The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 17, 2014

Joe Hadsall: Binge-watching may spoil quality of TV shows

JOPLIN, Mo. — Maybe Netflix isn't so good for TV storytelling. Because of that, I refuse to watch the new season of "Sherlock" before its U.S. release dates. Don't get me wrong: "House of Cards" is fantastic. I've heard great things about "Orange is the New Black" and the reborn "Arrested Development." And, even though I couldn't make it past the second episode of "Hemlock Grove," that werewolf show has a fan base. But releasing an entire season of a show at once changes the feel of that show into a mini-series or a long movie.

And if the characters are good or the story addicting, then that's not all bad. But the reason I am skeptical now is that by churning out an entire season, the power of a single episode is weakened. In the rush to see what happens in the entire story (which is ultimately a mad rush toward a cliffhanger), we don't get the chance to appreciate each chapter by itself.

Netflix not the cause

Ultimately, I'm indicting binge-watching here, not Netflix. While Netflix certainly made it easier to watch an entire season of a show in one or two sittings, binge-watching started out as a dream that only a really aggressive VHS collector or a casual DVD purchaser could achieve.

A full season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" could easily take up a dozen videotapes. But when DVDs emerged, with a full season on only three or four discs, owning an entire season became less a symbol of rabid fandom and more a source of pride and respect.

That's how I watched the first season of "Lost." Given as a gift by The Lovely Paula before we got married, I easily devoured all 24 episodes in the span of three or four nights. And that set my table for watching every other season as it unfolded on ABC -- episode by episode, long wait by long wait.

But Netflix, through its DVD rental and streaming services, made binge-watching practical and affordable. An entire season of a show can cost anywhere from $30 to $60, which will usually price out people curious about a show yet uncertain about committing the time or cash. But being able to check out a season at such a low cost addressed those concerns.

So now that binge-watching is accessible to anyone, not just the passionate fan or rabid collector, it makes sense that it would be the target of the next evolution of TV storytelling, which Netflix is trailblazing.

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