Must (Not) See TV

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 1.20.57 PM

There is too much TV. There, I’ve said it. So do not chastise me because I stopped watching The Leftovers after three episodes and Masters of Sex after two even though I liked them both. Also, DO NOT get on my back because I haven’t yet sampled Orange is the New Black (it’s on my list) or that I can’t deal with Kevin Spacey talking to the camera with a phony accent in House of Cards enough to get past the beginning of season one. As for Scandal, for me it’s beyond ridiculous but not in a good way in much the same way that The Good Wife is a solid, well done broadcast network TV series that has never grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go.

Ugh... yes that too.

Ugh… yes that too.

I freely admit to all of these offenses.

Still, isn’t it enough I have watched every single episode of Mad Men and Girls – two shows that never ever disappoint me even on their worst nights? Or that I long to know what will happen next to the cast of PBS’ Downton Abbey exactly as much as I’m jonseing for season four of American Horror Story to begin next month? Or even season three of Orphan Black to start in January? How about that I never miss an episode of the broadcast network series Revenge, or NBC’s The Voice? Doesn’t that give me some mainstream television street cred?

penny-needs-help-for-her-computer-addiction-on-the-big-bang-theory

Okay, fine – then let’s close with the following – Here are the television comedies I enjoy very much almost every time I tune in: Archer, Parks and Rec, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Louie, Please Like Me and, perennially and forever – I Love Lucy. Though I can stand to miss episodes or seasons here and there because after all, one does need to eat, sleep and have some fun in well, some OTHER way at least…occasionally. Doesn’t one?

I have spent at least a million minutes of my life watching television and for half of that time there were only three broadcast networks and 0.00 cable series to choose from. And I suspect most of you under 30 would have similar stats, give or take a few thousand minutes, especially if you counted TV content you’ve viewed via your computer, touch-Pad, phone or any other mobile device/screen I’ve left out. Oh yeah, you know you would because given the way we live now even buffering counts.

They should really add a pillow app.

They should really add a pillow app.

More than half a century ago Newton Minow, the former FCC chairman and attorney, famously dubbed TV a vast wasteland in a speech he gave before the National Association of Broadcasters. No doubt he’d now have that to say and more about what it’s done to my mind and yours after all these recent years of abuse. Oh – and before you yell BULL PUCKY to the opinion of this still ticking 88 year old – who to my knowledge has never taken back the verdict he came to in that famous speech – consider the entire statement he made all those many decades ago as he chastised a captive audience of station owners and television insiders alike.

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

Hmm, well I haven’t quite tried that. But I will confess to being a part time insomniac and night owl who has watched more than my share of 2 am infomercials. These include Cindy Crawford’s beauty secrets derived from a French doctor synthesizing a rare melon that promises the age-defying skin of a 25 year old to not only you and I and the supermodel but also to Debra Messing and Valerie Bertinelli, two of the celebrity subjects who appear beside CC in this very engaging hard/soft sell. Wasteland? Not at all. I prefer the old adage waste not, want not – as does my age-defying epidermis. Especially when the alternative is to suffer the endless workouts offered at that time of night under the tutelage of Sean T’s Insanity or Tony Horton and P90X.   I mean, talk about a no brainer!

Aside from never aging, she even managed to clone herself

Aside from never aging, she even managed to clone herself

As for television, I try to do my work and it beckons. Daytime, nighttime, afternoon time – it beckons. MSNBC, reality, cable, network, computer, smart phone, tablet – it’s there. It’s difficult to get off the juice, as it always is with any sort of addiction, yet isn’t it wise to try? There are books to read, work to do, people to engage with, movies to see, friends and family members to……..text? Pictures to post on..…….Instagram? And pet videos to…….. ___________? Not to mention, museums, plays and planetariums. Or beaches, hills and mountains to climb. Literally, if you so choose any of the latter.

Well, that's one way to repurpose your old console

Well, that’s one way to repurpose your old console

Speaking of which, this week I was packing up the home of a dear friend who died recently and was going through old photos and various other memorabilia. These items showed this person through the ages and reference various movies through many decades that this person worked on. These movies were all famous and like many people in the business my friend has keepsakes from them – a baseball hat here, a plaque there, a jacket somewhere else. Decades and decades of work you would all likely recognize in an instant.

The fact that this friend had an impressive career in and around some of the more iconic moments in film history was in that moment both impressive and moving to me because it not only referenced visual and intellectual memories of the individual I knew but touched on several iconic moments from the past that would no doubt move people who did not ever know my friend since they serve as enduring pop culture touchstones to many millions of others of us throughout the world.

Movies used to do that more than any other form of entertainment and certainly there are still some films these days that reach iconic status. But one could make a case that the viewing habits ushered in by new technology and our unremitting demand for more, more, more has now placed television at the forefront if for no other reason than sheer numbers. Has anything Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino directed in the last 10 years tapped into the cultural hot button the way Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Office or even South Park has? I doubt it. Even niche television like Broad City outreaches a niche indie film darling like Obvious Child these days.

There is no "shut your phone off" warning before Scandal.

There is no “shut your phone off” warning before Scandal.

For better or worse TV, no matter how you watch it, is at the peak of our culture despite how high or low of a medium one chooses to see it as.   Certainly it has replaced movies as the more consistently discussed mode of entertainment – which replaced theatre before it, which took over from books and radio for a while, which in turn took over from plays. Which has nothing to do with sports except for the analogy of how football began to dominate over baseball decades ago, at least in the U.S. Though who knows for exactly how long as we watch the popularity and billion dollar corporate sponsorship of the NFL begin to collapse the more its culture of covering up the heinous domestic and child abuse allegations against some of its most popular ($$$) players are exposed to the harsh light of day.

That said, one wonders if there is something about all of us which is really to blame here since logic dictates that the most popular entertainment we choose at any particular moment in history is merely and certainly reflective of who and what we really are as a people. Wow, that’s a scary thought. Or, more pointedly, a mind-numbing one. Which sort of brings us full circle.

The eternal question

The eternal question

When this sort of thing comes up, I instead prefer to consider something, well anything else that I’m looking forward to doing the rest of the week. This includes watching anything and everything that I can on television because, let’s face it it’s easier than thinking about any of those questions above for one more second.

Here are a few of those program choices in no particular order and not all of which will even debut this week. I include all of them as possible diversionary material only because it’s gotten to the point where even anticipating and/or dreaming about what’s on television has become more desirable than experiencing or even pondering some of life’s most stickiest issues.

Cherishing Valerie

Cherishing Valerie

1. The return of HBO’s The Comeback on Nov. 9. – This show gives me hope for the future since it proves that in even the turbulent, competitive times of 2014 you can reinvent and resurrect yourself after nine years in the doghouse.       That’s the life-affirming meta message of this half hour black comedy starring Lisa Kudrow as supposedly washed up television actress Valerie Cherish. And this is because after being axed by HBO and off the air for nearly a decade both The Comeback and Kudrow’s Valerie have been given an almost unheard of second chance.   Yes, she might be clueless and fame seeking (which of us isn’t?) but somehow her sweet and sour self perseveres as she tries to navigate the minefields of her career and personal life by allowing any and all cameras to film her day and night. If that’s not a metaphor for today, then…you don’t understand metaphors. Or today.

Cosby show in the Obama age?

Cosby show in the Obama age?

2. Black-ish – I’m going out on a limb with this one because I only saw a 10-minute preview and they tend to be misleading.       Still, when network television (ABC) green lights a story about an upper middle-class African American Dad (Anthony Andreson) who panics when his young son decides he wants a bar-mitzvah and then forces the family into more Black appropriate rituals and behavior– I can’t wait to sample it. And this would be the case if it were the other way around and it were a White TV family trying to act less Black (Note: As if THAT would ever happen).

Adding to the allure here is that Laurence Fishburne plays the crotchety Grandpa. Not to mention that when Dad admonishes his mixed-race wife (Tracey Ellis Ross) for not being Black enough, she snaps at him a line like: Really? Then tell that to my hair and my ass! Sure, it could all go horribly wrong but it could also be politically incorrectly right. Given that ABC has scheduled it to directly follow Modern Family it just might have a shot at the latter. (Air Date: Sept. 24).

Bring it on!

Bring it on!

3. American Horror Story – Season 4 – I’m addicted to this show for all the wrong reasons it’s sick, twisted, sometimes illogical, and campier than a room full of Ann Miller impersonators (Note: For those under 30 substitute RuPaul impersonators, or simply RuPaul). It doesn’t matter. The new season in this anthology series is called Freak Show, is set inside a Florida circus of outcasts run by Jessica Lange and features a set of conjoined twins, a bearded lady and a severely large, red-mouthed guy in white face named Twisty the Clown. Need I say more? I don’t think so.

Until Oct. 8, the preview can say it for you. In three different ways (Note: Actually, thirteen if you check YouTube on your own).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKGwySm9nMc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cexbmH3xLuQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shIZH4GnQT0

Of course, there are museums to visit, social issues to protest and scathing words to write and say about a myriad of issues that comes across our screens on any given day. Not to mention if we really want to be proactive and do something different we could contribute to a charitable cause, or any cause, we believe in with an amount that exceeds our monthly bills from Time-Warner, Direct TV, Netflix and god knows what other mega speed Internet connections we’re signed up to that enables us to view all of the former in minimal discomfort. Those are all worthy gestures and would no doubt be personally satisfying. But nowhere near as exciting as the momentary thrills we receive after just a few minutes in front of our very own small screen. And therein lies the problem.   That is, if any of us ever choose to see it as such.

 

Advertisements

Manic Emmy Monday

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 8.55.58 AM

The Emmy Awards broadcast has been moved to Monday instead of Sunday night this year so as not to have to compete with football???   Great. We’re already pissed off. And admit it, so are you. With that being the case let’s get back at the people who invited you to predict the winners for their damned Emmy pool begin with. Let’s win this thing.

The pitfalls: For some reason, the Emmys are the trickiest of all the awards shows to predict. Is it the blue ribbon panels? Or just because in this much lauded new golden decade of television there are a wealth of riches? Neither. It’s just ALWAYS been a minefield. Individual episodes, scenes and clips are watched by various groups to many varied effects. And there are sooo many categories!!! (Note: To be said with a whine). Soooooo. Mannnnny. Categor-iiieeeeeeeeeesssss. Boy, are these #FirstWorldProblems.

Still, none of this prevents us from handing out our free predictions or getting on the inevitably indignant soapbox if even one of our perceived deserving recipients does not emerge victorious. Yes, it’s on. Consider yourself served, Emmy-ly. You unpredictably elusive hag, you.

Preach Tina!

Preach Tina!

Feel free to consult any of these below for the requisite awards pool you might be pressured to participate in on Monday night that we have already decided you will win with our help. But remember – just as William Goldman once said about the film industry – Nobody knows anything – the same pretty much goes here. Though, well – we do have our favorites and we have noticed a few (non-test) Patterns.

Outstanding Lead Actor, Drama

All hail Heisenberg

All hail Heisenberg

The Nominees: Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Woody Harrelson (True Detective), Matthew McConaughey (True Detective), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)

Winner:  Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)

The last awards run for Walter White’s alter ego. He IS the danger.

Loser: Matthew McConaughey (True Detective)

All right, all right, all right, he’s on awards fire. But do enough Emmy voters want to see him do another speech after he compared himself to Jesus at the Oscars? We think not. That said we here at NFAC are true MM fans and were amazed at the depth and intensity he brought to True Detective. But this is about who will be voted the winner. Both he and fellow cast mate Woody Harrelson will split what might have been one winning entry.

As for the rest in the field, they are all potential winners in another year but not this time out. Yes, we’re talking to you, Hammboat.

DId someone say Jon Hamm boat?

Did someone say Jon Hamm boat?

Outstanding Lead Actress, Drama

I solemnly sweat to take this Emmy home

I solemnly sweat to take this Emmy home

The Nominees: Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), Claire Danes (Homeland), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Kerry Washington (Scandal), Robin Wright (House of Cards)

Winner:  Claire Danes (Homeland)

You try playing a bipolar CIA double trouble agent convincingly and then get back to us. This past season was perhaps not as stellar but Danes’ Carrie was in as great a form as ever.

Loser: Robin Wright (House of Cards)

Who knew years after winning America’s heart as the love of Forrest Gump’s life that RW could play such a fascinating, duplicitous….and we’re not revealing any more. She’s won the reviews but will likely not get the pointy statuette. Some think Kerry Washington will for the network water cooler show of the year – Scandal. But we’re not one of them.

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Drama

One last chance at glory

One last chance at glory

The Nominees: Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Josh Charles (The Good Wife), Mandy Patinkin (Homeland), Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)

Winner:  Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

This is our final chance to say it: He’s gotta win — BITCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Loser: Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)

We admit that it is probably more likely that Mr. Voight will walk away with the Emmy this year for his in your face, annoying portrait of the crazed former/present mobster from hell father. But he made us quit Ray Donovan after the first season because we couldn’t take watching that character one moment longer. So he will not be voted onstage in our survey. Bitch. The rest of the guys will get another chance, except for Josh Charles. But he wasn’t going to win, anyway. Bitch.  #bitchbitchbitchbitchbitch.

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Drama

Bringing us to our knees

Bringing us to our knees

The Nominees: Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey)

Winner: Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad)

After suffering through the trials and tribulations of Walter White for what must have felt like twelve eternities, Ms. Gunn’s Skyler deserves the Emmy for her final hurrah. And her last season was probably her best. She wins for the second year in a row – in a walk.

Loser:  No one really comes in a close second. Except – uh, no. No one.

Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy

You can't help but love this guy

You can’t help but love this guy

The Nominees: Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Ricky Gervais (Derek), Matt LeBlanc (Episodes), Don Cheadle (House of Lies), Louis C.K. (Louie), William H. Macy (Shameless)

Winner:  Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory)

Surprised? Don’t be. He’s won three times and last year he was denied by Jon Cryer in Two and a Half Men. They love to award commercial success in this category but only if the actor is really great in the role. The rest of the guys all shine but all do various versions of comedy/drama.

Loser: William H. Macy (Shameless) is now competing in the comedy category in this role for the first time. He might be a spoiler. But don’t bank on it.

Outstanding Lead Actress, Comedy

There's hope for Knope

There’s hope for Knope

The Nominees: Lena Dunham (Girls), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly), Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation), Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black)

Winner: Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)

Who doesn’t want to see her win for the first time and give a kick ass speech? Plus, does Julia Louis-Dreyfuss even want to get up there again and figure out a way to be humble for the umpteenth time?

Loser:  We at NFAC think Lena Dunham is giving the most original, gutsy, unvarnished performance in all of TV land. She deserves the Emmy but, well, life isn’t always fair – as she and Hannah Horvath would likely agree.

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Comedy

He's good... and he knows it.

He’s good… and he knows it.

The Nominees: Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine Nine), Adam Driver (Girls), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Ty Burrell (Modern Family), Fred Armisen (Portlandia), Tony Hale (Veep)

Winner: Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine Nine)

He’s really funny and anchors every episode in whatever believability it has. Watch the show and try to disagree.

Loser: Everyone else. And for all the Adam Driver fans – us included – yeah, he deserves it but his career is gonna be so stratospheric you’ll look at this minor glitch in the road one day and laugh that you even cared.

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Comedy

Emmy royalty

Emmy royalty

The Nominees: Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Allison Janney (Mom), Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black), Kate McKinnon (SNL), Anna Chlumsky (Veep)

Winner: Allison Janney (Mom)

How many Emmy’s has she been awarded? Well, already one this year for her guest spot on Masters of Sex. And approximately 17 more for West Wing. This will be another.   It’s tough to make an alcoholic mom believable in the half hour format – very tough. She pulls stuff like this off – which is why she gives so many speeches on TV in the first place.

Loser: Everyone else in terms of this Emmy. Though we do wish that SNL’s Kate McKinnon could pull an upset. That poor Russian lady she does on Weekend Update was one of the show’s highlights this year.

In my country, you can trade Emmy for many goats

In my country, you can trade Emmy for many goats

Outstanding Writing, Drama

The Nominees: Breaking Bad “Ozymandias” (AMC), Breaking Bad “Felina” (AMC), Game of Thrones “The Children” (HBO), House of Cards “Chapter 14” (Netflix), True Detective “The Secret Fate of All Life” (HBO)

Winner: Breaking Bad “Felina”

We can’t help feel that one of the best series finale in recent memory (or ever) has to win best writing. Doesn’t it?

Farewell you crazy bastard

Farewell you crazy bastard

Loser: All of the others. But they were still excellent. Well, what else do you expect a writer who respects good writing to say?

Outstanding Writing, Comedy

The Nominees: Episodes “Episode 305” (HBO), Louie “So Did The Fat Lady” (FX), Orange is the New Black “I Wasn’t Ready (Pilot)” (Netflix), Silicon Valley “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency (HBO), Veep “Special Relationship” (HBO)

Winner:  Orange is the New Black (Pilot)

It’s got the buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Also, it feels as if this is the sure thing category to award what has become one of the new cultural TV touchstones of the moment – from Netflix. Or do we exaggerate?

Memories of binges past

Memories of binges past

Loser: No writers who get screen credit on series television are losers, fool. #Residuals.

 Outstanding Miniseries

Dontchaknow

Dontchaknow

The Nominees: American Horror Story: Coven (FX), Bonnie and Clyde (Lifetime), Fargo (FX), Luther (BBC America), Treme (HBO), The White Queen (Starz)

Winner:  Fargo (FX)

We have to admit we have barely watched but our spies tell us it’s a shoe-in. Plus, everyone loves a Billy Bob villain.

Loser: American Horror Story. It will have to be satisfied with the fact that it is THE most consistently entertaining show on TV.   #KathyBatesAngelaBassettJessicaLange?

Outstanding Television Movie

Emmy darling

Emmy darling

The Nominees: Killing Kennedy (National Geographic), Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight (HBO), The Normal Heart (HBO), Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS), The Trip to the Bountiful (Lifetime)

Winner: The Normal Heart (HBO)

Every gay man in America will bitch out the Emmys if this does not happen. And no one in the television academy wants to have to deal with that.

Loser: They all lose because this is THE LOCK of the evening.

Outstanding Variety Series

Does he really need to take over for Dave?

Does he really need to take over for Dave?

The Nominees: The Colbert Report (Comedy Central), The Daily Show (Comedy Central), Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC), Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO), Saturday Night Live (NBC), The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC)

Winner:  The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)

He makes what’s so tough seem soooo easy. Plus, it’s Stephen’s last time before he goes from the small to the big stage? Or is it the other way around?

Loser: Can we or thee really call any of those other guys and shows losers? Think about it a minute or two more.

Outstanding Comedy

Girlz Rule

Girlz Rule

The Nominees: The Big Bang Theory (CBS), Louie (FX), Modern Family (ABC), Orange is the New Black (Netflix), Silicon Valley (HBO), Veep (HBO)

Winner: Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)

It’s really not the best comedy on television but it’s got that thing going for it. You know that thing — the spotlight. Now it is possible voters might want to go for a true comedy, as they sometimes do here. In that case, your guess is as good as ours.

Loser: Louie (FX).

He’s an original and there are so few. As for Big Bang Theory – it has never won the best comedy series Emmy award because as some wise industry wag once told me decades ago: You don’t get to have money AND great reviews. They just won’t give you both anymore. (NOTE: I never did get out of this person just who the “they” was).

Outstanding Drama

No time to look back

No time to look back

The Nominees: Breaking Bad (AMC), Downton Abbey (PBS), Game of Thrones (HBO), House of Cards (Netflix), Mad Men (AMC), True Detective (HBO)

Winner: Breaking Bad (AMC)

Do you really want a reason? Or an argument?

Loser: True Detective (HBO).

Despite the lulls in some of the episode, it was truly something different – an existential, philosophy-driven cop show told by varying symbolic imagery in shifting time periods. Only one other show can beat that. And will.

Binge is the new Black 2.0

Brilliant illustration  by Kiersten Essenpreis (youfail.com)

Brilliant illustration by Kiersten Essenpreis (youfail.com)

What’s the last TV show you binged on?

I had 30 responses to this Facebook post within an hour or so.  Which, if nothing else, tells me that gluttony in America is by no means limited to food.

But let’s start at the beginning.  Most of us seem to know exactly what binge TV is, though it’s a relatively new phenomenon.  Nevertheless, definition please:

Binge Viewing

n.  A period of excessive indulgence spent watching previously broadcast episodes of a TV show.  (binge viewer n.)

Of course, one person’s excessive indulgence is another person’s appetizer course, especially given our country’s lack of portion control (Don’t believe me – try ordering a plate of pasta in Italy).  Yet the inverse of this is also true, especially if you’ve ever ordered a spaghetti main course at the Olive Garden (yes, I was once dragged there and actually had a ton of leftover penne on my plate).

All of this makes me think of another great American phenomenon – the TV dinner.  Originally invented as the perfect size plate (tin?) of food a person could graze on through their favorite series, it would certainly need reinvention nowadays in light of binge viewing.  Maybe a — TV trough?  Or at least, well let’s say, a Banquet.

Or just add a pound of butter..

Or just add a pound of butter..

This already leads to an amendment of our brand new definition in light of the recent premiere of Netflix on-demand series like Orange Is The New Black, which by far was the #l binge choice to my informal binge survey. The women’s prison drama, adapted to your screen of choice by Jenji Kohan, creator of Weeds, has ALWAYS been completely available – each one hour episode of thirteen – since its debut.  Which means goodbye to excessive indulgence of a previously broadcast series and hello to gluttonous viewing of ANY TV series since shows financed by relatively new content providers like Netflix give us the CHOICE of ordering up and devouring ALL THIRTEEN HOURS of a season at one sitting if that’s what it takes to satisfy our ever-growing cravings.

Programs like Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Game of Thrones all drew multiple votes  – though OITNB outweighed them all at least four times over.  This could in part be due to the fact that the New Big O has only been on the market for a month and is the current IT show.  After all, we are all human and live in the USA which means we exist in a place where the most current, talked about material will always be the thing that is considered the most popular binge of the moment.  This is as sure as the fact that somewhere among us there will always be prom queens and prom kings.  (Note:  It is also reassuring to know that, much like prom royalty, the #1 popular cultural choice will also quickly be replaced by something else more to one’s liking since beauty, like popularity and ratings, never last forever).

2010.10.14.burnett-watercooler

What is far more interesting and encouraging is that aside from those top contenders, 30 television series running the gamut of every genre one could possibly imagine ODing on each got at least one binge recommendation from those who responded to this very unscientific survey of what do you binge on, TV-wise?  They include:

  • Existing cable series: Bates Motel, Breaking Bad, Switched at Birth
  • Existing pay cable:  Nurse Jackie, The Newsroom, Boardwalk Empire
  • Defunct series: The Wire, Golden Girls, Friday Night Lights, Studio 60, Greek
  • Euro imports: Sherlock, Dr. Who, The Lake, Braquo, The Fall, A Touch of Frost
  • New Media First Runs: Attack on Titan, Arrested Development
  • Network Series: Scandal, Under the Dome, New Girl, Parks & Recreation
  • Reality Series: Kitchen Nightmares, The Biggest Loser

At the very least this tells me that audience taste in the new media age of binge is not as monolithic as market researchers (they usually work for networks and studios) want us to believe nor can it necessarily be categorized by age, ethnic origin or region (Note: I have an eclectic group of both Facebook and IRL friends who, as they used to say in the days prior to market research binging, cover the waterfront).

But what do these ever-growing gluttons really think about all of this stuff, beyond just their choice?  I wanted to know more without the help of a paid market researcher and so should you, especially since my opinion markers are probably a lot closer to your taste than theirs.  So take a look at a handful of five more in-depth and uncensored responses to questions posed by your Chair about the four very different TV shows these individuals recently binged on and why. (Note:  Okay, full disclosure – The Chair is the fourth respondent because, well…there IS always a method to my madness – in this case diversity of choice).   And further note that these respondents range in age from their late 20s to late 60s, live on various ends of the country, and include two males and two females of various sexual proclivities who, needless to say, all have very, very different tastes.

The Questions:

1. What show and why binge on this particular show?

2. How did you watch it? Did you speed through it, or take a little at a time?

3, What is your reaction to this show? Are you hooked? Would you recommend?

4. Did you know spoilers previously? If not, how did you avoid them?

5. Do you prefer binge to regular watching and why?

1014638_141685442694900_462625651_o

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, Netflix

Respondent #1- Female, 20s, NYorker

1) After all the buzz, I waited about 2 weeks and finally had to get “in the know.”

2) I watched it via Netflix streaming, probably at about 2 episodes a night (sometimes 3!). It took about a week to get through.

3) The great thing about it being available on Netflix is that it lends itself to voracious viewing – meaning, it needs to be seen in a short period of time. The pacing of the show doesn’t lend to a week-to-week viewing, and I’m not sure I would have stayed as invested in the characters if I’d done it that way. I almost imagined that I was in “viewing prison” with Piper (the lead character) – it was time to hunker down and be trapped with the show for a short period of time and then be released.   I would recommend this to someone who is looking for a show to fill the void until the fall season – and who has 13 hours to kill.

4) I had steered clear of all spoilers, despite working in front of a computer all day, and having a lengthy commute which allows me to read every entertainment article imaginable. It’s fascinating to me that bloggers and recappers are incredibly careful and considerate when it comes to respecting the binge-watching viewer. Headlines are kept clean of any spoilers, first paragraphs are even non-specific and filled with warnings regarding content below. Vulture (one of my go-to recap haunts) decided to space out its reviews of Orange to suit a three-episode a week average. Considering the trolls out there, and the loose lips (fingers?) of my Facebook friends, it is a miracle that I was still able to be unsullied by spoilers.

5) It fulfills the need for instant gratification – there is no need to wait to find out what happens next – which I simultaneously love and hate. I love it because I’m impatient and love being able to see full character arcs unfold in a short time. I hate it because I lose the excitement of the week leading up to the episode… the wondering, the guessing, the appointment viewing… the last vestiges of a pre-DVR world. But who am I kidding? DVRs are the greatest invention since the remote control, or Google Maps. I just prefer regular, weekly viewing because then I don’t end up a mole-person, permanently in my PJs, un-showered, unaware of the time of day.  (Chair Note: Is the latter really such a bad thing?)

18164

BREAKING BAD, AMC, Basic Cable on DVD

Respondent #2 – Female, 40s, Los Angelino

1) My friend kept telling me to watch it, and I had read about how good it was.  I wanted to see for myself — and to see if I liked it as much as Mad Men They’re both great in their own ways.  Impossible to compare.

2) I watched it on Netflix – 54 episodes in just under 2 weeks.  One Saturday I think I watched 6 in one day. Most days I watched between 2-4.  I wanted to make sure I finished before the season premiere aired because I knew that if I didn’t I would have found out what happened.  Social media and the Internet would have spilled the beans.

3)  I love the show.  I am completely hooked and would definitely recommend.  I was reluctant at first because I wasn’t interested in the world where it was set.  But once I started watching I was captivated by the storytelling choices, and the acting, and the visual style choices.  I had recently heard that they were supposed to shoot the show in Riverside County, California but Albuquerque was offering a huge production discount so that’s why it was shot there.  The location really suited the show and I’ve heard numerous people say that Albuquerque became a character also.  It really did, I couldn’t picture it being shot anywhere else.  It’s wide open and claustrophobic at the same time.  Also, the editing is stellar.  Two of the episodes are nominated for Emmys this year.  I’m probably voting for the season finale.  (Chair Note:  The latter fact makes this person that very desired elite binger).

4) I knew the basic premise of the show but did not know any spoilers.  I could tell from the image of Bryan Cranston on the poster that the character undergoes some type of transformation.  He starts out with hair in season one and he ends up with a shaved head and a goatee, kind of the badass look.  I also made sure I didn’t read any of the articles on the Internet.  When I started watching people were already talking about it in anticipation of the season premiere because it was off for a year and everyone was really excited for its return. I really made an effort to stay away.

5)   I love binge watching – it makes me the boss of the TV I like being able to decide when and how many I want to watch.  It’s feels similar to reading a great book, wondering what’s going to happen next.  I just turn on the TV and find out. The disappointing thing is when you’re done you have to wait and watch the rest with everyone else.  After this season’s premiere, for a moment I felt like I could just go to Netflix and watch the next episode, but sadly NO 😦  Also, I’ve heard that some creatives don’t like people binge-watching.  They feel that people are not allowing enough time to reflect on the stories being told.  I disagree. (Chair Note: This person IS a creative so that’s at least one industry vote for the binge).

mast-da3-icon

DOWNTON ABBEY, PBS by way of ITV, DVD

Respondent #3 – Male, 60s, Floridian

1) My friends kept at me about it but I am resistant to the period because to me it’s feels very much like “teacup movie time.”  But when my brother, who is a really straight guy who lives in Idaho and builds kitchens, started talking about it to me, and told me I’d love it, I finally said, Okay, I gotta watch it.

2) My neighbor gave me the first two seasons on DVD and I watched it in a week and a half.  Then a month later someone loaned me season three and I watched it in less than a week.

3)  I’m totally hooked.  It’s great storytelling and great characters.  You get emotionally caught up in all their stories and want to know what’ll happen next.  It’s so well written, sympathetic and well developed.  Plus, Dan Stevens is dreamy. (Chair Note: Uh-oh)

4)  Somebody slipped and mentioned a spoiler to me when I was in the middle of season two.  Then I read something about a contract with one of the actors in season three so that sadly made me aware of the possibility of losing another character. I was late to the game so the article made me aware.   But it didn’t hurt the show.  I suppose it might have been more of a shocker if I didn’t know but that didn’t matter.

5)  I do like binge viewing.  Watching Downton Abbey week to week – I would’ve been really frustrated.  That’s particularly the case with Breaking Bad, which I also binge viewed a few months ago.  I’m used to watching these shows sometimes till 3 in the morning, sometimes 3 or 4 episodes a night.  You’re consumed with it and it becomes much more impactful. It’s not so much the show even but the process of watching it and being engulfed in that world.  Now you have to wait a week and you lose momentum, the all-consuming effect.  You can enjoy it for that hour but then you go on with your life.

cold-case

COLD CASE, CBS via Syndication

Respondent #4 – Male, 50s, Los Angeleno

1) I accidentally stumbled on it one night when I couldn’t sleep and immediately got hooked.  I don’t generally like one-hour network drama these days and refused to sample this show when it aired.  Wrong!  More than half of every show flashes back in time to another decade where an unsolved crime was committed and is then played out in key bits and pieces dramatically.  It also uses the real songs of the period, making it one of the most expensive network shows on television because of the music rights to famous songs from artists as varied as Bruce Springsteen, Nirvana, Donna Summer, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones.  Those songs alone takes you right back into the period.  Plus, the way they match the period character with another actor who plays the same person 20 or 30 years later is impeccable.  Some of the best casting I’ve ever seen on television.

2) I watched almost three of eight seasons of 22 episodes each in about three weeks.  The issue is due to the music rights of such famous songs, the show is not available on DVD.  The only way to get it is on reruns on the CBS cable channel ION-TV.  Though I suppose there are other ways one could get fined for.  Still, it’s sort of an adventure this way – you never know what you’re going to get.  And there’s something about watching all these shows that are not readily available that, well, I kind of like.

3) I love it.  Sometimes it’s so disturbing, depending on the crime, yet it’s also sort of soothing because most of the shows enable people to resolve a terrible issue that happened in their past and get closure.  That resolution is almost always emotionally resonant and doesn’t always happen in real life – which is part of why we watch dramas anyway.  After watching so many of the shows, you can see the structure.  And yet, it also surprises me.  I’d particularly recommend it to friends who are stubborn like me about network procedural series and who love music.  There are almost no television dramas, or even films, where famous music plays such an integral part of the storytelling.  It puts you in the space and informs the action in a way no amount of great dialogue ever could.

4) I knew NOTHING about this show.  Absolutely nothing.  Except that it didn’t interest me.  Which proves that sometimes I literally do know nothing.

5) I like both but do love binge watching when I get to discover something I didn’t know about or resisted.  That is not to say that I want to binge watch everything.  I couldn’t imagine binge watching Mad Men because I got hooked immediately.  The same with The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Dexter.  That said, there is plenty to binge on.  Oh – and added bonus.  Cold Case was created and written by Meredith Stiehm, one of the principal writers on the brilliant Homeland in its first two seasons. Another of its writers and eventual show runners was Veena Sud, who has gone on to create AMC’s The Killing.  This allows you to understand how creative people grow into their careers and to experience the great works of their pasts.

So what have we learned here?  That there is a huge gamut of public taste buds waiting to be tapped into if done in the right way.   It just can’t all be done in the same way and, given our changing patterns of consumption, it won’t be anymore.  Certainly producers understand this.  You might think it’s cheapie programming on Netflix but you’re wrong – the low end cost estimates of shows like House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black is  $3.8 – $4 million per episode.  And there’s a reason why so much money is being spent.  With so many options of ways to view and so many platforms to do it on, content providers see avenues opening up to make substantial overall gains on their investments.

Keep the drip flowing

Keep the drip flowing

Here’s the deal.  They need lots and lots of content – both new and old.  Not only what is the next new thing but what will be the next new “old thing.”  What will last /endure beyond first run – which is more and more not much of a run – certainly not even a sprint and, in fact, something even longer than a marathon.

For a large and growing segment of today’s audience it’s not AS important to watch one episode (or even season) of a show when it debuts than it is to discover something that’s already been checked out by your friends and loved ones and given the seal of approval so you don’t have to waste time deciding.  That’s the new model being established by binge viewing.  This greatly differs from the network model, which wants to sell overpriced ads for first run appointment television, charging companies and audiences as much as they can for goods delivered with as little creative challenges or off-centeredness as possible to the widest possible audience. (Note:  This model also causes them to complain endlessly at Emmy awards time when they’re often shut out in favor of more inventive cable programming).

What both cable and on-demand providers and have now discovered, thanks in part to technology, is that you can forever make money on superior (or even just plain quirky) creative choices that don’t necessarily take the easy way out and tell great and far more sophisticated stories.  How much money?  Well, this remains to be seen.  But judging from Netflix’s investments coupled with initial and growing audience response – quite a lot.   In particular, this change should cause creative unions to take note and readjust their financial demands because certainly none of these newer companies will fully share their true profits from these alternative revenue steams unless their hands are absolutely forced.  The creative guilds, especially the writers, lost a fortune by not pushing back harder on the studios for a share of DVD revenue when it was the hottest thing going and the studios cleaned up.  That is until there were newer and quicker ways to watch older or just seen shows.  The same thing will undoubtedly happen with the burgeoning on demand /web based viewing – binge or not –  if  there is soon not some strong re-accounting adhered to.

A glimpse into our future

A glimpse into our future?

Meanwhile, we mere viewers can bask in the many great choices now available on a growing home, tablet, or computer-screened menu.  For decades television was seen as the poor stepchild of movies but these days it seems like the roles have been reversed.  Respondent #3 notes that if he were an Emmy voter he’d find it impossible to choose the winner of best drama series between such nominees as Mad Men, Homeland, Breaking Bad and Downton Abbey.  Almost as difficult as he found it to choose the winner of the best picture Oscar in 1976, the first time he was a voting member of the Motion Picture Academy.   Among the nominees that year were Network, All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver and Rocky.  Nowadays, he struggles to even have that many films worthy of nomination.  But has no trouble finding many more choices than that to binge on from the small screen.

Addendum:  This blog inspired me to binge view all six episodes of a new half-hour Australian show called Please Like Me.  It’s sort of a gay version of Girls and it is faaaabulous.  And — it can now be seen here

Addendum 2: 2.0? A previous version of this blog ended up in many spam folders… I blame network television execs!