Remember those days, not so long ago, when the only way to watch a programme on TV was to make sure you were there, ready and waiting, the minute it was broadcast? Most households’ constant mantra must have been “It’s on!” yelled by the person left to keep watch while the others went to do what ever it is you do during the commercial break. Now, almost science fiction like, we can stop time, pause the show, for as long as we like, can record remotely or series link so you never need miss an episode of Nationwide, can even rewind a live programme, in case you think you saw a neighbour in the audience of The Late Late and you want, nay, need confirmation.
Still, with great power comes great responsibility. If an airing of your favourite show goes out in the States before one of the home networks in Ireland or the UK picks it up you are in danger of having it ruined, utterly ruined for you. Facebook, Twitter, any entertainment news sites are never without a “Spoiler Alert” warning when the latest episode of Game of Thrones goes out. The threat of spoilers – discussions on the latest controversy that occurred that night – comes mainly from the other side of the Atlantic, but they get their fair share of disappointments with Downton Abbey and Doctor Who going out this side of the pond many months before being shown in the US.
The problem has also led some canny people to an avoidance of the network broadcast in its entirety with the phenomenon of boxed sets encouraging dedicated fans to wait until the series has been released on DVD, then spending a weekend or two binge watching the whole thing.
This in itself has led, inevitably, to a surge in downloading pirate copies from various illegal sites, with very little to be done by the frustrated powers that be to stop it. The clever concept of Netflix has seen the issue and come up with two brilliant ways of dealing with it; by streaming a vast and varied number of TV shows and movies legally for a nominal monthly fee and, more recently, by producing their own programmes, among them the award nominated American remake of political drama House of Cards, and the unexpected hit of last year, prison based comedy-drama Orange is the New Black. Instead of waiting weekly for the next episode, each and every one is dumped in one day, meaning you can binge watch to your hearts’ content. Which is exactly what I, and a myriad of eager viewers did a few weekends ago.
Conversely, I happened upon an episode of The US Office a few days ago, which, although from a number of years ago in its hay day, brought up a few interesting points still relevant to today. In it the whole office gang were invited to a viewing party to watch an episode of Glee. Glee too has had its day, but at the time, much like Lost before it, there was an air of missing out if you hadn’t seen it, to discuss around the water-cooler the next day as it were. Like The X Factor during the Jedward era, or even more relevant to our Irish eyes, The Late Late Toy Show, anually a must-see a few weeks before Christmas, there are certain shows that are only worth seeing live. In the words of one of The US Office characters “Things, if you don’t see them live, you wouldn’t care if you see them at all.” Like a football or hurling final, or any World Cup match, would there be any point in watching it after the initial collective, nationwide viewing party?
So, while the new age of watching TV has definitely gone in a more private direction as far as Boxed Sets and Netflix marathons are concerned, there’s also an increasingly social way of watching shows produced by national stations. With Twitter live feeds provided by commentators as the programme is being shown, to blog reviews posted directly after it has gone out for fans to discuss and comment on the latest plot twist, those who prefer a more traditional way of viewing are still being catered for, albeit it in a wholly 21st century way.
The Great Irish Bake Off went out on TV3 recently, and in accordance with a lot of reality based shows of its kind, it had a hashtag with which to keep up with the conversation on Twitter. Being an avid style watcher I myself tweeted admiration for host Anna Nolan’s canary yellow blazer sported in the episode I caught, and even got a reply from the woman herself expressing thanks. The net (pun intended) is cast much wider now with the use of social media, and this new form of water-cooler chats has been extended to include not only fellow enthusiasts, both real-world friends and online acquaintances, but also those involved in the making of the shows.
That I happened to come across that episode of The US Office on Netflix is another case in point. For those who were too young the first time round, or it simply passed them by, the television streaming site is great for catching something you may have missed. Re-runs of Friends and Sex and the City are two-a-plenty on the regular channels provided by your Saorview, Sky or UPC plan but tend to cater for the general population, obviously but by doing so can miss out on hidden gems. It’s fun to discover new series’ that may never have been broadcast on Irish TV, and your account is connected with other friends on Facebook so you can see you else might be a closet fan of Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends.
These days the revolution may be televised – but set it to record and just in case.
– Aoife B. Burke
First Published in The Tuam Herald on July 8th 2014