Entertainment

08.08.13

Is Life Without CBS Really So Bad for Time Warner Customers?

So Time Warner Cable subscribers in eight markets can’t watch ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Two and a Half Men.’ Is that so terrible? Marlow Stern on the better alternatives across the dial.

First things first: Time Warner Cable is awful. Any New Yorker can attest to this. I’ve been a TWC subscriber for many years and, between the random service outages, horrific customer service, and faulty devices, it’s been the cable television subscriber equivalent of dating Chris Brown. So when the news first broke that TWC was dropping CBS over a fee dispute, my initial reaction was to side with CBS. Hell, I’d side with a vindictive ex before The Worst Cable.

For those unfamiliar with this heavyweight bout, on August 2 TWC dropped CBS in eight markets nationwide—including New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas—after negotiations fell apart on a new retransmission contract dictating exactly how much dough cable and satellite television providers pay station owners for broadcasting rights. According to various reports, CBS demanded that its subscriber fee increase from $1 to about $2 per subscriber. By comparison, the research firm SNL Kagan recently assessed that ESPN is at the very top of what cable customers pay at $5.54, while TNT and USA—the former owned by Time Warner, by the way—charge subscribers $1.24 and $0.71 apiece, respectively.

TWC’s argument is that CBS is free over the air to many homes that use old-school antennas and not cable or satellite providers. The counterargument, of course, is that this method of delivery is pretty archaic. Thus, in addition to CBS proper, the batch of cable networks owned by CBS—Showtime, TMC, FLIX, and Smithsonian—went dark.

CBS, it seems, has a legitimate gripe since it is the No. 1 network in the ratings. But would we really miss CBS?

Let’s take a look at what a CBS-less future would look like. The best thing about the network’s current iteration is its stellar sports coverage, led by lead announcer Jim Nantz, including Southeastern Conference Football, the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, the PGA Tour, U.S. Open Tennis, and more. It would definitely be missed, though coverage of these events, as well as events like the Grammy Awards, could easily air on another major network. The network also has some quality evening programs, including the news show 60 Minutes and the Late Show With David Letterman, who remains the best interviewer in the late-night game, even if ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and his fabulous team of writers have leapfrogged him. Those shows would surely be missed.

But what about the bulk of CBS’s programming lineup? The reality shows (Big Brother, Survivor), TV dramas (CSI and all its spinoffs/copycats), and sitcoms (Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory)?

In order to prepare for a possible CBS-less future for TWC subscribers, here are several options for similar (and sometimes better) shows on other networks.

UNDER THE DOME

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James Bridges/CBS

This TV adaptation of Stephen King’s sci-fi novel centers on a small U.S. town that finds itself cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious barrier. The show is a ratings behemoth for CBS and has received positive reviews from critics.

1. Orphan Black

This acclaimed sci-fi drama stars Tatiana Maslany as a series of women who turn out to be clones. In addition to brilliant turns by Maslany, who plays up to seven women convincingly, the show also provides an interesting examination of identity, as well as intriguing arguments for and against cloning. The second season premieres April 14 on BBC America.

2. The Walking Dead

Ratings giant The Walking Dead follows a group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world who band together to fend off a horde of flesh-eating zombies. Created by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), the series features a cast of compelling characters and Hollywood-quality production values. The fourth season of basic cable’s answer to Game of Thrones premieres October 13 on AMC.

THE BIG BANG THEORY

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Robert Voets/CBS

This geek-friendly sitcom follows the lives of four nerds (and one attractive female). There are roommates/experimental physicists Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons); Penny (Kaley Cuoco), the attractive gal down the hall; and the roommates’ pals, aerospace engineer Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and astrophysicist Raj Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar). The acting is top-notch, and Parsons has won a pair of Emmys for his turn as the witty, sarcastic Sheldon.

1. New Girl

This comedy is, as New York magazine called it, the best sitcom on television and features Zooey Deschanel as the titular gal who, after a nasty breakup, shacks up with three oddball guys in their late 20s, including resident miser Nick (the brilliant Jake Johnson), resident douchebag Schmidt (Max Greenfield, also brilliant), and anxiety-ridden Winston (Lamorne Morris, great as well). While the first season focused too closely on Zooey’s bubbly lead character, the second season really came into its own by devoting more attention to her three rowdy flatmates, as well as the incredibly awkward romantic entanglement between her and Nick. The Fox comedy returns for its third season September 17.

2. Girls

If the romantic travails of a bunch of 20-something millennials are what you’re after, then look no further than Girls, Lena Dunham’s terribly witty series about a group of disillusioned hipsters struggling with their personal and professional lives in Brooklyn. The series won the Golden Globe for Best Television Series–Comedy or Musical. The premiere date for its third season, airing on HBO, is TBD.

BIG BROTHER

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Sonja Flemming/CBS

This reality series, about a group of strangers living together in a specially designed house cut off from the rest of the world who are continuously monitored by a series of cameras, came under fire this past season for its very, very racist cast. Good riddance.

1. Face Off

Yes, Syfy has fascinating programs besides Sharknado. This riveting reality-TV competition series follows a group of prosthetic makeup artists who compete against each other to create the makeup-y creatures and effects found in Hollywood flicks. The judging panel is made up of Oscar–winning makeup artists behind films like Beetlejuice and Mrs. Doubtfire, and there have been several celebrity guest judges, including Kevin Smith and Gale Ann Hurd. Season 5 premieres on Syfy on August 13.

2. Naked & Afraid

I’ll let my colleague Kevin Fallon take it away here: “The concept is simple, nonsensical, and utterly genius. ‘No food. No water. No clothes,’ a booming narrator warns during the opening credits. ‘Can a man and woman survive alone in the wilderness naked and afraid?’ It’s Man vs. Wild, but there’s a man and a woman. And they are, for no reason and every reason, buck naked. Buck naked in the jungles of Costa Rica. Bare-ass in the Tanzanian Serengeti. The goal—and it’s just that, a goal, as there is no prize for completing the mission—is to survive 21 days in the wilderness together. Naked.” The season finale aired August 3 on the Discovery Channel.

CSI/NCIS/CRIMINAL MINDS/ETC.

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Cliff Lipson/CBS

All these crime procedurals on CBS are the same! The formula is pretty tired, with the exception of Criminal Minds, which is addictive—like a raunchier version of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

1. Broadchurch

In Broadchurch, which premiered Wednesday night on BBC America, an 11-year-old boy is found dead one morning below the cliffs of the modest titular village in southern England. Two mismatched detectives (David Tennant, Olivia Colman) are on the case, and soon they discover that all is not what it seems in this quaint little town. Our very own Andrew Romano called it “easily the best new drama I’ve seen in 2013.”

2. The Killing

This AMC series, an American adaptation of the Danish TV series Forbrydelsen, just wrapped a stellar third season. Set in Seattle, it follows a pair of detectives, Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), as they investigate a series of murders, with each episode covering 24 hours of the investigation. It’s like Twin Peaks–lite, and let’s hope it returns for a fourth season.

TWO AND A HALF MEN

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Cliff Lipson/CBS

This sitcom, about a pair of bachelor brothers (caddish Ashton Kutcher, nerdy Jon Cryer) and the latter’s son, is terribly unfunny and still smarting from the departure of Charlie Sheen.

1. Parks & Recreation

Yes, Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones will be departing after this season, but have no fear! This NBC comedy about a group of quirky bureaucrats who work in the parks department in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana, is downright hilarious and only getting better with age. Amy Poehler is amazing as Leslie Knope, the fearless midlevel leader of the parks department, and is joined by a cast of stellar comedians, including Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, and more. Season 6 premieres September 26.

2. Community

Series creator Dan Harmon is finally back, so expect this meta NBC comedy, about a group of adults enrolled in a fictional community college in Greendale, Colorado, to come back better than ever—and jam-packed with witty pop-culture references. The Season 5 premiere date is TBD.