The day after thanksgiving, my TiVo died. Because it doubles as my cable box, this meant that for the week it took to get a replacement, my TV was dead as well. This would be a tragic circumstance for most Americans. But for a TV critic, it was a blow to my livelihood. I was like a cotton farmer after a weevil infestation. I was cut off from the main pipeline of American media life.
Or I would have been, a couple of years ago. Now, however, my situation offered a learning experience in TV-free TV. I had no cable, but I had DSL and a houseful of gizmos with screens: desktop, laptop, cell phone. Could I make do with them Plenty of my countrymen do. Through necessity, I was entering a club more viewers are joining by choice: the posttelevision society. Some download TV to avoid ads. Some Netflix series so they can watch them in one big marathon. Some like the convenience, some the portability. Some are cutting their cable or satellite bills to save money in hard times. Millions of others use online video as a backup–Huluing dramas they missed live, watching March Madness on CBSSports.com or Wimbledon on ESPN360. The business implications of all this are huge. Who will get paid for the TV of the future How do you replace TV-commercial revenue And how do you measure a hit when more and more of the audience is watching on computers, on DVD players, via video-game consoles or on the screen of the bike at the gym These are all important questions. But not for me. Mine were: Could I satisfactorily watch TV without a box How would it change my experience And more broadly, now that TV is divorced from the television , now that video is as portable as a Grisham paperback, now that big-budget series can be blog-embedded and e-mailed just like your YouTube video of your cat falling asleep–what are we even talking about when we talk about TV My TV Is Dead. Long Live TV! First hurdle first: Online video has gotten much better since the days of watching a jerky postage stamp over the din of your hard drive whirring like an espresso grinder. While my plasma monolith sat mute, I watched 30 Rock in high-quality video on my laptop through Hulu.com My iPhone doubled as a wireless video device. By downloading free apps like Joost and Truveo, I could use its brilliantly lit display–a munchkin plasma screen–to watch last night’s Daily Show and Gilmore Girls reruns. Much of what I couldn’t get free, I could buy from iTunes and carry with me. I watched Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on the subway, The Office in my office. Some things were unavailable–quit being stingy with the Top Chef, Bravo!–but what I lost in choice I made up for in serendipity. I downloaded video podcasts from Cook’s Illustrated, watched Rob Corddry’s Web comedy Children’s Hospital and rediscovered the cult comedy Strangers with Candy because it turned up randomly through the Joost app on my iPhone. See the 100 best TV shows of all time. See the 50 best inventions of 2008.