Sometimes I miss the good old days of TV, when my family’s cable connection was pumping through NBC’s Thursday Night lineup of Seinfeld or Friends. Or when I’d sit listening to my brother read the listings from a double-page newspaper spread that came once a week, dutifully informing us when our favourite shows would be on the air, if they were new, and every so often if we were lucky, there might be a teaser synopsis to wet our appetite.
This was back in the day when TV commercials were precious times. They were the breaks that had you running for the bathroom, and dashing to the kitchen for a pickle and a glass of water in the hopes you could make it back before someone inevitably yelled “IT’S ON!” at the top of their lungs.
These were times when phone calls were ignored because you were in the middle of an episode that you quite literally had no way of every viewing again. If you missed it, you missed it. You might be lucky to catch a repeat one day, but who is willing to risk that? TV was more of an event back then, there were the big show that everyone watched that the next day we would all talk about. It was comfortably communal.
Then, I remember in high school, when I was a die-hard (and I mean DIE-HARD) The OC fan. This, obviously came a later than the aforementioned golden age. We had satellite tv at this point that would allow you to watch all the time zones so the chances you missed an episode were much slimmer. This also made stacking my TV consumption a lot easier. I was really good at TV in my youth. But I’m getting off track.
When I was in high school I never, ever missed an episode of The OC unless I absolutely, 100% was stuck out of reach of a television (which to my memory, happened once.) I knew, without question, Thursday nights at 9pm I would be in front of a TV and no one was allowed to talk to me. Then, the next day my friends and I would discuss.
Can you believe Marissa died?
Why didn’t Ryan call for help?
Where were Summer and Seth?
But that’s not the point. Looking back, I miss how special it seemed, how it was a precious activity that I scheduled in, that I paid attention to, and that I shared with my friends.
Today, I do think that TV is reaching a different kind of golden age, a golden age of quality and choice. Now, it’s on our terms. And, the pool of people making TV is so much wider. This means that shows that might’ve been too risky or too niche can be produced. It means greater creative freedom. Today we’ve got Mad Men and Rick and Morty, Breaking Bad and the Sopranos, Stranger Things and Narcos, and I could go on.
There’s too much great TV that it would be foolish to complain. But, now instead of collectively asking ‘who shot JR?‘ we, one at a time, ask ‘what shows are you watching? what season are you on? what’s happening right now?‘ and then we go ‘yeah, so good right?‘
We still have a bit of the urgency and community around certain shows like Game of Thrones, and maybe I’m an outlier because I haven’t had cable for almost three years and I refuse to watch anything that doesn’t entertain me, but I feel like we’ve lost a little bit of the magic. We’ve lost a little bit of the togetherness that TV gave us before.