The DVD Novel: How the Way We Watch Television Changed the Television We Watch

The DVD Novel: How the Way We Watch Television Changed the Television We Watch

The DVD Novel: How the Way We Watch Television Changed the Television We Watch

The DVD Novel: How the Way We Watch Television Changed the Television We Watch

Synopsis

Now that television shows can live forever as DVD sets, the stories they can tell have changed; television episodes are now crafted as chapters in a season-long novel instead of free-standing stories. This book examines how this significant shift in storytelling occurred.

Excerpt

We aren’t watching television anymore.

I don’t mean that in the standard, “viewership is down due to videogames and work schedules” sense.

I mean two other things.

The shows we watch on television now are fundamentally different from what television was in its Golden and even its Silver ages.

At the simplest level, American prime-time television through the 1970s meant freestanding episodes with characters that never changed. Now almost every narrative show on television—cable or network—has at least one long story arc for the series, and possibly more within a season.

A 13-hour story allows for a different sort of story and storytelling than presenting 13 one-hour stories. Episodes become chapters. Characters can be developed and transformed in the way we expect characters to change in traditional literature and drama. Themes and counterthemes can be juxtaposed and explored on a much larger landscape that allows for contradiction and ambiguity which would be out of place in traditional television writing.

But I also mean that we aren’t watching television.

We’re watching online streaming video and TiVo, and we are watching DVD sets. These shifts in technology, viewing habits, and storytelling have influenced one another to create a new form of television that has emerged on television but is something different from “television.” When viewers can watch as much of a series as they want rather than measuring it out in weekly episodes, writers can treat a season of television as a single story.

It’s no longer worthy of comment that people are only now starting to watch The Sopranos, years after it ended, or that my friends go to the beach and the husband finds Treme on iTunes and watches the whole first season that night, then watches it again the next day. Or that Mark Maron tells a guest on his podcast about watching an hour or two of Six Feet Under every night before he goes to bed, or that George R. R. Martin (writer of Game of Thrones) hedges his criticism of the ending of Lost by explaining that he hasn’t watched it on DVD yet but only saw it when it was broadcast on NBC.

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