“Ugh.”

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Within the book TV on Strike by Cynthia Littleton, I discovered the intricacies of The Writers’ Strike that began in November of 2007– which was a time I was watching a significant amount of television. It was my sophomore year of high school. To put this in perspective of my personal timeline, I got my first facial hair (that’s singular) a few months before, and wore it proudly (albeit tucked between my first and second chin). I had two zippered hoodies that I alternated between– a Dunder Mifflin one, and one with the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 written across the chest. The shows that these hoodies reference– The Office and Lost, respectively,  were noticeably affected by this strike. I remember going a couple of months without new episodes from either, which was hard for 2007/8-me.

Littleton begins with a discussion of DVRs, and how they affected the television landscape upon their arrival. I recall when my family first got a DVR. It was 2007, and we still had a box television. I remember toying around with it, and being blown away that I could have it record programming when the television was turned off! During this time, Lost was, without a doubt, my reason to live. Before we had the DVR, I would record episodes on VHS to rewatch the following day, often more than once, just to make sure I didn’t miss any easter eggs (the funeral parlor’s name is an anagram for ‘flashforward’?! Mind blown). The practice seems so primitive now. Alternatively, I used abc.com to rewatch episodes when the TV room was occupied. As the reading says, this was the first example of a network offering their programming online. As I recall, the video playback quality was not great, and trying to jump around in the episode was next to impossible. I also recall being subjected to advertisements that would come during the normal act breaks.

Broadcast and cable networks bank on their most successful series to serve as ‘launchpads’ for other programs. That audience-funneling function only increases the value of a hit show to its network. If viewers are watching more shows on their own schedules via DVR playback, networks have to work harder to entice viewers to check out new programs, (Littleton, 8-9).

We’ve all seen the above tactic being implemented, but I am reminded of one specific instance of it; it came with the final season of Breaking Bad, and AMC was doing its best to get people watching its new show, Low Winter Sun. AMC also had a Breaking Bad discussion show called Talking Bad that aired after each episode. What those sneaky people at AMC ended up doing, however, was sandwiching Low Winter Sun between Breaking Bad and Talking Bad. As someone with a DVR, this had no effect on me, seeing as I would just record Talking Bad and watch it the next morning. The percentage still without DVRs, on the other hand, must have been angered by the inconvenience. And, unfortunately for AMC, Low Winter Sun was quickly canceled. In the new age of DVRs, this maneuver is becoming less and less effective, as this example and Littleton show.

What I found the most interesting was Littleton’s discussion of “webisodes”. I watched Lost: Missing Pieces and the first series of webisodes made for The Office entitled “The Accountants”. I found both to be extremely underwhelming; the production value is what got to me, I think. Missing Pieces looked like it was filmed with a cheap Wal-Mart camera, and the webisodes added nothing to the bigger picture of the program. I did not think that webisodes would have a future, at least these versions; they honestly did feel like nothing more than promotional material. Well, webisodes found their footing, and now with original programming on Netflix, which I discuss at length here, television has truly made its mark on the internet.

A bonus– without the aid of his writers, Conan O’Brien had to get resourceful when it came to filling time during the month of January on his show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Here, he brings a MIT physics professor on the show to help him beat his own record of spinning his wedding band on his desk. As Conan puts it, “This is either the greatest television in the world, or the worst.”

Littleton, Cynthia. TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2013. PDF.

Image from Creative Commons

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Comments

  1. Given your interest in webisodes, you might want to look into the some of the important differences that emerged as TV series began to produce content for the web in a format initially created and conceived as an alternative rather than as a supplement to broadcast television. For instance, compare some of the webisodes produced for Lost or The Office to some of the more well-known series that were created specifically for the web like Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog and Felicia Day’s The Guild.

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