In the fall of 2002, after a brief stint in LA, my wife and I moved back to Michigan. We realized as soon as we got there, that it had been a mistake. Then winter settled in, and we really, really knew it had been a mistake. We had a big apartment, little furniture, and a lot of life to kill.

Michigan has eight months of winter and the rest of the time it’s so muggy you think you’re breathing underwater, in one of these modern isolation tanks popularized by Dan Brown’s latest novel.

What we did to survive the winter was to drive over to Jet’s Pizza, order a party tray of deep dish pepperoni pizza (60 pieces), deposit ourselves on the futon-slash-sofa, deposit the pizza in our laps and switch on our new TV (the only other piece of furniture in the room) just in time to catch the 6:00 pm rerun of Friends. If we switched channels at 6:30, we’d catch another Friends episode. Then we had to sit through Everybody Loves Raymond and at 7:30, we watched another episode of Friends.

After that, life got tricky, but I soon became addicted to Law and Order. I had never watched a single episode of the show, and one Sunday afternoon I surfed the channels, got hooked on the last ten minutes of one, and then, hey, there already came the next one. All these years of Law and Order I hadn’t watched! Imagine that – years and years of episodes: Michael Moriarty classics, early Sam Waterston, always Jerry Orbach. I just had to keep the pizza coming. (I was not quite as fat as this makes me sound. Not quite. I could still move okay, my car was an ’85 Grand Marquis and nicely dwarfed me). What else was there to do? (drinking vodka while hopping from one movie theatre to the next, drinking wine out of travel mugs at the local mall).

The end came without drama and had nothing to do with New Year’s resolutions. In the summer of 2004 we moved to a different apartment, and our TV was big. Not by modern home theater standards, but it was big nonetheless, unwieldy, and my wife and I were the only ones carrying our stuff.

So we carried this large silver box downstairs, halfway to the car, and then we’d had enough. We got annoyed and left it by the curb. When I switched on TNT, I couldn’t find a Law and Order episode I hadn’t seen before, anyway.

That was it. No vows, no oaths, no speeches. We didn’t scream, yell, dance or get drunk, and if we should have had second thoughts – the TV one was gone before we made it back to the apartment. We might have thought we’d buy a new one.

And we haven’t. And it’s been one of these small things that really do change your life, and if only for the reason that there is no droning noise or laugh track when you eat your pepperoni pizza and you actually notice that you’re on your eighth piece. Also, when you open Entertainment Weekly, you have no idea who all these freshly-scrubbed faces are.

For a brief time we noticed the quiet. At first it was awkward, it wanted to be filled, and we looked for board games, books, cameras, bikes, anything that would make that feeling go away. And after that I noticed that the anxiousness I had felt after Sunday night’s Sopranos subsided and that I felt less crushed by the ineptitude of the Buffalo Bills when I couldn’t watch them screw up. And there were so many things left to become addicted to. Sudoku, for example (I found out the hard way after sitting for four hours in the bathtub; I couldn’t finish an evil puzzle). I’m just glad I always hated golf, disc-golfing and video games. (And you can’t play beer pong indefinitely).

There have been relapses, thanks to Netflix and large-screen computers and Dexter, Californication, and most recently Battlestar Galactica. But lucky for us, the pizza was thin crust, and there weren’t any good breaks to reload your plate – it’s the commercials that make you fat.

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STEFAN KIESBYE is the author of Next Door Lived A Girl. His second novel was recently published by Tropen/Klett-Cotta Verlag in Germany; the American edition, titled Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone will be released by Viking/Penguin in 2012. Stefan lives in Los Angeles with his wife Sanaz and their dogs Dunkin and Nozomi.

46 responses to “5 Years Without Television”

  1. Matt says:

    Amen!

    I lived without cable for both college and grad school, and only got it again when I moved in with my (now) ex-girlfriend, a TV junky. As soon as she moved out I disconnected it, and I don’t miss it one bit. There are a few things on the broadcast channels I watch, but for the most part I prefer to catch up with them on Hulu/Netflix or DVD.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Yes, what I find most soothing, on top of not missing it, is the absence of commercials for strange medications for very vague and obscure ailments. Whenever I go to my laundromat, I have to leave after a few minutes, because they have 3 huge flat-screen TVs and I’m a hypochondriac.

    • my family didn’t get cable until the year I first went to university— where I didn’t have any TV.

      There are actually only about five shows I’ll go out of my way to watch.

    • I lived without television for about four years too. It was a result of going to college. Didn’t have the space. Didn’t have the time. About two months into school, I had no desire to even watch television anymore.

      Realized how much time I’d wasted watching it in my life.

      How red and dry it made my eyes.

      Two years ago when my girlfriend (now wife) moved in with me, she pretty much said “We are having a television.” So we did. Got Comcast. $100 down the drain each month in my opinion. Granted that includes internet but still, there just aren’t many shows on I can get into: Modern Family is about it. The return of Ed Bundy.

      Otherwise, I’d rather watch my DVD box collections of The Wire, Woody Woodpecker, and Daffy Duck.

  2. D.R. Haney says:

    I’m currently without television, save for the rare movie I watch on DVD. I simply didn’t get the digital box in time for the switch, and then I found that I didn’t miss TV, so I’ve continued to go without.

    Sudoku, by the way, is really addictive. It felt like such a victory the first time I managed to finish a puzzle. I’ve still never managed to finish a really hard one, though. They come in grades, as you know. “Gentle” and “moderate” are breezes for me now, but anything beyond that — forget it.

  3. Zara Potts says:

    Kill your TV!
    I hardly watch any television now and I feel so much better for it. I happened to catch an episode of the Kardashians (Phat B – are you listening?) on Boxing Day when I was lying on my couch recovering from Christmas. I felt myself getting sucked into the show and after watching three or so episodes I felt like I’d been swallowing chewing gum. Sticky and unfulfilled and strangely empty.
    I loved your line ‘ When I switched on TNT, I couldn’t find a Law and Order episode I hadn’t seen before, anyway.’
    It made me laugh. I could just feel your annoyance!!

    • Matt says:

      That’s actually a little scary, considering that there are 20+ years’ worth of Law and Order shows to pour through.

      I still don’t really know who these Kardashian people are. What little I do know tells me I’m not missing out on anything.

    • Phat B says:

      Please, the official name of the show is “Keeping up with the Kardashians”. Or KUWTK for short.

      • Zara Potts says:

        Thank God! I knew you would come through as soon as I mention the K word. But WHO THE HELL is Bruce Jenner??????

        • Phat B says:

          Bruce Jenner is a famous American Olympian, specializing in the Decathlon. He won the gold medal and I believe he set the record at the time (80’s? 70’s?). He now suffers from having too much plastic surgery.

        • Matt says:

          From what I’ve seen, that last bit describes about 95% of the people who are on reality TV.

  4. Angela Tung says:

    my boyfriend and i were without a TV back in new york (though we watched Hulu and Netflix religiously), and the most i lost track of were commercials. friends would actually ask, “did you see that commercial where. . .?” and i’d have no idea what they were talking about.

    now in SF we do have TV and it’s EVIL! i waste so much time flipping through channels seeing what might be on, including a Law & Order i haven’t seen (i prefer Criminal Intent and SVU). one day i actually sat through a few episodes of The Real Housewives of something or another, but became frustrated when i couldn’t tell the women apart.

    the one advantage to TV are the commercials which give me time to do dishes and whatnot.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Yeah, I remember those breaks — in our apartment, you could see the living room TV through the bar area of the kitchen, so I could do dishes and watch, let’s say, a Bills game. There’s something oddly compelling about the efficiencies of obsessions.

      • Don Mitchell says:

        Stefan, if you’re going to do something while watching a Bills game, shouldn’t you be in the bathroom doing it?

        In my town, we didn’t have TV until I was 12. Nobody did, and when it did show up it was only one channel (CBS).

        I don’t think it hurt any of us. We read and played.

        I have an HDTV, but I can’t remember the last time I watched a prime time show. I know they aren’t all awful, but who wants to take the time to figure out which ones aren’t shit? Not me.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          Well, you had less than I did. In Germany, we had 2.5 channels until I was about 17 or maybe 19. But that didn’t keep me from watching all Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Black and White too.

          If Bill Cowher takes over the Bills, everything will be possible!

        • Don Mitchell says:

          That’s about as likely as your taking over my bills.

  5. TV has now infiltrated my computer – and my personality – to such a large extent that I don’t know if I could go without it. That being said, I haven’t actually sat down and watched anything for… wow, for maybe the whole year so far.

    I don’t know where I stand on the pro/con TV divide or not. Damn it, I hate it when life doesn’t give me the easy answers.

  6. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    Well as long as you don’t think that Matthew Perry knows you, because you’ve seen him every day in your apartment.

    There were moments when I felt deeply connected to characters and felt — sarcasm, education and whatnot notwithstanding — that I was a part of it all.

  7. Phat B says:

    “Law and Order: The One That’s Currently On”. Whenever I get involved in the television discussion, I like to remind people that it’s not the television that sucks, it’s the programming. Televisions, as an appliance, are dandy fucking machines capable of doing everything from displaying photo slideshows to raunchy BSDM porn in sparkling high definition. Don’t even get me started on video games. All a person needs these days is an internet connection and a netflix subscription to receive decent programming. Of course, without advertising, how will you know what to watch next or what to buy?

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      The voice of reason! Do you ever try those pesky pharmaceuticals they advertise? I’d be interested to learn about them.

      • Phat B says:

        Yeah I use Aveeno all natural mousturizer with colloidal oatmeal and vitamin D. I find it leaves my skin moisturized and ready for those kissably close moments. That’s when I break out a stick of long lasting Big Red. Give your kiss that extra spark with Big Red.

  8. Phat B says:

    I thought I was the only person who drank alcohol out of travel mugs in public. I prefer a good whisky and coke mix, but I can see wine doing the trick. I’ve got a 52 ounce insulated 7-11 mug just waiting for my next trip to the mall.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      🙂 Glad you’re in on this. Yeah, it’s so inconspicuous, especially since all malls have Starbucks and the likes now, and people drink coffee any time of the day!

      • Phat B says:

        I was using Kahlua as creamer for my coffee one day and the boss and I got into the truck to drive to a shoot. About halfway through the ride, the entire cab reeked of alcohol and chocolate. I couldn’t roll the windows down cuz it was 5am. He never said a word, and I worked there for 3 more years, so I guess he didn’t mind or didn’t know.

  9. Marni Grossman says:

    Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was restricted to watching TV on the weekends. Friday night through Sunday afternoon. In college, I had no television. And yet. I manage to know all sorts of details about TV. Not some of it, most of it.

    And Stefan- that you could go cold-turkey on “Law & Order”? Impressive. Very impressive.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Good point, Marnie. Yes, this knowledge about things you don’t watch is really pervasive. At least in LA I have the excuse that every day there these Golden Globe inserts and they’re good Bathroom material.

  10. Hey Stefan:

    I don’t own a TV either. Haven’t for years. But I must admit that I have a decent sized computer monitor and Netflix. So I guess that’s a TV of sorts. And then there’s Hulu. So yeah, I suppose I have TV in a way. But I don’t watch it all the time. Promise.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Yeah, the decent-sized computers are effing with my austerity too. Oh well…but soon they’ll charge for Hulu, and then no more comedic monologues for me.

  11. You know what I loved about this piece? You don’t act like your lack of TV is proof of superior intelligence. (I’ve met these people, they like to arch a brow when I mention America’s Next Top Model – come on – Tyra Banks is so worth cable). And you don’t act like the only thing you would use a TV for is to access your local PBS provider and thank the Lord – you still admit to watching Californication!

    There’s just one thing I need to know: do you still have the ’85 Grand Marquis?

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Thanks for your comment, Robin. I wish. When I finally sold it because $1.78 seemed too expensive for gas (har, what a joke), I had recurrent (and I mean, recurrent!!!) dreams of stealing the car back. To see the hood turning in front of you, the feel of that lardy-ass machine making its way through town — ahh!

  12. Irene Zion says:

    Yeah. I can see why you did it, but you had the support of your wife.
    Usually there’s one in the couple who will put his foot down on the plan.
    You should hug your wife.

  13. I guess I’d miss Bored To Death and Project Runway if I nixed the idiot tube but I think I’d live. I live in Ohio so I feel your pain brother. At least Jim Harrison lives in Michigan for part of the year. Not al is lost.

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