Season? Finale?

Curator's Note

It wasn’t long ago when I sat huddled with my girlfriends and a batch of martinis during the series finale of Sex and the City. It was a sad day. Our glamorous friends were scheduled to disappear forever. So, we had a farewell party. I used to do something similar when each season of Survivor came to an end. My friends and I would sit (mouths slightly open) waiting nervously to see if our favorite castaway won. It was our ritual. Watch intensely, talk only during commercials and don’t you dare miss the finale. But all of that was before the DVR.

I’m nostalgic for the communal experience that finales used to be. Today, I watch most finales without much fanfare. I simply schedule my DVR to record and I watch them when it’s convenient, often without anyone there to discuss the minutia of the episode. While I love my DVR and the flexibility sites like Netflix and Hulu offer, they’ve changed my experience with season finales.

First, the notion of a “season” is gone out the window. I watch when I want to watch. Network schedules mean nothing to me. I’ll start a new series in the summer when TV goes on vacation. I’ll watch an entire season of an old series on a rainy weekend. I’ll hoard episodes on my DVR until I feel it’s time to watch. I am not bound by a “season”. I watch TV at my own pace. The term “finale” doesn’t quite cut it anymore either. Shows don’t end for me the way they used to. When the formal narrative ends, I turn to social media. From plot discussions to user generated content to show extras (like behind the scenes footage or outtakes), the show lives on – online.

Today TV is all about me. I watch what I want, when I want. I decide when a show ends. My friends do it too. The communal aspect of gathering around the electronic hearth for a “season finale” is gone. Even the terms “season finale” are inadequate. While I don’t want to give up my DVR or cancel my Netflix, I can’t help but get a little sentimental when I watch the Survivor finale, alone in my living room, a week late.

What do you think? Have your experiences with season finales changed? Is it even useful to think about "seasons" or "finales"? 


Kristen, it seems to me that we are all in agreement.  The way we watch TV now has totally changed.  Running through these posts is a real nostalgia for 'event TV', which seems to be reserved for finales like The X-Factor (over here) or American Idol and Survivor (over there).  

The more I have thought about this over the week, the more I think that there is a real generational difference too.  My eldest child watches TV in much the same way as you talk about.  And so do my students.  My younger child (13) still tends to watch according to schedule.  There is a real feeling of being out of the loop if they miss an episode or a season finale.  The watercooler conversation is still alive and well for early teens.

I wonder though if, once they get past the age of watching TV with their parents, as my daughter still does, that TV viewing will become more isolated and less of a community experience?  

And if that is the case will it mean the end of community TV viewing altogether or will that generation be replaced by another that watches in the same way?


I am going to jump in and give a pitch for the idea that season and series finales still matter very much, and I write this as a devout cord cutter. I think this goes back to Kelly's note that though season finales matter at the very least as a functionf of resolution (or not) narratives, web video, DVR, and mid-season finales have worked to undermine the May season fiunale phenomenom. I also worry about using personal experiences to generalize any conclusive theories about the death of the season finale, as netflix, hulu, and DVRs are all privileged possessions. And of course, if you are a grad student like me, or even an academic, our lifestyles are so busy I think they encourage delayed or alternative viewing habits. And after snubbing anecdotal experience, I will relay mine. Even though I watch most of my TV online, I am still engaged in the continuous story that evolves episode to episode. This applies to, to shows I watch late. For instance, I watched all of Boardwalk Empire about a month after it finished, and yet, I am still find myself totally anxious about finding out what happens and can't wait for the next season. I think event TV is still happening too - I watched Glee's finale last year with friends, and so I will throw out there that I do not think event viewing has died.  As someone else brought up on the first post's comments, event watching is still especially relevant to online viewers and fans who follow twitter discussions. So maybe the community has moved to online social networks, and is composed not of regionally close chums, but of "friends" connected by common interest all over the world. Or at least in places that have a good internet connection.

For the most part, I agree with you that the term ‘season finale’ has lost most of its punch. It used to be that the season finale meant not only an end to the season (which, as you mentioned earlier, has also lost a lot of its meaning), but the end of a ritual. People would get used to leaving a certain time every week open for the television show, and with no new episodes to watch, the schedule gap can make people feel hollow. The one exception to this is competitive shows, like Survivor or American Idol, where audiences root for their favorite character over the course of the season. Those viewers are more likely to watch the season finale live so they don’t miss out on interesting gossip and conversation regarding the ending the next day.

 I completely agree with the statement that “today TV is all about me. I watch what I want, when I want. I decide when a show ends” In two weeks, I will be completing my freshman year in college. When I came to school, I brought with me the only show that I still watch religiously that hasn’t ended, which is “The Office”. However, I am now forced to watch the show on Hulu because of class time conflicts and overall lack of a space where I can watch television without disruption or distraction. Just last night, I watched the season finale of “The Office” in bed at 1:30 am, while my roommate was on the other side of the room, fixated on “Dexter”, a show he has just gotten into and is slowly becoming obsessed with. Before watching the finale, I thought to myself that if I were still living at home, I would have been there to watch the season finale on the original date of its airing, not days later. I would have poured myself a giant bowl of cereal, plopped on the couch and watch as the 7th season of a show I’ve been watching since middle school came to an end. As innovative as technology has become, and as great as it is that there are now ample amounts of mediums to consume TV shows with, I must admit that I am saddened by the fact that watching TV just isn’t as exciting as it used to be—especially season finales, a once hyped up event for me to indulge in (by myself for that matter) prior to coming to school and being forced to watch shows online.


  I found this article to very interesting and relatable with the way today’s society watches and experiences tv shows. The technological innovations of the DVR and submergence of sites like Netflix and Hulu have taken away communal experience we use to have with television. Watching television episodes have shifted from a communal and public experience to a personal and private event. We no longer find ourselves gathering around the living room at primetime with our friends and family to watch our favorite shows but instead we wait until its most convenient for us and then go into our rooms to watch the program on our computer alone. I must admit as a college student with a busy schedule it has been much easier to watch my shows whenever online but like Kristen, I do find myself nostalgic the familiarity of being able to talk about an episode and what happened right after it aired. I remember going to school the day after Marissa was killed off the OC and hearing everyone buzzing and talking about it. Now when I watch the latest episode of White Collar I have to wait at least a week to ask my sister about. I even now find myself getting months behind on shows of used to watch religiously every week. It seems society’s need for flexibility with programming has taken peoples past “water cooler” talk with friends, where we could discuss the latest episode of our favorite shows with each other. In the past TV programming was an outlet for people to socialize with each other but the expansion of our shows onto recordable systems and the emergence of episodes online has altered the experience of watching our shows to become quite unsociable and uneventful.          

I agree for the most part that the DVR era has brought this notion of convenience over communal experience. Before DVR, the airing of a new episode or finale was something that you talked about your whole week, talked about it with the people who also watched the show and most importantly you made time out of your own to be at your TV at the right time to watch it. Now it seems it’s the opposite, I don’t have to tailor my day to make time for the show which essentially places less importance, attention, and anticipation of watching a season finale. I think in a lot of ways the communal aspect of television thrives on this certain build up and momentum that comes from watching it at a specific time every week which creates a certain anticipation as that specific day draws nearer, enhancing the actual watching experience and creating far greater enjoyment of it. Without this kind of “flow” a lot of the anticipation and communal enjoyment, especially during finale time, is lost. But I do think there will always be a sort of anticipation no matter what because, for current shows at least, the viewer still has to wait for the show to  be made and released whether they are going to watch it when it initially premieres or not. With a lot of current shows, their return in the fall will no doubt create anticipation amongst weekly viewers and DVR viewers alike. On the other hand, I do think that the notion of waiting weekly to watch a new episode of a show is flawed in a lot of manners. I don’t think the community around a show should always remain in the present, instead with sites like IMDB and Netflix the community that is created doesn’t necessarily thrive on anticipation of next week’s episode but merits of the show in general. I think that has changed what people are watching, seeing as a lot of people are now watching older shows like Arrested Development and Twin Peaks that are no longer in circulation. I think it pays off for shows to have a more timeless watchable quality that includes viewers who maybe watched the show on initial run and started watching years afterward.

In agreement with all the comments above me, I also think that the way we watch television has changed. Prior to the Hulu and Netflix generation, I religiously watched Friends every Thursday night on NBC at 8. When i wouldn't be able to make it, I would have to record it on VHS just so that I wouldn't miss it. I would have to make sure that I would either tune in or make sure that the timer was set so nothing would be missed, because without doing those, I would have no other way to watch the shows that I missed. However, now we have things like Hulu and Netflix that gives us more flexibility to our viewing pleasures as well as the ability to watch and rewatch shows over and over again. It also gives the opportunity to watch shows consecutively episode after episode. I remember just this past season, I prolonged watching the last Steve Carell episode of The Office just because I knew I could watch it online at anytime I wanted. The act of watching televsion, at least for me, has gone from watching an actual television set to watching television on the computer screen. 

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