Cord cutter’s Guide to Fall TV

Check out what’s available to watch away from the cable box this fall season

As we enter the most jam-packed TV premiere month of the year, there are decisions to be made.

With more than 30 new shows coming to primetime this fall, how is one to decide what to watch? What is good? What is bad? What shows are worth our valuable time? Critics are supposed to help, but even we can’t possibly keep up with the glut of content. Plus, services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus offer hours of great old shows — many of them even better than most of what’s on today. As John Landgraf, the CEO of FX, told attendees of the Television Critics Association’s annual press tour last month: “There is simply too much television.”

The Huffington Post‘s Maureen Ryan has theorized that this “bubble” of content is the product of all the air being blown up the butts of the creatives by executives.

As anyone who writes or performs for a living knows that everyone needs an editor. Collaboration pushes creativity into new territory, bringing new ideas and whittling rough ones into great ones. TV auteurs used to be kept in check by people who knew what made good TV, Ryan said. But now, networks are too afraid to lose their signature-branded talent (think: Shonda Rhimes, True Detective‘s Nic Pizzolatto, Mad Men‘s Matthew Weiner, Lost‘s Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof) to exert any editorial control.

The results have been disappointing, meandering series that lack the bite to keep us coming back episode after episode. They fizzle and die before most of us even give them a chance. Combine this flabbiness with too much competition, and nobody can win. When you have hundreds of channels and shows to choose from — many of them are truly great — it’s a wonder any of us can ever make the nightly decision of what to watch.

This, to me, is a ringing endorsement for cord cutting. The only choice we as viewers have to limit what’s on the tube is to limit what’s available in our own homes. There is so much good TV. Even if some were taken away, there are still plenty of choices to more than fill your leisure time. And the great news is, most of it is available to stream without a cable subscription.

I write about TV, so maybe I’m more inclined than the average viewer to lean toward “more is better.” Over the last 20 months, I tested that theory. I got a DVR, ordered network TV and a few cable channels, and tried to straddle the fence. Some shows, I recorded. Others, I streamed. I hardly ever watch live TV. I never watch sports. Two weeks ago, I moved into a new apartment and, once again, had to make the “will I or won’t I” decision. After a year of cable, my choice was clear: streaming was enough. Rather than pay $65 per month for cable and DVR service, I could pay $8 per month for Hulu Plus, $9 per month for Netflix, $6 per month for CBS All Access, $15 per month for HBO (total: $38 per month) and have access to everything I need to tune in to the fall 2015 TV that matters to me.

Hulu Plus is a cord cutter’s best friend. Featuring a partnership between Fox Broadcasting Company, NBCUniversal and Disney-ABC Television Group, three out of the four major broadcasters are guaranteed to offer their content. Hulu also partners with other networks, offering limited access to their content. When it comes to sheer volume, Hulu offers almost everything from the broadcast networks and the major cable networks.

CBS has notoriously kept its content close to the vest, debuting its own streaming product, CBS All Access, in 2014. Although a select few seasons are available on Hulu and Netflix, if you want to stay current with upcoming series like The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Life in Pieces and Supergirl, you’ll have to cough up $6 more per month. The same goes for HBO. For the most part, you can only get HBO series on HBO. If you’re a fan of premium TV, that’s $15 you won’t mind shelling out.

Netflix, the other big streaming titan, doesn’t have much to offer current TV watchers. Most of what is available on Netflix becomes available well after a season ends. Netflix doesn’t offer any sort of “next day” running access to current series. However, the original programming on Netflix (including new series Narcos) is certainly worth the price of a basic streaming subscription. It’s also the only place that you can stream Sundance TV originals like Top of The Lake and Rectify.

Now that you know the offerings, it’s time for some real talk. The biggest adjustment a cord cutter must make — and believe me, I understand that this is not to be taken lightly — is timing. If you’re wedded to the water cooler and absolutely must be able to talk to your coworkers the morning after every episode of The Walking Dead, or if you’re heavily invested in the live TV Twitterverse, cord cutting is not for you. While HBO makes shows available the minute the new episode airs live, Hulu and CBS do not offer such luxury. CBS shows are available on the CBS app the next day. Hulu makes you wait.

ABC and Fox shows become available on Hulu Plus eight days after they air. If you choose to cut the cord, you will be perpetually one week behind. There are some next day exceptions like The Daily Show, but for most, next day availability requires “authentication,” or proving that you are subscribed to an old-school cable package. Most shows from the Viacom family and other cable networks are only available three to four weeks after they air.

Generally, only the five most recent episodes are available to stream, so you can’t wait forever. You can, however, let an episode or two build up while you give your attention to something else, or if you have a busy couple of weeks. If you can’t wait the extra eight days, or want to watch a whole season, you’ll have to check Netflix or shell out a few bucks per episode on Amazon or iTunes. The fact is, if we’re willing to be patient viewers and limit ourselves to only what we really want to watch, it is possible to watch virtually all of the fall TV coming our way with only streaming services.

Not interested in bingeing old seasons? Skip Netflix. Not interested in Game of Thrones? Skip HBO. Not a fan of anything on CBS? Skip it. With a little bit of patience, you could get most of the best of fall TV with Hulu alone. In the ultimate age of too much choice, why not take advantage of that freedom, and only pay for what you really want to see?

Three tips to achieve cord-cutting bliss:

  1. If Hulu Plus is the cord cutter’s best friend, is a cord cutters wingman. Search any film or TV title to see where you can stream it and where you can pay for episodes. Filter by date, genre, price, or the streaming services to which you’re subscribed.
  2. Share subscriptions. The $12 Netflix streaming subscription allows you to watch on up to four screens at once, and allows you to set up individual profiles to develop your own recommendations and queues. That means you can split it with four friends, pay $3 per month each, and have access to all that great original programming I mentioned above. Not a bad deal. You can do this with HBO Go, too, though without the profile feature sometimes watching the same episode or the same sequence at about the same time can be tricky.
  3. Check availability to help you decide which streaming services you want. You can easily see how many episodes or seasons of a show are available on Hulu, and whether you need a cable subscription to view them, by visiting the main show page and looking for the green “available episodes” box in the middle of the page under the description.

Happy Streaming!

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