Pardon the interruption, but I’m turning our attention towards TV today. I don’t talk about TV very much on this space for a variety of reasons, but like many of you, I find myself consumed with House of Cards.
In case you haven’t heard, House of Cards is the new series that was released exclusively to Netflix. This is the second TV show the streaming service has hosted (after Lilyhammer last year), and in both cases Netflix has made the entire season available in one drop.
This is what intrigues me. If you know me at all, you know that I’m not just fascinated by what people watch, but how people watch it. Where TV is concerned, that has taken a radical change in the last decade.
We’ve arrived at a point where viewers have a lot more control over how they watch the shows they watch. Several years ago, avid fans might have to make plans around their favorite shows – for instance, not wanting to go out and do anything on a Sunday night for fear of missing what would happen on The Sopranos. Now, however, the power has been seized by the viewer. PVR’s and Tivo’s are commonplace, so watching things at the time and date one wants is as easy as pressing a few buttons. One could even store up several episodes and watch them in long binges.
On the more illegal side of things, shows are readily available for torrenting. Don’t want to pay the extra money for HBO, but still want to follow Game of Thrones? Now you’re covered. This too allows for viewing in blocks, and in the case of imported shows like Downton Abbey, even allows one to see what happens entire months before North American broadcasters show the episodes.
But back to House of Cards.
The fascinating thing with this show, produced by David Fincher, is that it dropped its entire thirteen episode order on one day. It basically dares you to cancel any plans and watch ‘em all. This leads me to the point of this post.
While Netflix is upping the bar by allowing this sort of mass consumption with a brand new property, this idea of watching an entire season in one fell swoop isn’t new. For a long time now, we’ve been able to buy entire seasons (and entire series) of whatever TV show we like on dvd and blu-ray. Which such access, I’m curious how people like to consume their television and why?
The networks have long wanted us to stick to a pace of one episode a week, and for many of us, I dare suggest that such ideas are antiquated. That pace works just fine for shows like CSI that are procedurals (a new case solved every week, some minor character development happens around it). However for shows that are telling a long narrative – The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Homeland – most viewers would like things to move much quicker. But how much quicker?
Left to our devices, many of us would in fact watch an entire series of a show in one or two days. In an age where seasons of TV are 13 episodes, this feels very do-able. Cancel all your plans one weekend, get comfy on the couch, and have at it. However, I can’t help but feel that this is like saying “I’d like some ice cream” and that resulting in sitting down with a whole carton and a spoon. On the shows one hasn’t seen before, doesn’t that feel a bit like bingeing? Sure, it tells the story in one fell swoop, but it eats up so much time, and then leaves you with nothing.
Now that said, there are certain shows I believe actually benefit from being mainlined like this, as it downplays the antsiness viewers felt while watching it week-to-week – The Walking Dead and Lost come to mind.
For my money, the trick is still to stagger the consumption a little bit.
Recently, I’ve been digging into the (now sadly cancelled) BBC series “The Hour”. After downloading all twelve episodes from its two seasons, the idea was to make it the Sunday night show. When Walking Dead took its break in November, Lindsay and I were left with no Sunday night show (besides Dead there was also Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad all on the bench for months still). My idea was to watch one episode of The Hour every week, and the pace still worked rather nicely. Well, the pace worked nicely for me anyway – by the end, I was getting pressure to immediately queue up the next episode as soon as the episode we watched concluded.
Then there’s the series that inspired this whole post, House of Cards. Upon realizing that I’d been handed the keys to this political kingdom, I had to think quickly about how I wanted to take it in. My decision was to watch one a night (finished chapter four yesterday evening). At this pace, everything is moving along nicely, and I don’t feel like I’m losing entire days sitting in front of my laptop.
For me, it’s all about balance. It’s about dropping two scoops into a bowl rather than opening the carton and grabbing a spoon. However, I am not one to judge, so if the latter is more your style, allow me to pass you a spoon.