What Time Is Prime Time? ; Watching Yesterday's Television Programs Today

Article excerpt

Have you heard the news? The Boston Red Sox finally won the World Series! And there's this new thing - much better than a Walkman - which'll hold hundreds of CDs worth of music; it's called an iPod, and it's absolutely amazing! And you'll never have to watch commercials again, because they just came out with this new device that lets you zip right through them - Hivo? Sivo? Something like that; anyway, you're not going to believe it when you see it.

No, no need to check your browser to see if you've accidentally clicked on the "archives" section of the website; we're in October 2006, and if anyone said these kind of things to you in a serious article or on the street, you'd either toss it away in disgust or back slowly away, wondering how anyone could be that incredibly behind the times.

Except, of course, when it comes to television programs.

I can't tell you how many times in the last few months that dear friends, relatives, acquaintances, and the woman who comes to read my gas meter have told me, with a light in their eyes and a catch in their breath, about their brand new discovery: this show called "24." Or "Arrested Development." Or "Veronica Mars." Or "Deadwood." Or "The Wire." Great shows that have been on the air for years, often on ratings life support or even cancelled because they couldn't attract an audience. It turns out, though, that they could attract an audience after all. It just took that audience a while to get there. Lots of viewers are partying like it's 2004, eagerly discussing the ins and outs of Jack Bauer's next-to-next-to-next-to- latest adventures as if they aired yesterday.

This is, as you can imagine, incredibly frustrating to the small groups of people who watched the shows when they came out, by which, really, I mean me. I'm constantly trying to remember fuzzy details of jokes I heard one evening three seasons ago, not to mention the constant anxiety about spoiling a show's future developments for my friends. As a result, I'm in the conversations but not of them; it's like I've got a bad case of jet lag - except that, ostensibly, they're the ones who are off cycle.

Lest I face social ostracism for the rest of my natural life, let me hasten to point out that my friends - brilliant, charitable, and incredibly handsome to a one - are behaving quite reasonably in watching these shows this way: DVD packages provide a season's worth of entertainment without worrying about recording a show every week, waiting to watch the next episode, and, of course, watching the commercials (though again, that new invention makes the last a little more optional). …