That whole TV thing is just so yesterday


I am a TV critic, and my kid doesn't watch TV. That almost sounds like the beginning of a 12-step pronouncement, doesn't it? It kind of feels that way. I mean, have I taught my 21-year-old son, Josh, nothing? When I've swept my arm across the living room big screen outfitted with TiVo and digital cable and assured him, "One day this will all be yours," did nothing sink in? Evidently not. He looks at conventional television as if it's some Neanderthal extension of an 8-track tape deck, and if that isn't the TV industry's worst nightmare, it surely ought to be.

As a new fall network primetime television season dawns, Josh could not possibly be less interested. He's a computer geek, but his disdain for the tube can't merely be ascribed to his geekdom. It's about a generation that has little or no use for the TV culture that we adults grew up on but is rapidly striding toward obsolescence.

I learned the extent of my son's monumental disinterest in all that emerges from a TV set while helping him move to his first post-college apartment on Labor Day. It began, innocently enough, with Josh asking whom he might call to procure a high-speed Internet account. I suggested he ring up the good folks at Time Warner Cable, as they could hook him up not only with a swift connection but give him a better deal on his cable TV as well if purchased in tandem.

"Huh? Oh no, I'm not getting cable TV," he informed.

"Oh, you're getting satellite?" I asked naively.

"No. I'm getting nothing," he replied, somewhat annoyed.

It was nearly impossible for me to process this information. Josh might as well have told me he had discovered an alternative to breathing that he was now embracing. But given that he was a philosophy major in college, I theorized this must have had something to do with the idea that, you know, television doesn't actually exist, it's all in our subconscious, you can focus on the bare wall and generate the same effect, etc.

"So you don't ever have the desire to watch any television?" I asked, my incredulity reaching a crescendo, certain that my synapses were suffering a brief misfiring episode.

"What I want to watch, I download onto my laptop," he said, adding for emphasis, "and it's all free."

Well, OK then, Mr. Television Programmer -- what now? It may be high time for you to start brainstorming that new financial model, no? Unless my kid is a huge anomaly, it seems that ever-increasing numbers of America's teens and twentysomethings are in the process of rendering your current one hopelessly dated, if not already dead.

I have progeny positioned right smack in the business end of your target demographic -- and he's got pretty much zero use for both you and your prized advertisers. If you require further compelling evidence, please feel free to contact my boy, as I'm pretty sure he'd be thrilled to anchor your one-man focus group in return for a bag of tortilla chips, a thick-crust pizza and a blank CD or two.

But I can spare TV execs even that modest expense by offering these sage words free of charge: Don't look at the Internet as either a competitor or a mere integrated media adjunct to your core business. The future is now, baby, and that train's already starting to pull out of the station.