EZPZ: How To Watch Any TV Show Without Paying A Dime

My apartment is not wired for cable. I know what you’re thinking: How is it that you have access to a computer in 1862, Una, and are Abraham Lincoln’s acne scars really that visible in real life?
But no, friends. I live in New York, what some would argue is one of the most plugged-in, technologically savvy cities in the world. I can order 40 different kinds of take-out from my couch, and yet my TV sits before me, blank and impotent. I have called the cable companies and DirectTV; apparently the cable box for my building is defective and in order to set it up they would have insert our wires into the neighbor’s box (heh heh), which would necessitate some sort of death-defying acrobatics and probably some holes drilled into the walls, which my landlord will not allow. So I have adjusted to a life without DVR, let alone live television. But instead of reading books or cooking elaborate meals or learning how to use my Pilates magic circle, I have become a sensai of watching TV for free on the Internet.

There was a time when I would shell out $24.99 for an iTunes season pass to pretty much anything that aired anywhere, ever. “Are you sure you want to purchase a season pass to Denise Richards: It’s Complicated?” iTunes would ask before charging my credit card. It was trying to do right by me but I wouldn’t listen.

Little did I know that any TV show you could possibly want to watch (and, obviously, my standards are particularly low) is available for free on the vast and glorious interwebs.While I’m sure that many of you have cable, it is always good to be prepared for the worst–the worst being that you miss six precious seconds of sad, slow-mo beach running on The Bachelor.

To that end, here is a handy guide to gettin’ your stories on:

BEGINNER

  • HULU:

If you like mainstream network shows, you will love Hulu.  You can watch any recent episode of any show that airs on NBC, ABC, and Fox (that covers everything from Modern Family and Glee to Grey’s Anatomy and Friday Night Lights to So You Think You Can Dance and Wipeout!) plus select shows from cable channels (The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, Rescue Me). If you get the timing right (and when you don’t have cable you have nothing but time to do things like schedule your internet TV watching time), you can also usually catch free premiere episodes of new seasons from harder to get networks like Bravo. I don’t clip coupons, but I do get a thrill from watching a freebie of Bethenny Ever After. Don’t judge.

Pros: Fast, easy to navigate site; excellent video quality; good selection of shows.

Cons: Commercials. In the course of a standard half-hour episode, be prepared to watch at least four commercials, often the same obnoxious Geico or Dairy Queen commercial four times. There is no way to fast-forward. If you try to, IT KNOWS, and it will make you watch another commercial for penance. Also, unless you shell out $8/month for Hulu Plus, you’re limited to the most recent 5-6 episodes of any given show, so you can’t wait too long after the air date.

  • NETWORK WEBSITES:

Hulu doesn’t carry shows from CBS or the CW, but if you need your How I Met Your Mother or Gossip Girl fix, you can always watch the latest episodes on the network sites. The downside is that the streaming quality is spotty depending on the strength of your wireless signal, and there are just as many commercials.

Pros: Intuitive, usually easy to navigate, fewer limitations on available episodes

Cons: Can take time to load/stream; commercials

INTERMEDIATE

  • SIDEREEL.COM:

My sister, who is a Jedi master at watching all kinds of things online, introduced me to Sidereel, a site which basically aggregates links to illegal streaming on other sites like Megavideo. Or, I’m not sure if it’s illegal per se (especially if any government employees are reading this), but I’m going to assume that the networks probably don’t sanction it, because most of the shows you can find on here are either not available anywhere but on DVR or on demand (ahem, Dexter, True Blood) or are sold exclusively on iTunes (Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Real Housewives).

Pros: Hard-to-find shows, no commercials (!!)

Cons: There is a 72-minute watching limit per day, which means that you can’t watch more than one hour-long episode every 24 hours. (Unless you want to take steps to bypass the time limit, which is some ninja shit that I neither condone nor promote. But this guy has some tips if you’re interested.) Also, a lot of links get broken quickly because networks like HBO crack down on illegal distribution. So act fast (i.e. the day after the show airs) for best results. While there are no commercials during the videos, there are annoying pop-up ads on the main site.

  • TVSHOW7.COM:

This sleek but deceptively quirky site has an odd selection of shows (Burn Notice? Check! Army Wives? Check! Hung? Check!), but you don’t have to play leap frog with a bunch of links to get to the content, which is great quality and can be made full-screen to avoid distracting advertising windows.

Pros: Um, Army Wives. Duh.

Cons: No Royal Pains.

Note: There are many other, similar sites that serve the same purpose as the two I mention here. Just Google “watch TV online” and you can find other options if these don’t do it for you.

ADVANCED

  • YOUTUBE

I watched the entire last season of Weeds in 15-minute chunks on YouTube. I could not tell you why Weeds is so hard to find. I mean, seriously, I could buy real weed faster than I could watch an episode of Weeds (kidding again, government! LOL!) But it’s worth poking around on YouTube, because devoted fans often post full episodes of shows. Of course, these precious nuggets are buried beneath hundreds of useless thirty-second clips and links to other sites, so you have to do some searching to get your fix. Not for the impatient or time-strapped.

Pros: No creepy illegal sites; can watch “Charlie Bit My Finger” while waiting for episodes to load

Cons:Hard to find good quality videos that haven’t been removed for copyright infringement; have to watch each episode in multiple parts

  • BIT TORRENT DOWNLOADS

This is so advanced, even I don’t know how to do it. But it sounds cool, in an early-90s hacker kind of way. Just Google it, if you know your way around RSS feeds and aren’t afraid that Big Brother is watching.

Speaking of watching Big Brother, I’m off to CBS.com. Happy watching! And if you see my cable box, punch it for me, will you?

About Una LaMarche

Una LaMarche blogs at The Sassy Curmudgeon, and writes for The New York Observer, The Huffington Post, and NickMom. She dominates at mini golf, especially after a few drinks, and it is a fact that Tim Gunn once complimented her on her sandals. You can find her hawking blog posts and fetishizing candy on Twitter, and if you really want to feed her ego (which took a major hit thanks to an adolescent unibrow and a penchant for Troll doll earrings), you can become her fan on Facebook.

Comments

  1. Sara says:

    Also: try your local library, for shows out on DVD. My library happens to be teeny tiny, but we can get almost anything through the interlibrary loan. Including, but not limited to, but most importantly, Weeds.

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  2. Mindfulmoon says:

    I’m just gonna say it. Roku. With a Roku box, which you just buy outright, you can watch a lot of shiz, if you know what I mean. You can, with a Huluplus account and a Netflix streaming only account (about $16 for both) have nearly everything you want. There is no subscription for the box and it works with just an internet connection.

    Pros: Can watch what you want when you want including old and new episodes of lots of network shows with Huluplus. Really easy to set up. Lots of extra channels. Angry Birds (just sayin’). Lots of other, independent, content.

    Cons: Will slow the internet a little while you are watching something. Not all network shows are available (like you mentioned). Also, you need one for every TV.

    Add a $20 antenna for local news and you’re all set.

  3. very interesting. I am looking into giving up our Netflix with the whole we’re going to double your charge and not have lots of stuff to watch starting in September. So I want alternatives.

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  4. Rachel H says:

    It’s not free, but if you’re already paying for a Netflix streaming account, they actually have a pretty interesting set of television shows. My husband and I have been watching the Cosby Show (all episodes available!) and Mad Men was just added to the lineup as well. Give it a second look!

  5. Dawn K. says:

    I’m all up for cutting cable, but we’re pretty big sports people. Any recommendation on catching these events in real time? Mostly football (college and pro) college basketball, and baseball.

  6. I watch a LOT of TV online, semi-illegally. My advice is find a good proxy website – a website that lists a bunch of external links to each episode and rates how reliable those links are. That way, you don’t end up endlessly searching through Megavideo for hours, only to constantly be told “this video has been removed because it violate copyright”.

    Seriously though, don’t download. Ever. Anytime.
    A) It’s illegal.
    B) You will probably give your computer an STD.

    If you must do it, wear a condom – screen every file with your anti-virus program before allowing it to download.

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  7. Admiring the persistence you put into your blog and detailed information you offer.
    It’s great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed information.
    Great read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  8. i like to read your post. its very interesting. thank you.

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