TV on My Time

So now I’m totally addicted to this show called Bones. It’s a Fox-produced drama about a forensic anthropologist and a crime-solving science lab set in Washington DC.

It’s got dark humor and witty dialog and episode titles like The X in the File (body found near Roswell), The Dentist in the Ditch (dead dentist found by civil war re-enactors), and The Bond in the Boot (government agent found in trunk of car).

And the best part is, I can watch three episodes in a row from three different seasons, every night on TNT. That is, if I want to.

I always hated the tyranny of TV. Which is odd, since I grew up in what today might look like a parody of the TV family.

We had actual TV tables. They were really just trays on fold-out legs, but TV table sounded so much better. You’d flip up the metal top on one side, snap it the other, sit down in the armchair and enjoy dinner to scenes of Little Joe and Adam riding across the ranch. (Aggh, as I type this I’ve even got the theme song from Bonanza humming in my brain!)

But that was the paradigm we – that is, those of us in the pre-digital age – grew up with. TV shows appeared when programmers wanted them to and you adjusted your life around it. And who wouldn’t? Clearly not our family.

Except me. I was the weird-o child who liked books and magazines and newspapers better than eating overcooked steak charred in one of those vertical meat toasters while watching the show of the day. Heck, I even liked Adam better than Little Joe! Yeah, I know, one strange kid.

Or maybe I was just ahead of the curve.

My first VCR joined me while I was in grad school. I worked during the day but was doing a research project on advertising in children’s shows which also ran during the day - aka, when I wasn't home to see them.

The solution? A cutting edge machine that let me set a timer and tape daytime children’s TV and then watch – and rewatch -- as often as I wanted, when I wanted.  Fast forward, pause, rewind … oh the miracle of being able to control the medium. It wasn’t exactly easy to us, but if you looked carefully you could spot within this machine the beginning of a whole shift in perspective and control.

Fast forward now (sorry, couldn’t resist saying that!) to 2010. We are in the fifth season of Bones. The 100th episode. At the center is the brilliant Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, who is all logic and science and solves crimes by data. Paired with her is FBI partner Special Agent Seeley Booth, ex-Army sniper who is a master of the non-scientific, the gut, the human response, who solves crimes seemingly though intuition.

Being the cultural klutz that I am, I just discovered this show. A friend was watching it and I sat down and starting watching it too.  Hooked! I wanted more.

Luckily for me, the tyranny of TV is waning. The power relationships have shifted. I’m no longer in the control of some mythical programmer who decides that 9 pm on Wednesdays or 10:pm on Thursdays is Must See TV.

Nope, there’s a plethora of places where I can stream what I want to see, when I want to see it, right from my connected device.  My choice!

I had to tell someone about this… and my 12 year old was the first person I saw. She just looked at me when I told her of my revelation.  Sort of raised her eyebrows, pointed to her own MacBook, shrugged her shoulders, wanted to know what the big deal was. She streams stuff all the time.

“Everyone watches when they want to ” she sniffed, referring of course the dreaded middle school “everyone” – also known as everyone-who-isn’t-my-mom.

In 2007, NBC Universal and News Corp. announced a new online video venture. Hulu (http://www.hulu.com) launched in early 2008 to less-than-rousing reviews. I remember thinking that there wasn’t much there there.

But today, with Walt Disney now part of the ownership as well, the “channel” has shows from pretty much every production house as well as some 250+ Fortune 500 advertisers. It’s working. Unlike the mysterious incantations required to program a VCR, it is also easy to use. Search. Point. Click. Play. Watch.

But there are only some episodes of Bones available on Hulu! And episodes of this and other shows  seem to come and go and aren’t always there when you return to find them. Is this old tendril of control leaching through?

I wanted to start at the beginning and watch my way from season to season.  Alas, the world isn’t there yet, at least in advertiser-supported mode.

But if I want to pay $1.99 to $2.99 per episode, that’s a different story. Then, I’m just a click and point away to obsession satisfaction. Three sources – iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon Video on Demand – are quick and easy pay-to-download options.

There is, of course, the social media and community aspect in all this too. Sidereel is a wiki, aka, community created content.  It is all about TV shows and movies. You can make a playlist, mark episodes as watched, and comment endlessly about your favorite show.

The site is a collection of links to episodes  (mostly to Hulu, and the aforementioned pay-to-download sites) plus links to information about the TV shows – photos made by someone who spotted a filming, news tidbits about the stars or producers and all sorts of web fan ephemera.

TVGuide is similar, but without the ability to keep playlists and mark watched episodes, but with the added pointer of when a show is airing on old-fashioned linear TV. TV.com is part of CBS Interactive and has the same mix of community commentary and links to full episodes from elsewhere.


Comcast is in the game too. Its Fancast bills itself as “THE top entertainment site dedicated to celebrating television.”
 
It’s a little scary that millions of people want to celebrate television, but Comcast too has clearly seen the writing on the wall. (And one more reason it is making a play for NBC). You can just hear the ground shifting under the model in which content provides pay cable delivery channels per viewer for a spot in the hundreds of channels line up.

And then there’s the usual, uhm, less well known sources. Like the copied-from-elsewhere grainy background noise filled episodes posted on YouTube. Or on any of a dozen appearing and disappearing sites whose provenance is rather shrouded.   Everyone wants to celebrate TV in their own way, it seems.

One that gave me the giggles is (cue the Bonanza theme again) TV Show Songs (http://www.tvshowsongs.com) where you can, yes, buy your fave tunes from TV shows online! Click, and you’re off to iTunes.

It is all part of the new structure, though, where not only is the watching of TV non-linear and individually driven, but the shows themselves can be deconstructed and elements bought and sold. Bones has some really interesting music in it – and now we can learn about the artists who make that part of the magic too.

The final irony in all this is that if I do wax nostalgic for those old metal TV trays and badly cooked meat on 1960s era marvel appliances, I can recreate the moment through … eBay.  I wonder if the metal floral tray set with 9 bids currently at $34 can hold both a frozen dinner and my MacBook?

Nah, I’m not going to find out. I like the new paradigm so much better.

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