As we head back to school, there is an added treat in TV academics’ collective lunch box: the return of TV to our glowing screens. Frankly, I don’t care what anyone says about the disappearing boundaries of TV seasons—there is still something special about the end of summer when it comes to television. But this is a time of year that for me is fraught with contradiction; I feel a palpable excitement at the return of favorites and promise of new stories, and I feel a marked stress at how to manage it all. (I have a flow chart—yellow for DVR, blue for VHS, pink for Internet—it looks like my old high school calculus textbook before an exam.) Do you feel the same push and pull conundrums that I do at this time of year?
Conundrum #1) Do I have to watch every new show at least once? I used to try to do this, but the task is now overwhelming given the growing presence of new series on cable (and this year the return of NBC’s last hour). And you know, it’s just exhausting even thinking about yet another CSI and Law & Order—I don’t really think of them as “new shows” in the same way that I do, say, Lone Star (there’s my plug—saw the pilot and really liked it.) But as someone who focuses on trends and strategies in programming, I feel compelled to watch it all. “I owe it to my students,” I explain to my husband. If that doesn’t work, I argue to him: “We might miss a fantastic series and then we’ll have to buy online or wait for DVD.” And thus…
Conundrum #2) Technology is both a curse and a blessing, damn it! iTunes and my DVR make me feel guilty if I try to dodge anything new that looks horrible or likely to be cancelled. It was a lot easier when I simply couldn’t watch everything because of shows being scheduled against each other. I simply prioritized as follows: preference to returning favorites, new shows that look promising, new shows that seem relevant to my work. Now I have fewer excuses—except for when technology fails me, setting me off on a frenzied rant my husband is well used to. Why does my DVR hold so few hours of TV? Should I really have to pay extra to get more hours, or stay up all night to dub things? Why doesn’t my Comcast box allow me to DVR more than 2 shows? (This is the only reason I still have a VCR, after all.) Why do the networks insist on loading up certain nights (this year for me, it’s Mondays and Thursdays) and then having other evenings read like a wasteland? Is it ethical to remove my 2 year old’s Blues Clues and Caillous so I can load up on The Event and watch in batches? (witness husband and 2 year old leave the room and head to the park).
In the end, the stress is worth it. There is always some new gem of a show (or at least a really fabulous pilot), and even the horrific newbies are at least enjoyable to make fun of (did I say Outlaw? Sorry about that.) Most importantly, every fall reminds me of why I love what I do. There is truly nothing more remarkable than finding fresh well-developed characters, new ways of storytelling, and innovative themes and then being able to discuss this and write about it on a daily basis. My family and sanity will remain intact, and by January the highlighted flow chart by my TV and computer will be less visually assaulting for at least nine more months. (Note: author will be unavailable for social calls until January.)