Monthly Archives: March 2013

a brave new world of spoiler alerts

3/3/13

Welcome back to Writer Monday on the blog, where we here at xtcian try to demystify the writing process for you, and concurrently, do a lot of complaining! Yes, we offer some of the finest bitching and moaning on the web, obfuscated by big words like “obfuscated” in a vain attempt to remain classy and relevant.

Today I’d like to briefly touch on “binge watching”. We’ve all done it for decades, but only lately has there been a term for “watching almost a whole season of television at once”. At this point in my illustrious TV-watching career, I have to say that I love binge-watching so much that I will elect to have 2 or 3 shows stack up on the DVR so that Tessa and I can gorge on them when we’re ready.

These days, the only thing I watch as it is being broadcast is The University of North Carolina Tar Heels, and even those games I’ve occasionally watched a half-hour late so we can fast-forward through the chain-restaurant ads. Put simply, I think most television is actually better when you control your level of immersion.

As many of you know, Netflix decided it was going to live in a reality-based paradigm and released House of Cards as an entire season at once, yours for the watching as you see fit. It has been a huge success for them, not just because it’s actually pretty good, but I think largely because they disposed with the doling-it-out week-by-week method.

What is a week, anyway? Most likely the 7-day week originated well before the Bible story, going back to the earliest thinking humans. A day was prescribed to each of the sky’s “wandering objects” visible to the naked eye: Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. Meaning, of course, that if Uranus were a lot brighter, you’d have to wait a whole extra day to see the next “2 Broke Girls” on CBS.

5planets.jpg

There is no natural reason why a TV show airs only every seven days. Furthermore, there’s no natural reason why movies are inherently different than TV, or why TV shows couldn’t just be 13 straight hours long, and in the words of “House of Cards” writer Beau Willimon, “you decide where to pause.” We may ENJOY the current setup and we’re certainly used to it, but it’s a convention borrowed from the visible planets and a marketing structure from the 1950s.

As with most advances in technology, there will always be something lost. Over at the A.V. Club, Todd VanDerWerff expresses something I’ve heard from others, that binge-watching doesn’t allow for the natural digestion of a great show, it robs the viewer of that week to discuss it with others in a watercooler context.

Todd’s piece and this excellent article from Macleans also discuss the pitfalls of writing a show that is meant to be consumed with little or no breaks. But even with all the downside, I have yet to experience a TV marathon that wasn’t totally worth it.

Besides, I don’t like the description “binge-watching”. It’s pejorative, and seems to suggest gluttony, as if we’re hewed to some Puritanical idea of only doling out our pleasure by the quarter-teaspoon. It is one thing to explain what we lose when we no longer have to wait, but this change is inevitable, and everyone has to be ready.

I’m already thinking in the mindset of an immersion, already planning how a season might play out if your audience gets it all at once. And really, just because you have a whole season doesn’t mean you have to watch it all at once. In the new world, you get to have your cake and eat it however you’d like.