There is a simple equation for evaluating contemporary television: the more serialised the narrative, the more quality the programme. This idea pervades the industry, the popular press, and the scholarly literature, which have all turned away from episodic programming in the last decade. Yet it also structures the behaviour of audiences, for the marathon viewing session now functions as something of a signifier of quality. Such changing practices pose a challenge for one of the key pleasures of watching television: talking about it with others. When we are temporally out of step with one another in our shared media narratives, dialogue and discussion becomes wrapped up in anxiety about spoilers, and grinds to a halt.
This is where the TV fancast comes in. Podcasts such as Buffering the Vampire Slayer, The Gilmore Guys, Treks and the City, and The West Wing Weekly all recap and discuss their respective programmes one episode at a time. Episodes of podcasts are released intermittently - sometimes on a weekly basis, sometimes more unpredictably - but in ways that clearly pace the consumption of both programme and podcast. TV fancasts invite audiences to watch one episode of a programme, then to stop, think, and participate (if somewhat vicariously) in a community of talk and dialogue.
Each episode of The West Wing Weekly ends with hosts Joshua Malina and Hrishi Hirway’s signature signoff: “Okay.” “Okay.” “What’s next?” This repurposes President Bartlett’s repeated line from the programme into something of a call-and-response. Here, the onwards rhythm of serial narration is tempered by the need to wait for a reply from a fellow viewer, recognising the communal pleasures of episodic television.
It is important to note that many of these fancasts encourage audiences to rediscover older programmes. In this sense, TV fancasts respect the original industrial and broadcast conditions of these programmes, recognising that their pleasures are based in their careful episodic pacing. By temporally organising a shared experience of television consumption, these fancasts suggest that the most successful and rewarding marathon is, in the end, an experience of careful pacing.