Sunday, April 24, 2016

Did You Really Watch All These Shows?

This is a question often heard by those of us with substantial TV-on-DVD collections. Especially when those collections are prominently displayed in the room with the biggest television.

The answer is yes – I’ve watched everything you see in the floor to ceiling shelves on both sides of my TV – unless you happened to get here a few days after a new box has arrived, but by your next visit I’ll have that one finished as well. In fact, I’ve watched most of the episodes multiple times. That’s the litmus test for whether a series is worth buying – will I want to watch it more than once? 

Not my Actual Collection - but You Get the Idea

The next question, almost inevitably, addresses how that could be possible. A more diplomatic guest will opt for something like, “Doesn’t that take up a lot of your time?” while those prone to snark prefer “Don’t you have a job? Or a life?”

It’s an understandable reaction. Taken in its totality, the prospect of watching about 10,000 episodes of television seems like a formidable task. 

But it’s not – really! The reason for this blog entry is not just to provide some insight into my viewing habits. Rather, it’s to offer encouragement to anyone who has read some of my pieces, and those of my fellow TV bloggers, and had an interest sparked in re-watching a favorite show from the past, or checking out one that you’ve never had a chance to experience:

“I liked the Mission: Impossible movies – wonder what the original series was like?”

The Donna Reed Show sounds like the perfect antidote to the smart ass tone of sitcoms now.”

“I remember how much I used to enjoy watching The Waltons with my parents. I wonder if I’d still enjoy it.”

But then you consider the time required – seven, eight, nine seasons, each with anywhere from 24 to 30+ episodes. This is not like just watching a movie on a friend’s recommendation.

My suggestion is don’t be intimidated by the time commitment – go for it.

Yes, I’ve watched a lot of TV, but I probably average about three episodes out of my DVD collection per day. With half-hour shows at about 25 minutes each, that’s just one hour and 15 minutes, less time than it would take to watch most movies. But over the course of a year that adds up to more than 1,000 episodes. And I’ve had most of these sets for more than a decade – that’s how you get to 10,000 shows, if you also have a job, and a life.

Choose a series, and start the first season with one or two episodes a night. I know binge-watching is popular now with stuff like House of Cards, where each episode is like a chapter in a novel and viewers can’t wait to see how it ends. It’s a different kind of television. But I don’t believe that approach serves the older shows as well.

Still, there is something appealing and satisfying about watching every episode of a classic series in order. My friends and I call it “taking the journey,” one with a starting point and an ending point, and unexpected detours along the way. 

It also deepens one’s appreciation for the talent both on display and behind the scenes. Whenever I return to Father Knows Best, with its 203 episodes over six seasons, I am astonished that more than 150 of them were written by just two men, Roswell Rogers and Paul West. Sometimes it takes me two weeks to write one of these blogs.

You’ll notice credits more watching shows this way. You’ll see guest actors return in different roles, sometimes during the same season. You’ll spot continuity errors aplenty. You’ll enjoy seeing how grocery stories and department stores and banks looked 30-50 years ago – and if you have some memory of that time you’ll miss them. In fact you may spot a number of social and cultural traits that we’ve long since abandoned. 

Best of all, you don’t have to own the shows to watch them anymore, thanks to libraries and Netflix and streaming services. But if you do buy (and prices have plummeted over the last few years), you may be surprised at how often you return to these fictional worlds. We all deserve a break from 2016 sometimes – at least until the election is over.

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