A recent legal challenge to the cable companies' practice of bundling channels was recently shot down in court. No surprise. However, with the prevalence of cord-cutting, I wonder if it's just a matter of time before the cable companies change their tune. I'd think that the cable channels would rather have me paying for a few channels individually rather than not paying for any cable service at all. If 80 basic channels a month costs $100 with bundling, that would be $1.25 per channel. I'd be willing to pay double that for a la carte choices, so let's say $2.50 per channel. If I picked ten channels, that would be a much more reasonable bill of $25 a month. Actually, I don't think I'd even as many as pick ten if I had my way, but let's use that as a minimum that a cable company would probably require. And this is what my fantasy lineup would look like.
The Food Network
HD versions of ABC, NBC, and CBS and FOX
That's right kids. No sports channels, no music channels, and no more "Law & Order" marathons. How did I arrive at this list? I watch more than these few channels, but I cut all the ones where I was really only watching one or two shows. I like "Mythbusters" and the "Planet Earth" documentaries, but I haven't had any inclination to actually seek them out, so no Discovery Channel. Back when I had cable, they were already showing too many extreme job and nature survivalist shows for my taste, and I know that's only gotten worse. I watch "Project Runway" online, but nothing else on Lifetime remotely appeals to me. Comedy Central was nearly off the list, since "The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report," and "South Park" are all online. What saved it? The upcoming seventh season of "Futurama."
The hardest channel to cut was FX, which has some of the best basic cable programming. I'm still catching up on back episodes of "Archer" and "Louie." However, I've also been doing pretty well watching those shows through Netflix. I don't feel the need to tune in on a week-to-week basis the way I do with the AMC shows. It doesn't bother me in the least that I'm about a season behind on both. AMC, which runs "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad," and "The Walking Dead," also has the benefit of occasionally still being a movie channel, and I like AMC's selection of titles much better than the action-oriented stuff that gets the most play on FX. If I go and get myself hooked on "Justified" or "Sons of Anarchy" this may change in the future.
Then there are what I like to think of the white noise channels. Sometimes all you want out of television is pleasant time filler, and the Food Network is always what I would end up watching when I couldn't find anything else. Sometimes you just want the television on for some color and noise, and the Food Network is perfect for that. Ditto CNN, which I fully acknowledge has its problems as a news organization, but is the least disagreeable out of the big three cable news channels. Also, when something major like the Japanese tsunami does happen, CNN has the best coverage in a crisis hands down.
SyFy and The Cartoon Network? They're for my inner nerd. I like Syfy's original series, including "Warehouse 13" and "Alphas." They play British genre imports and occasionally rerun oddities like the Robert Halmi miniseries and even older nerd classics that I find appealing. Then there's Cartoon Network, which has Adult Swim and the handful of kids' action cartoons I'm still keeping an eye on. I don't think I'll ever stop watching cartoons, though I tend to appreciate the ones aiming a bit older than the Disney and Nickleodeon crowd. And both channels will occasionally offer surprises - Bugs Bunny marathons or special uncut episodes of the "Twilight Zone."
Television isn't entirely about content, I've realized, but about the kind of viewing experience you want. I like to think of TV channels as akin to radio stations. You don't regularly listen to a radio station for one or two songs or artists, but the mood and ambiance of the the whole lineup. There aren't a lot of channels that I think are really worth having available all the time. That's why I've only picked six. I've left the other four slots for better quality versions of the major networks, which I find I miss more of than anything else because they're full service networks with morning shows, late night programs, local news, and the most mainstream broadcast programming that the majority of America actually watches.
Right now my television reception is so bad, I can literally only access two of the major networks, and the quality is terrible. The biggest irony of this little thought exercise is, I think I'd actually be the most willing to pay for the free TV - if the right deal came along.