‘prime time’ television. I have no idea how I will do that. I think I will BS it – I honestly have no desire to sit through3 hours each night to watch commercials/shows on a prime time network. I may ask a friend to do it for me.

  12. Amen, brother. Killed my TV long ago.

    My nomination for lone exception to the TV-is-not-worth-it rule is Battlestar Galactica. I would watch the new BSG if it meant I spent the hour in an iron maiden.

    BTW guess what I am finally getting around to? Guest art month! Your contribution is proving a challenge to write to. O_o I’ll prolly call you about it. Sorry we’ve been out of touch… Been so busy, and I didn’t even offer my sympathies on your injury and support in your recovery process. *shame* Hope you’re doing well.

    1. Hey, no sweat. I’m doing much better. Getting ready to throw a round of disc golf this morning, even. The game will suck as hard as local barometric pressure will allow, but a bad game of disc golf beats a good day in the office looking out the window.

      Re: the guest comic… I really, really don’t know. You’ve got the technological divide, the cultural divide, and the food-chain divide you could explore. Or you could give those divides a wide miss and have the two characters discussing something they (oddly) have in common.

  13. I guess I’m going to disagree here: I think there are some excellent shows on TV, and I don’t really mind commercials most of the time; some of them are quite clever. Others are boring, and yet others are the banal, offensive crap you complain about.

    But Battlestar Galactica is worth it. West Wing is (or at least, used to be) worth it. McCloud’s Daughters is worth it. The stuff my kid learns from Nickelodeon is worth it — and before you say “but he can watch Public TV”, I remind you that Public TV has commercials too, they’re just more boring, and all at the end of the show.

    *shrug* We all make our choices, and my family watches less of it than it used to. If the cost of getting TV as good as I think the shows we watch are is commercials, then I’m happy to pay. The argument about how people who don’t watch them is criminal is specious, but so is the argument that watching commercials is a waste of your time, and you should be paid for it. Hit the mute button, for pete’s sake, and get on with your life. 😛

  14. It’s very simple…

    … I don’t watch them. Or, occasionally, I mock them. Once in a while, I see one do something funny. But I cannot recall a commercial influencing me to buy anything since I was about 11.

    I do, however, prefer to watch material from DVD, where the commercials are only at the beginning of the disc.

  15. My high School Dorms Response

    Durin my high school years I attended a Public Dormatory school. check in was at 6:30 everyday, and from 6-7 The Simpsons would be on. So naturally the Residance Staff in charge of check in would open doors at 6, and start check in at 6:30.

    Getting to my point, we would have about 20 people in a little larger then most dorm rooms, we would mute the tv and talk about shit, all together, and then when someone noticed the show was on, we’d unmute it, and talk quieter.

  16. I moved to Austin 4 months ago.

    I haven’t had any TV since then, except for DVDs I bought myself.

    I don’t miss it. I do occasionaly get tapes of the good bits from The History Channel and The Science Channel from my folks, but that’s it.

    Even when I did have cable TV, I would tape it and then fast forward through the commercials.

    TV was overcome by Spam before Spam came to mean unwanted advertisements.

  17. There are 2 TVs in my house. My TV has only two channels: AV1 (Xbox) and AV2 (DVD Player)

    The other picks up normal broadcast television. There’s generally only two shows I bother to watch, the daily news (commercial free because it’s on a taxpayer funded station) and The Simpsons. For the latter, I always keep the remote within reach in order to mute the commercials. I generally entertain myself by either making up and voicing my own soundtrack, analysing the commercials from a marketing perspective (I studied Marketing and came to the conclusion I never want to work in the ad industry) and generally remarking upon potential indicators of cultural trends these commercials represent.

    The really fun part about commercials is they show how a company views its customers. The only real variable is the subtlety with which the contempt shows through.

  18. Actually, I think the Jack-In-The-Box ad campaign of the last decade or so has been quite witty. Certainly more entertaining than the sitcoms on the air.

    Most of the time, for the shows we watch, we DVR’em and FF through the ads, ourselves.

  19. “There is nothing out there worth sitting through commercials for. NOTHING.”

    I completely agreee. However, I still like television, or rather I still like some of the programs that get televised. I completely empathize with the kill-your-television crowd, but despite their protestations I don’t feel the slightest bit inferior for liking the shows I like.

    Tivo has been a godsend. Before Tivo we taped all of our shows and fast-forwarded through the commercials when we got around to watching them. Tivo simply makes that process several orders of magnitude more easy.

    I know you felt ill even seeing the commercials in fast-forward mode, but for me at least it reduces the intrusiveness to well below the tolerable level. I probably wouldn’t watch TV at all if I had to sit through them in real-time; I suppose it would cause your autonomic systems to completely shut down. 🙂

    Going to the movies has become more and more unenjoyable lately. The good theaters near us (comfy chairs, stadium seating, good sound and projection) have taken to showing TWENTY MINUTES of commercials before the movie starts. Not the kind that used to be common, where there would be a slide show of static ads that you could easily ignore while chatting with your friends, but full video with the sound so loud that both ignoring them and chatting with your friends have become impossible. Once the movie starts I get my money’s worth of entertainment, but I feel like the theater should be paying me for the intellectual and social abuse they put me through beforehand.

    It may not be long before the missus and I never go out to the theater again… simply because of the commercials.

    Happily, we now live in the DVD Age. If you’re willing to wait a little while, every movie and television show worth watching will come to your home, commercial free, via NetFlix. 🙂

    1. Only twenty? The time before last that I went to a theater, there was 33 minutes of commercials, not counting the previews.

      Then my wife and I tried the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin (Howard, give it a shot when you’re here for Linucon), and we won’t see a movie anyplace else. They were showing clips related to the movie, ads for other things they show, they serve food and drinks, some associated with the movie. The theater was a sold out show, and it was still quiet, no screaming children, no cell phones. It’s the way things should be in a theater.

      1. The Alamo Drafthouse is quite possibly the best idea since sliced… Janet Leigh.

        First of all, people who go there are generally the kind of people who love movies and have respect for the theater. You really don’t get cell phones in there, or people talking rudely during the film.
        Second of all, you get food and drinks brought right to your table. (Each row of theater seats has long, narrow tables in front of them.) And the food is actually good–I’m not talking about popcorn or nachos or shitty hot dogs, I’m talking about good pizza, burgers, salads, appetizers…
        Third of all, they have dozens of special events. I’m currently attending the QT-hosted film festival, and having a blast, but they do other, shorter events. Coming up is a night when they’re going to show Casablanca and serve a four-course, gourmet, French-Morrocan dinner. Another event is a full day of all three Lord of the Rings movies, back to back, with all the meals a hobbit would eat (first breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, supper, and dinner). They have screenings of independent movies, local movies, even an “open screen” night where you can bring any tape you want and they’ll play it. They’ve invented something they call “videoke”, like kareoke only instead of singing along to movies you act along to music.

        It’s a great atmosphere, a great community, coupled with a great love of movies. I’ve never been to a better theater, period.

    2. I HATE the commercials they’re showing now in front of movies. Thanks to that, my husband and I only go to the occasional big movie that will suffer on the small screen. It’s not worth it to pay all that money just to be subjected to commercials too.

  20. You know it’s gotten bad when you can’t tell the real ads from the Energizer Bunny spoofs.

    Somehow, though, I suspect that advertising varies depending on the region of the country. Around New York, for some reason, we get overloaded with medicine ads (the types with the fine print that would look smudged even on an HDTV rig, or disclaimers read off by that guy from the Guinness Book of World Records who could recite the Gettysburg Address about like Carl Lewis doing the 100-meter dash).

    Or at least we did a few years ago. I gave up on TV about two years back, except for watching Yankee games.

    1. when you can’t tell the real ads from the Energizer Bunny spoofs

      Oi, I did that! Many years ago, when COPS was first out, I thought it was a Bunny spoof of CHiPS, and I was waiting and waiting for the bunny… and he never came! NEVER! Then, a week later there was a bunny ad for HIPS (think CHiPS with really hot chicks) and I was perfectly resigned to more brain dribble showing up on TV… and the BUNNY came out!

      …that was the end of my brain capacity. It just shut down…

  21. I just mute every commercial break. Every single one. Plus, I rarely just watch TV, I’m usually doing something else (like, say, rereading Schlock archives), so I’m virtually never watching the commercials at all.

    They are painful.

  22. Well, what is your stand on HBO shows then? I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen a commercial while watching “The Sopranos”, “Rome”, “Deadwood”, or “The Wire”. I have during “Entourage” but that’s product placement for LA joints I’ll never go to (Toast, some other restaurant, The Coffee Bean…).

    And while I do see commercials during Fujisankei News on The International Channel (or whatever it is), I don’t really know enough Japanese to have them bother me. Plus, they are usually amusing in that Japanese way.

  23. Whenever I find myself back in the US, I’ll watch TV for a while. The commercials stun me because I simply don’t have the mental wherewithal to accomodate them anymore. I’ll side with the folks who are extolling the virtues of P/DVRs; I can’t imagine watching American TV without one anymore.

    British commercials are a completely different proposition; very few of them are as actively irritating as American ones, and most of them are utterly nonsensical. They appear less frequently, with the side effect of many newer American shows being cut at odd points to accomodate them — when you’re looking at one break every 15 minutes and the show assumes one every seven or eight, you have to get used to some pacing issues. Okay, yeah, there was the period where several channels were running the Crazy Frog spot at the start and end of *every* commercial break, but complaints to the advertising regulatory board got that shut down pretty quick. (Unfortunately, I discovered this one while physically incapable of doing anything but lying on the front room futon and watching Star Trek reruns for 36 hours back in May. I’m not sure what irritated me more: the frog or Voyager.)

    A number of cable channels here stop running anything but in-house ads after a certain point in the evening, or at least drastically reduce the number of other ads; it does help, when one’s stranded without a Device, to stick to the late-night stuff.

  24. In the UK the most amusing adverts seemed to be for booze and fags…..both worthy contributors to Her Majesty’s Exchequer and ultimately fatal to their adherents.
    To be specific…the “Hamlet” cigar ads (Air on a G string by Jacques Loussier plus an amusing situation) the various Benson & Hedges adverts…
    The Heineken adverts, Holsten Pils, and there used to be good adverts for Greene King (lousy ale tho’)

    1. I’m still amused by the term ‘fag’ for a cigarette, as IIRC the original term was for the split log bundles that they used to burn people at the stake.

  25. I hear you. I spent almost 10 years without T.V. When I went to college, I had no TV in my dorm. Then I got an apartment and of course got TV. I immediately discovered I had less time to spend on other things that I enjoyed because it was too easy to sit in front of the T.V. So I got rid of it and got a VCR and started collecting movies I liked. After I moved in with Alison, she had TV and now it’s back in my life and honestly I don’t much care for it. But it’s cheaper to have it AND internet access than just internet access through the cable company. So there I am, with that damn thing in my house.

    Now, however, I can Tivo anything I think is worth watching and it doesn’t interrupt my day. And having had no TV for so long, I still haven’t reverted to the ‘sit on the couch and watch whatever’s on’ couch potatoe.

    When we have kids, I REALLY want to get rid of the cable. Dunno if it’ll happen, though.

  26. When I do watch TV (which is rare, these days) I usually just draw during the commercials. I always have a sketchbook with me for just the purpose. And often times, the commercials are fun to mock as well. You know, you can either laugh at it, or you can let it drive you crazy…

  27. Societal disconnect

    Living in the boonies as I do, there IS no TV, and no availability for cable either. Netflix, I’ve found, is much cheaper than buying DVDs, as I normally would since it takes me weeks to get around to watching anything I buy. There’s something like 4 out of the last batch of 9 dvds I bought have yet to watch.
    That having been said, I’ve found you get disconnected from one’s culture if you avoid watching TV. “Hey do you have that hat that guy was wearing in that commercial?”
    “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
    “Oh, come on, you know, that COMMERCIAL! Everyone’s seen it, it has that music in it?”
    “I don’t have TV.”
    Eyes rolled. “What do you live in a cave or something?”
    “No. I’m Amish.”
    “Really?”
    Yes, I sell caps. And yes, I’m asked for things from music videos and commercials ALL the FREAKIN’ TIME.
    My boss has started, “Have you seen… oh wait, of course you haven’t.”

    I DO miss the Jack in the Box COmmercials, though. And occasionally, I’d like to know what the heck everyone around me is talking about.

  28. I don’t watch TV without a DVR, the commercials are just too annoying. Except those recent HP commercials with the Apples in Stereo songs. Those are worth it just for the music.

  29. How do you people who watch television put up with this?

    Channel-surfing. I find one or two other shows I want to watch, and when one’s on commercial, I switch to the other.

    That’s when I’m actually watching something that isn’t on tape or DVD, of course.

  30. How do you people who watch television put up with this?

    We mute the TV and talk each other about the show we’re watching, or just about stuff in general. Sometimes we make fun of the silenced ads. (“Ooh! Head-shaking disease! Must be for shampoo!”) And then when the ads finish we unmute the TV.

    Maybe the ads in the UK aren’t as painful as American ones. I remember when I was over there (which was a while ago now) they seemed very dull and literal, and not as creative as many of the UK ones. Over here, it’s sometimes hard to tell what the product is.

    Also, we have the BBC. A whole bunch of channels with no ads at all!

  31. AFN

    You think regular commercials are bad, try living in a place that offers AFN (Armed Forces Network.) I live overseas (independant contractor with the military,) and the only english television is AFN. Sure, they play only the most popular shows from all the networks (which means way too many reality shows), but the commercials they play are tantamount to propaganda. Scratch that, they ARE propaganda. And it’s not even good propaganda. Crappy acting jobs by soldiers they suckered into doing them, or thinly veiled picture montages showing “why we’re here.” I notice a complete lack of pictures of WMDs on that section. It’s mostly just pictures of heavily armed soldiers getting flowers given to them by young Iraqi children. The occasional times when they screw up the feed and play actual commercials, everyone gets excited and groups around the TV to see them.

  32. I keep telling my parents that, but they dont listen. If we were to get rid of the cable TV and just buy DVD sets, we would end up watching no TV commercials, and they come with special features as well.

    Of course these are the same people who wanna get rid of the cable internet, and they would get a lot more enjoyment out of the Internet than TV.

    This describes my attempts when trying to watch Star Trek Next Generation on Spike TV:

    10 minutes of TNG
    5 minutes of rap
    10 minutes of TNG
    10 minutes of ‘structured settlement funding’ adverts
    10 minutes of TNG
    5 minutes of ‘Spike TVs most irresistable women’
    10 minutes of TNG
    20 minutes of my neurons committing apothesis attempting to remove memory of those ‘structured settlement funding’ adverts

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