All Together Now
In a delightful recent interview on NPR’s Marketplace, Parks and Recreation co-creator Michael Schur talked about those people who claim not to watch television. “People don’t like to think of themselves as TV watchers,” he relates. “I don’t watch anything on TV, they’ll say, before rattling off a dozen shows they sometimes catch a little of, or watch occasionally.” We all know those people, who act as if TV is beneath them, like they have much more social things to do, fraternizing with three-dimensional people and such. Maybe I am particularly irked by these sorts because I used to be one. There was a time when I thought of watching TV as a waste of otherwise useful hours.
Something changed in the mid-2000s. For a while I was afraid to admit it, but now I am happy—nay, proud—to say that I love television. There is so much good stuff to watch! So I’ve had to ask myself, “what’s up with that?” Some have suggested that television quality has improved over the past decade, and Michael Schur credited the pure volume of programming currently available. I agree with both sentiments, but I really owe my passion for the small screen to social media.
Social media has applied both a filter and megaphone to the ever-growing chorus of shows on myriad networks. As a viewer, you can take part in a global conversation, while also finding your niche.
Television, like so many other things, has become a shared experience. You aren’t limited to discussing your favorite show with the person beside you on the couch, or even with the folks around the proverbial water cooler. Now you can sit with your mobile device of choice while you watch Glee and type, “Oh no, Sue did not just say that,” or predict who is about to be eliminated from So You Think You Can Dance. Thousands of fans are right there with you. It’s almost enough to outmode the DVR and allay advertisers’ fears that we’re all recording shows to watch later sans commercials. You don’t want to miss out on what everyone is watching or worse, have something spoiled by a Tweet!
Twitter is practically made for collective viewing. You can hashtag your heart out as you watch. After the credits roll, there is still plenty to discuss. The internet exploded with discussion following the January 3 episode of How I Met Your Mother, “Bad News.” (Spoiler alert for these links.) A Wikipedia entry was created immediately and viewers re-watched the episode to catch new details to engage in deeper conversation online. That episode was so moving that no one wanted to keep their feelings about it to themselves–or needed to.
Not all viewing, of course, takes place in real time. People are talking about what they’re streaming or watching on DVD. Content providers like Tunerfish and Hulu let you tell the world what you’re watching with a click.
But for me, one of the most compelling aspects of social media is that it can lead us on virtual treasure hunts. As any fan knows there is no correlation between a show’s mainstream success and its true worth. So you might end up loving a show that you never heard of because it was cancelled as fast as it premiered; or because it aired before you were born. Someone you follow on Twitter might mention a show and, knowing you share tastes with that person, you’ll check it out. Maybe you look up an actor on IMDB—which also functions as a social media platform—and discover something really interesting he or she acted in. What’s more, many tweeters are also bloggers, feeding the beast with heaps of cross-referenced information. You can dig up programs new, old, and cancelled, as you’re led further down the “Long Tail.”
TV has gone social. Perhaps social media has even raised the bar for producers. When fans are poised to analyze your characters’ every move in a public forum, you are going to want to write them well. One thing is for sure—life online has made it possible to be both a social butterfly and a couch potato.