I love my PVR. I can record six different shows simultaneously. I can collect programs without having to rush home in the midst of my busy day. And I don’t really have to keep track of when they air. My handy-dandy machine will find them for me.
It’s like a personal assistant for me and my shows. A truly monogamous relationship that has changed the way I watch TV. And I know I’m not the only one. But has it really changed for the better?
Many of us aren’t watching shows when the networks air them, but when we want to see them. We collect weeks worth of episodes and lock ourselves up alone at home to binge-watch a season at a time. Then we lash out at faceless online commentators and Tweet our solitary thoughts.
We’ve lost the social joy and anticipation of television. The magic that was almost like Christmas on a weekly basis.
We used to gather as a family or a group. (My dad let me watch The Hulk with him on the colour TV!) We’d sit with rapt attention, patiently waiting through each commercial break for our characters’ reappearance. Then we wondered and waited for seven days until the show returned the following week.
We debated storylines and characters with friends and co-workers – complete with eye contact. And spoiler alerts? There was no such animal since everyone watched at the same time – or desperately searched for the answers the next day if that one and only airtime was missed.
Television was a social activity that brought people together before, during, and after an episode. We spent time with shows because there weren’t that many available on the three or four networks. Without cell phones or constant texting to distract us, we paid attention and got to know them before getting up from the couch to change the channel. (Yes, at one time, we stood up to turn the dial on the TV.) And we brought others into the fold with us.
Even Seinfeld would not have survived in today’s television battlefield. While it was a hit for eight and a half seasons, the first six months were pretty bleak. But with word of mouth amongst a small but dedicated audience, it grew exponentially.
It’s the reason we talk about older shows with a bit of the “warm and fuzzies.” We felt like we were a part of their success. Because we were.
Some say there aren’t as many really good shows to watch today despite the increase in channels. But are we putting in the same effort we one did? If we took the time and got rid of the clutter, maybe invited a few friends to join us and talked about it face to face, we might enjoy the experience a bit more.
Of course, I’m not getting rid of my PVR anytime soon. But I wouldn’t mind reliving the experience I had seeing The Hulk for the first time. Now that was magic.