Living In Record TV Time

The ’60s was when people first became concerned about television. Social scientists and commentators railed against the “idiot box” that was turning our brains to mush and converting formerly active, intelligent, inquisitive people into soft, slack-jawed shmoos soaking up whatever mind-numbing offering might appear on their TV set.

Those of us who lived through the ’60s somehow survived our constant exposure to the TV set that had a prominent place in our living rooms. But I’ve got news for you, folks: when it comes to TV, the ’60s was nothing compared to where we are right now. As The Hollywood Reporter noted yesterday, the number of English-language scripted TV shows that are available for viewing in the United States hit an all-time high last year. Across broadcast, cable, and streaming services, in 2021 559 English-language shows were available. That’s 13 percent more than in 2020 and 5 percent higher than the previous record in 2019. And consider this astonishing statistic reported in the THR article: “The total number of scripted shows has more than doubled in the last decade; in 2011 there were 266 scripted series.” What’s more, that 2021 record number doesn’t include any of the non-English-scripted shows that people are watching, like Squid Game or Money Heist.

In short, Americans are literally saturated with TV these days. Unlike the ’60s, when there were only three broadcast channels and one or two snowy UHF options, all of which terminated their broadcasts at some point in the early morning hours, you now could watch programming 24 hours a day, every day–and not even scratch the surface of what is available for viewing. And in the COVID era, it’s become increasingly easy to ditch the masks, slouch back on your couch, and immerse yourself in TV, rather than going out to do anything. I’m sure that part of what is driving the TV production boom is the fact that so many worried people are choosing to stay home rather than venture outside into the scary potential omicron infection zone. Rather than take that risk, why not just camp out and watch the latest hot streaming series?

As I mentioned, those of us who lived through the ’60s somehow avoided the confident predictions that we would become a bunch of brain-dead zombies–at least, I think we did– and hopefully that will prove true, again, in the aftermath of the current TV-soaked period. But it is concerning that TV shows have become such a huge part of our lives, to the point where our voracious appetite for programming is driving the TV production industry to new heights. We’d all be better off if we decided to get off the couch now and then, turn off the TV or computer, and get outside to interact with other living human beings.

Will You Binge On Arrested Development?

I never watched Arrested Development when it was on network TV.  Richard recommended it highly, and said it was one of the greatest sitcoms ever, but for whatever reason I never found time to watch it.

Now, seven years have gone by, and long-deprived Arrested Development fans are overjoyed.  Netflix is offering the resurrected series, and has posted all 15 new episodes at once.  It’s how Netflix — which is trying to break the stranglehold of broadcast TV, and get Americans to think differently about how their home entertainment should be delivered — does things.  And the release of a block of 15 new episodes raises a crucial question for the dedicated fan:  do you consume, in gluttonous fashion, all 15 new episodes in one gorging, eating-Cheetos-and-guzzling-caffeinated-beverages-sitting, or do you, in refined fashion, carefully limit yourself to one episode per day, or per week, to string out the pleasure of becoming reacquainted with a show and its characters that have become like an old friend?

Call me hopelessly undisciplined, but I’d be tempted to watch as many episodes as I could in the shortest period of time.  If someone told me that there was an entirely new season of Deadwood or The Sopranos with their original casts I’d plop myself down in front of the tube and have at it for as long as I could bear.

So if you know someone who loved Arrested Development, don’t be troubled if you can’t get ahold of them this weekend.  They may just be indulging their gluttonous side, and we shouldn’t get in the way of their pleasure.