This isn’t about a TV show being turned into a novel or the countless novels that are suddenly becoming TV programs this is about the changing way we consume entertainment. It used to be that you tuned into ABC, CBS, Fox, or NBC when 8:00 hit most weeknights and stayed in front of the television until 10:00 or 11:00 PM. Some people even stayed up to watch the nightly news after their stories.
Television programs ran for right around 26 episodes between Labor Day and Memorial Day with breaks for Christmas and Easter. Now they didn’t say those breaks were for Christmas and Easter, but they were just like the fish sandwiches all fast food restaurants are now advertising just happen to coincide with Lent. An unspoken but obvious thing.
Those 26 episodes were viewed weekly and were designed to take those months to complete. No one gave it much thought. There was little commitment to the TV programs you choose to watch and you might watch anywhere from five to twenty programs a week. Think about that. Could you imagine watching three hours of three different shows between the hours of 8:00 and 11:00 every weeknight right now.
Television shows were far more episodic back then too. Some of them had overarching storylines but most of the episodes were still monster of the week or standalone type episodes. Think of TV now. It is six to eight episodes with little or no filler and we consume one show at a time. We start on episode one and sometimes we binge it straight through in one night or we watch it over a series of eight days.
Some programs are still delivered weekly but nowhere close to the 26 episodes of a full season like we used to have. Television programs have become more like novels than television programs. Once we start we run right through and the episodes are the chapters. We start with chapter one and perhaps we can’t put it down and end the night with chapter eight or we enjoy it enough to pick it up and consume one or two chapters a day.
Television has become something different. There is a commitment to them. We look for television programs to offer us more than we used to. We used to tune into a television program because it was a weeknight at 8:00 PM. Now we tune in because it is something we are going to truly love. Something that we hope will give us cultural and emotional fulfillment.
Commitment and television are two things that shouldn’t go together. Because of streaming our television experiences are personalized to us. It is good in some ways but not in all. We are the ones choosing what we want to watch, where we want to watch it, and when it is convenient to do so. It used to be that the networks decided when and what we would watch and if we wanted to watch a television program it couldn’t be on our phone or computer. Television could only be watched on a television.
Lots has changed with the world and television is only part of it, but art is a reflection of the world including how we consume it. Art these days is all about the personal experience. There are more programs now than ever before and it is all on us to choose what we watch and when we watch it. At times it can be an overwhelming responsibility and it would be easier to sample four or five different programs and then continue tuning in for the one we liked most. It is almost too much responsibility having to decide what program to commit to for the eight episodes it will last.
This is far closer to how novels work than episodic television programs, and television programs weren’t meant to be novels. They were meant to be turn your brain off background noise instead of a social and emotional commitment. Perhaps Disney and HBO’s return to the weekly episodic format will bring some of that back but it would be nice to tune in and turn-off every now and then.