Just As I Thought

Just you and your screen

You know, I think that the last “watercooler show” was Seinfeld — ironically, the show for which the term was coined, I believe.
It was the last “must see” show that people watched at the same time and talked about the next day.
Then came a fundamental shift in television: first, the TiVo arrived, followed by a slew of other DVRs. Then more recently came iTunes and other methods of internet distribution.
So today, people watch television on their own schedule rather than that of the broadcast networks. It was something that had been predicted for a long time, but it happened so gradually that it really didn’t register until now: I can no longer discuss a show with my friends because usually they haven’t seen it yet; it is sitting on their DVR waiting to be watched. Sometimes they don’t watch a show for months later, and by that time it’s just too late to talk about it. It also creates another strange new annoyance: the spoiler. It used to be that only people on the west coast could have a show spoiled, today it could be anyone anywhere for any random length of time because they haven’t gotten around to watching something that aired, oh, 5 months ago.
The practical upshot of this is that television, like music and reading, has morphed from a collective experience into an individual one. People watch television alone more than ever, especially when they watch it on their iPods. TV has always been sort of an anti-social activity, but even still I remember watching TV with family at night or hanging out with friends. The television schedule was a given, and everyone understood and conformed to it. The primetime of our society started at 8pm.
Today, we no longer segment our lives in half-hours because of our on-demand infrastructure.
And it is very telling that the broadcast networks have increasingly eschewed their on-the-hour or half-hour schedules as well.

1 comment

  • Interesting observation. I remember the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when my friend and I would call each other during the commercials and breathlessly discuss the latest twist (or hot how David Boreanaz looked in a wifebeater — before he got all bloated).

    Before then, the only show I remember really geting into talking about with co-workers was Twin Peaks.

    Now I have to admit I have barely-concealed scorn for people who don’t have a DVR of some sort. Luddites!

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