The 2014-15 TV season is nearly here, with the broadcast networks preparing to launch two dozen new shows between now and mid-November. Based on past seasons, only about 10 to 20% of those will do well enough to get renewed. But is there even such a thing as a “regular” TV season anymore? Almost every channel is now filling its schedule with year-round programming, even if the summer offerings on the big networks seem like second-rate discards (Taxi Brooklyn, I’m looking at you…).
I used to view the summer as a respite from the grind of the traditional September-to-May season, and time I could use to catch up on shows I wanted to see but hadn’t had time to get into, but that is less likely to happen now. Even as the number of full-season (22 to 24 episodes) network shows I watch is at its lowest point in well over a decade, overall I’m watching more shows than ever.Because there are so many shows, and so many new outlets for programming, there is more TV available to viewers than ever before… keeping up with it can feel overwhelming.Because there are now so many shows, and so many new outlets for programming beyond the broadcast and cable channels, there is more TV available to viewers than ever before. Keeping up with it can feel overwhelming, even for someone who watches only a moderate amount of TV.
First, and probably obvious to anyone who follows more than a couple of TV shows: if you haven’t opted to cut the cord, a DVR is essential. I’ve had at least one TiVo since 2005, and pretty much everything we watch now is time-delayed, due to both lifestyle (my wife has to be up early, so she goes to sleep relatively early) and the desire to avoid commercials. As a bonus, skipping over those ads saves time; about 30% of the running time of a typical TV show is commercials, and hitting that fast-forward button allows me to watch a show that much faster, thus helping me make the time I spend on TV more efficient.
One of the best things about having a DVR is the ability to create season passes, which record all new episodes of a show. Since my TiVo is several years old, it has two tuners (newer models typically have four, or sometimes as many as six), so occasionally there are program conflicts. I spend about 20 minutes a week managing my DVR’s to-do list, making sure that what I want it to record will in fact be recorded, and at the proper time. The frequent re-airing of shows, especially those on non-broadcast channels, makes this relatively easy, as does on-demand viewing.
We find it’s helpful to prioritize what we watch, and doing so comes pretty naturally. We are longtime fans of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and I know there are people who stockpile a week’s worth of those shows and catch up on them on weekends, but we find that their topical nature makes it preferable to watch them as soon as possible, so when we sit down each evening those come first. After that it depends on what else we have recorded; even though it takes the same amount of time to watch two comedies or one drama, watching the comedies feels like it takes less time, so sometimes the dramas get left until the weekend. (It can be difficult for me to reconcile this situation with my desire to know what happens on certain shows as soon as possible.)Whether your TV tastes run to the lofty or the lowbrow, you only have so much free time to invest and you want to make the best choices with it.Of course, some nights of the week are busier on TV than others. Sundays have become ridiculously crowded, especially with premium cable factored in; every channel wants its best stuff on Sunday, which is still the night that draws the most viewers. So it’s also important to develop a healthy sense of selectivity. No one can watch every TV show, nor (I hope) would anyone want to. One of the true gifts of this era of abundance is the sheer number of good-to-great shows, but regardless of whether your TV tastes run to the lofty or the lowbrow, you only have so much free time to invest and you probably want to make the best choices with it.
This comes easier for some than for others. Often it’s difficult to give up on a show that has brought pleasure and enjoyment for a number of seasons, and it took me a long time to develop a critical component to my viewing that allowed me to “break up” with shows that no longer seemed satisfying or worth my time. Similarly, if I’m undecided about a new show, I try to give it a chance (usually at least three episodes) to make enough of an impression on me that I know I want to keep watching, but sometimes it only takes one or two episodes to know I’m not interested enough to continue. Other times I’ll decide to finish a season, knowing that I’ll be done with it at that point whether or not the show continues (Extant, I’m looking at you…).
I also know there are certain shows that are not of interest to me at all, so I don’t even bother starting them. I think it’s terrific that Shonda Rhimes and her shows have become both buzzworthy and successful for ABC, but after watching the first couple of seasons of Grey’s Anatomy and hearing enough about Scandal over the past couple of years, I know it just isn’t my thing and that I also won’t be interested in her new show. Your mileage will certainly vary.
Not having any premium cable channels makes some of these decisions easier, though it also means accepting that there are shows I want to see but won’t be able to until after they have become available on DVD or through a streaming service (I really wish I’d been able to watch The Knick this summer, and I still haven’t gotten to the last three seasons of Dexter).
Depending on your living situation, you may not have to share a TV, DVR, and computer with anyone else, but if you do, odds are you don’t completely share tastes and preferences with the other members of your household. My wife and I watch most shows together, but I tend to be interested in more shows than she is, and I also have more free time, so there are shows that I record and watch alone, and others that I watch online because sometimes that’s just easier.Then there’s the matter of keeping TV viewing in balance with the rest of one’s life.Then there’s the matter of keeping TV viewing in balance with the rest of one’s life. I have a number of topics that are of interest to me (besides TV) that require daily online reading that takes at least an hour. I also still read a print newspaper, if you can believe it, and I try to devote some time each day to a book. That’s a lot of media consumption that has to fit with everything else in my life. Something ends up losing out, and in my case I’ve found that it’s movie viewing, both in theaters and via Netflix. The changing nature of the movie business means there are fewer new films I want to see, but there are still plenty that I did and missed, for whatever reason.
Many still hold out hope that at some point the media landscape will allow consumers to build a cable or satellite package with only the channels we want, but until that becomes a reality, the best approach may be not having a cable subscription at all, and opting to purchase only the content one wishes to view from iTunes, Google, or Amazon. Perhaps the aging model of content providers and TV networks has reached the end of its practical usefulness, and the “TV network” of the future is the one each of us will create with the shows we choose to purchase and watch.