Summer Binging: What will it make you do?

Curator's Note

This delicious promo offers much to deconstruct (woe be upon the forever over-identifying female spectator), but to tie it to this week's topic, let's address the question it asks literally: What does summer DVD watching make us do?

NBC promoted its 1997 summer reruns with "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you," a slogan that was derided at the time as an insulting attempt to pass off stale programming as fresh. But in 2010 TV fans have heartily embraced this mentality on their own with summer DVD and online catch-up viewing. Some are rectifying the mistake of skipping critically acclaimed series such as Six Feet Under and The Shield; others are watching prior seasons of True Blood and Mad Men to synch up with new summer airings; and many are following along with TV blog rewatches, such as Alan Sepinwall’s rewinds of Firefly and The Wire (courteously parsed into newbie and veteran categories) and The AV Club’s various classic series recaps, including The X-Files and NewsRadio.

Such spectatorial autonomy enlivens the “new to you” concept; the blogger rewatches help overcome the primary problem of skipping shows the first time around: losing out on the community experience engendered by the set schedule; and social media let us lobby our friends to watch favorite shows and keep discussions going long after shows have left the air. Summer has thus become the prime season for viewers to act as their own network programmers, schedulers, and marketers.

Distributors can certainly feast on this viewing practice, but it is yet another nail in the coffin of traditional network  practices. What will this make the network undead left behind to roam nightly summer timeslots do? Does this schedule shapeshifting make audiences more ravenous for TV viewing during the summer than in the past? Do we lust after cable shows more than network ones in our catch-up efforts, thereby making cable programming’s summer rule even more potent? (I’d love to be able to make a True Blood-specific pun too, but I haven’t watched it yet; it’s on my summer catch-up list.)


Great post, Chris! I'm especially grateful you introduced me to that True Blood promo. Wow, you're right: there is SO much going on there. I'd love to see you (or someone else) analyze it in another In Media Res post.

Okay, that's all for now. Excuse me while I continue "to rectify my mistake of skipping out on Six Feet Under" when it first aired. ;o)

 Interesting that many of the shows you mentioned are 12/13-episode season shows so even if they run 5+ seasons, its still manageable. There's been lots of talk about how DVD boxsets enable bingeing and experiencing shows you miss the first time around, but the fact that many of them have shorter seasons seems to be overlooked. 

And also of course there's the fact that summer= summer vacation... from courses if not from work. 



@Kelli: Picking a clip can be the hardest part of composing these posts, but as soon as I saw this promo, I knew that was the one. I even changed what I was going to write about to better fit with it. Maybe we should organize a whole IMR week around it. :-)

@Mabel: Great point about the cable season model being particularly appropriate for the binge catch-up. The more intense seriality of many such shows also helps that.

(I have more to say here on both issues, but my nephew is hounding me to go fishing -- summer vacation is impinging on my summer tv binging -- so I'll be back later)

I don't actually know if this would be possible, but I'm wondering if networks will start to introduce marathons in the summer--the kind we often see on official holidays like he famous Twilight Zone New Year's Eve marathon. It would certainly build on the "event" nature of television (which needs all the help it can get these days) to have a marathon of all the old episodes of a tentpole show in the days before its premiere.

I mention this idea because one of the things your post reminded me of is how, while I  relish the relative freedom of summer, one of my favorite things about watching TV is the way that new episodes (and especially season premieres) feel like a gift, as does the surprise of stumbling across a favorite movie or show when I'm (rarely, now) just surfing instead of watching a DVD or a prerecorded show.

 the other thought I had this morning, that I forgot by the time I finished writing the first part of my comment is the idea that in the summer kids especially are encouraged not to just sit in front of the tv but to go to play outside. I often have a strange dilemma where it's a beautiful day outside and I think it's something of a waste to sit inside watching The Wire. But of course that's not because The Wire as television is "rotting my brain" or something. It's a curious balance to rewrite both as an adult and for kids when we reevaluate television as an important cultural forum. Can we say then that it's ok to sit inside and watch tv, do we have to/shoudl we rewrite that childhood maxim as well? Are the stakes just different for children and adults? Or perhaps, does SONY need to come out with a glare-less tv that you can watch at the beach? And of course these are questions that relate not only to summer tv viewing, but in the winter it's a bit easier to justify somehow. 

I think you make a great point, Mabel, bringing up the potential transportablility of the summer TV marathon.  With video iPods, iPads, laptops, and portable DVD players becoming more affordable and more the norm, you can sit in the hammock and watch The Wire or use the summer vacation roadtrip to watch that series you've always meant to.  Netflix's Instant Watch service and the increasing proliferation of 3G and wireless networks mean that you could possibly go find a shady corner of a park and watch your shows even free from DVDs.  I think that the questions Chris brings up regarding the changes this might bring to the standard network model are important, but I think that until the networks fully committ to having summer series, time-shifting, transportable television shows will be summer kings.

(Also, I'm spending the summer doing major catch-up between work: I've already finished watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, I'm two seasons down with The Wire [watching with some fellow RTFers], and I'm one disc into Breaking Bad.  I may be taking the summer catch-up thing a little too far.)

The part that most intrigues me here is the element of community that the web seems to provide.  That the web provides some sort of public sphere is not new--but that it can allow viewers new to an old program to recreate a community of fellow viewers during a catch-up session does seem fascinating.  Even as TV as water cooler erodes with time shifting, the need for community persists.  For how long, I wonder? 




As some may know, I've spent my summer catching up with Buffy and Angel, joined by a fairly sizable collection of Buffyverse fans - it's been a really interesting experience, and as Karen points out the community element is what I find so fascinating. My brother was just saying today that after finishing the second season of Breaking Bad, he went back to Alan Sepinwall's interview with Vince Gilligan posted after that season finale, and I often find myself returning to others' reviews or message board discussions when catching up on a series. And other times, Twitter provides that sense of community, as I'll tweet about an observation or an experience and get similar messages from others who went through the same, or who had a different reaction to a scene or an episode.

However, while the process is working fine for me personally, there are some shows which would actually suffer from this sort of catchup project. A show like 24, for example, plays really well on DVD if you're catching up on individual seasons during a hiatus, but if you start watching multiple seasons in a row you see how the show (arguably) falls off in quality, or how the series returns to the same patterns and archetypes every single year. There's also that transition of having to go from clicking on the next episode on the DVD to waiting a week between episodes, and how the whiplash of sorts affects your response to the newer episodes - while it's a great way to experience television, and makes for a great summer, binging (as with food) has its disadvantages.

Thanks for closing off the week with such a forward-looking post, Chris!

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.