Thursday, September 19, 2013

"OK, when the alert level goes down, and the terrorists have been caught, we can have some chamomile tea and I'll tell you all my secrets. "

Today's train car is especially bumpy.  Makes it hard to type with any accuracy.  If there's a funky word that I miss in my "once over" please forgive me.  Meanwhile, let's press on with "Must See TV".

Or perhaps we should get on with what's not "Must See TV".  The long awaited Netflix disc arrived yesterday afternoon with the new "The Mentalist" - season 5 disc 1.  Woot.  Except that apparently we missed season 4.  A fact that became apparent in the first thirty seconds when the voice over said, "Previously on 'The Mentalist'".

I stopped the player.  We discussed for a moment.  I was all for pressing on - it's television, who cares if an episode or two is out of order.  My partner thought that, based on the preview, we had missed significant story elements and should wait until season 4 became available.  We compromised and didn't watch it.

The entire incident got me thinking about television in general.  We haven't had cable for nearly 15 years.  The house we live in now doesn't get anything through the air so everything we watch is prerecorded and by choice.  (Saves us hours of not watching commercials and keeps the kids safer.)  Five years ago when I would tell people I didn't have cable or get TV they would act like I was crazy and walk away.  That doesn't happen anymore.  Now it's more of, "Yeah, I should probably get rid of it too.  I stream everything."

And that's the fundamental change in television.  On-demand streaming of personalized content.  It has led to binge watching - where you will go without sleep for an entire weekend to watch three seasons of some show.  Or you will watch one series every night until you finish it and then pick another (which is more like what we do).

As the viewing habits changed, the format itself changed.  With streaming and DVRs (so much easier than VCRs) the story tellers could begin developing complex plots across entire seasons where each episode built on the previous one without the risk of losing viewers when they missed an episode.

Shows like “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest” had done that before but they were considered "primetime soap operas".  “The Sopranos” and “24” really demonstrated the viability of the technique and now the majority of shows we call TV have critical story elements that direct the rest of the season in nearly every episode.

There were always changes in shows, but they were a big deal - like when Mac was killed on Magnum.  It was a double episode with lots of fanfare.  Then they introduced Maggie and that was that.  She stayed [the same] for the rest of the show.

Maybe I'm off here, but since every time I turn around there's a new service that streams to a new device, I don't think so.

But I could be wrong – what’s your exception to the new rule?  What show is like “Seinfeld” or “Cheers” where you can just pick up any episode, anywhere, and watch it?


  1. As long as you're familiar with the basic premise of the show, both Psych and Community are in that vein. Oddly enough, so is Sherlock despite it being on completely the other end of the spectrum. I wouldn't recommend doing so since things actually change of the course of the seasons in all of those shows (and especially in Sherlock), but each episode does a decent job of standing by itself.

    1. But mostly it turns out to be shows like Top Gear (which is scripted) and then your competition-style shows like Idol/Iron Chef/The Voice/etc.

    2. Psych is a really great example. The relationships develop but not enough that you are missing anything if you skip around during a season.

      I have not seen Commuity. It sounds like something that VH1 would have shown during the '90s.