Wednesday, September 18, 2013
The trouble with binging
Binging is the new way we’re watching television. Viewers now have to make a tough choice. Wait a week for the next installment of your favorite show? Or send the kids to boarding school so you’ll have time to finally catch up on SONS OF ANARCHY?
I have binge-watched on occasion. It is addicting. I think I burned through HOUSE OF CARDS in two nights. I found myself saying: “What time is it? 2:30 am? Okay. I can watch one more.”
There are however, a number of drawbacks to binging.
You can’t just hop aboard the moving train. You hear great things about a show but you really have to start from the beginning. So if a couple of seasons have gone by chances are you’ll just skip it and thus deny yourself a terrific show.
Another problem: these shows do very poorly in syndication. Once you know how they end you tend to move onto other things. And again, new fans don’t tune in midstream because they’ll be totally lost (especially with LOST). There’s something definitely wrong when THE SOPRANOS does way worse in syndication than THE GEORGE LOPEZ SHOW.
The easiest thing for viewers to do of course is jump right on board when a new series premieres. But a lot of them fizzle out. You devote seven hours to FLASH FORWARD and it’s cancelled. You’re saying, “Wait a minute? They never explained how this all happened?” Tough shit. You’re screwed.
So it becomes harder for networks to gauge which new shows are catching on because even if a show is promising, many viewers will hold off watching until they’re sure their time won’t be wasted. This is less of a problem with premium cable because they’re just looking to keep subscribers. They’re more concerned about buzz rather than ratings. Not so with CBS.
Binging also eliminates the shared experience we used to have when a big event was on television. There's something magical about the whole country coming together as one to participate in a television program. Now the only time that happens is for major sporting events and O.J. trials.
I also worry that when you binge you don’t take the time to really savor and think about each episode. MAD MEN has always resonated because I had the time to contemplate each episode. As a result I got way more out of it. I appreciated the nuances, allowed the themes to reverberate. When you binge-watch you say, “Okay, that was a good one. Next!” It’s like when you go to a fine restaurant and bring home some leftover prime steak. You give it to your dog and he gulps it down in three bites. You want to say, “Hey, that cost $5 an ounce!”
And my final beef (tying it in the with last sentence and confusing the activists) with binging: when I was writing MASH we would usually do one hour-long episode a season. And I always hated them. Why? Because we packed so much into each half hour I felt that thirty-minute increments were how the show was meant to be watched. We’d include the same amount into hour episodes, but I felt the audience started getting weary about forty-five minutes in. The rhythm, story-telling, and pace were designed for the half-hour format. Now I know viewing habits have changed. Especially with Netflix and Hulu people binge on MASH and CHEERS all the time. And that’s great. I love the fact that new viewers are discovering our shows – as long as they understand that they were originally designed not to be seen all at once, but to be seen over and over again.
For you proponents of binging I offer the ultimate challenge. Grab some snacks, make yourself comfy. Now watch all 530 episodes of THE SIMPSONS in one sitting. If nothing else, you'll shame me into watching THE WIRE.