When I think of how television viewing has changed in my lifetime, I really am amazed. As a baby boomer who arrived on the scene in June 1951, mine would be the first generation that would have TV for a lifetime. In other words, I was perched a top that first wave of home-viewing entertainment.
I remember the black-and-white TV of my 1950s, the one with the rabbit ears antenna needed to draw in the small handful of stations available and the programming that didn’t even cover all the daylight hours and prime time viewing hours, much less provide any entertainment for those who the recent McDonald’s advertising campaign refer to as the nocturnivores.
The programming was live, and when there wasn’t a show on, there was a test pattern, inexplicably to me as it was back then, a pattern comprised of a sketch of an American Indian in full headdress.
Even into the 1960s when the Grindrods jumped into the world of color TV and that converter box that automatically turned the outside antenna to achieve the best reception, it wasn’t very cost-efficient to program anything after midnight. Stations went off for the day right after the late news in a blaze of patriotic glory with the national anthem, accompanied by a montage of shots of national monuments and landmarks. Of course, as the Anthem came to a conclusion, the last frame was of the flag unfurling. In those days, TV dictated to us what we could watch and when we could watch it.
As the decades rolled by, my TV viewing habits ebbed and flowed, depending, I suppose, on whether I thought my own reality was more interesting than what was playing on the screen.
Now, in a century that I’d felt certain had you asked me during my St. Charles School days would have included outside every Skypad apartment a George Jetson aerocar, I find myself limiting my TV exposure to sporting events, “Seinfeld” reruns, a few short-season dramas such as “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” and a few dollops of CNN thrown in when there’s been a big news event.
However, lately on a limited basis, I’ve joined the current national craze of what can only be termed as self-regulated binge watching. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, my watching one or two episodes of “Friday Night Lights” from the boxed set of all five seasons of what many felt during its 2006-11 run was the best drama on TV is modest compared to what others are doing.
As currently defined, binge watching is watching multiple episodes of the same show in a very short period of time, thanks to the wonders of DVRs and boxed sets of entire seasons so readily available.
A recent poll conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates revealed that well more than 50 percent of all ages have engaged in binge viewing, with those in the 16-35 range topping out at 70 percent.
Now, with me, the current apple of my viewing eye, “FNL,” there has been only one time when I watched two episodes back-to-back, which was the pilot and the first show of season 1, and halfway through the 45-minute (minus the commercials) second episode, I began shifting uncomfortably in my chair.
I have a certain innate guilt that sort of washes over me when I’m not being very productive and just enough fidget in me to prevent any more than one episode at a time. So, I guess at one or two episodes a week, five seasons’ worth will last me quite some time, certainly longer than Thomas Toth.
Toth watched five seasons’ worth of “Mad Men” over a two-week period of time while recuperating from a surgery, which seems to me to be a bit of a Don Draper-overload even for someone like me who thinks the show is brilliantly conceived and smartly written, although I will grant him a bit of a pass for being bedridden.
Nor, is my “FNL” indulgence close to the binging of my neighbor and pal, Brad Kelley, who, once upon a time, wanted to find out what the fuss was all about with all those gangsters and banged out five seasons’ worth of “The Sopranos” in the space of less than 48 hours. The learned counselor told me that he had to lock himself in the bedroom because his wife couldn’t take all the swearing. While I was tempted to ask him if the lovely Suzanne meant his or the characters’, I took the high road.
Said Kelley, “By the time I got done, I walked out of the bedroom and wanted to whack somebody.”
As far as the current trend to devour entire seasons worth of series in a short period of time, one fact is indisputable for this viewer who watched his first TV in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn in the mid 1950s.
And, that fact is, from my staring at that headdress-wearing Indian while waiting for the Mouseketeer roll call and my daily dose of homilies about making good moral choices on “The Mickey Mouse Club” to watching my next “Friday Night Lights,” my, have I ever come a long way!