CBS, the TV network, and Time Warner, the cable company, are at loggerheads over money. The former, describing itself as "the most-watched television network with the most popular content in the world," would like the latter to pay more than it currently does to carry its shows; the latter thinks the former has set the price too high.
The most visible, or rather invisible, result of the dispute is this: If you live in Los Angeles, New York or Dallas (or one of the other five markets with a station owned by the mothership CBS Corp.) and get your TV through Time Warner, you will have noticed that CBS is missing. (Independently owned stations affiliated with CBS are not affected.) In L.A., at least, Time Warner has tracked other content into the analog and digital channels the network usually occupies (with an occasional news crawl directing the disgruntled viewer to a Time Warner-friendly website).
Showtime, which it also owns, and where "Dexter" is in its last season, and the local KCAL, have also gone dark.
It all seems tiresome and unseemly to me: "A plague on both their houses" is the phrase that pops to mind.
Press releases to the contrary, neither party occupies any sort of moral high ground; they are just a couple of warring corporations, dinosaurs with their teeth in each other's necks, too evenly matched to do one another lasting harm but trampling the underbrush while they tangle.
Both parties are large and privileged entities that have been allowed to control a great portion of the cultural landscape without giving back all that much. (CBS does not own that spectrum it acts like it owns; you do.) Still, much of their dispute is taking place in public, in counteroffensive news releases and open letters, each side attempting to create sympathy for itself and to put pressure on its opponent.
Time Warner calls CBS' behavior "abhorrent" and "beyond the pale," and offers to carry the network as a premium channel, like HBO. CBS, telling the world its ratings have been little affected by the blackout, calls the proposal "a sham, a public relations vehicle designed to distract from the fact that Time Warner Cable is not negotiating in good faith."
Though it is conceivable that they will never come to an agreement, it is more likely that they will, in some way allowing each side to be able to claim a measure of victory. Possibly your cable bill will be a little higher.
We tend to think of television — which we are born with and grow up watching and, unless we are very clever, can hardly avoid — as an inalienable human right, like liberty and cheap gas. Some will be angry at being so denied. But August is as slow as things ever get on television, and most viewers will find solutions according to their actual desire to find a solution.
September, when the new shows come on, will be a different story. But it's hard to believe that CBS would withhold them from the two cities most responsible for their existence.
New shows aside, this won't even be an issue for me until the return of "The Good Wife," the only CBS show I actively follow (though I certainly respect others). Of course, I am also in a position, professionally, to see whatever I need to see — until this piece is published, anyway.
But we all have options.
You could, for one thing, switch to satellite television, which would not guarantee a future free from such disputes, but would get you through this one. You can keep up with "Under the Dome" on Amazon — CBS, while barring Time Warner customers from viewing episodes on its own site, provides an Amazon link — free, if you're a Prime subscriber, and for the price of a cup of coffee if you're not.
For "Dexter," you could be patient and wait for the DVDs to arrive. For sports, you could go to a sports bar. You could buy an antenna for your television and watch CBS over the air, the way Grandma used to.
Or you could just watch that much less television and see how that feels.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun