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Discovery and the Lack of It

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Having now finished S6 of Clone Wars and with only a short season to go, I am feeling both sorry about the approaching ending and relieved that I can now read various stories I've already downloaded without worrying about spoilers. Clone Wars began when 22 episode seasons were still typical, which meant that it took me some time to get through it, since my SO's viewing time is limited and he doesn't like bingeing shows.

It made me think about how, assuming one cares about spoilers, it's so easy for TV viewing to become a race to completion now. There are, of course, shows where one simply can't wait to see what comes next, not unlike the book that keeps you up all night reading. But I also wonder how much gets missed in the viewing.

I remember talking with a friend who had seen Buffy for the first time. While she loved the show and was watching it with her spouse as quickly as possible, the seven seasons still meant that this took them the better part of a year, particularly once Angel was added into the viewing.

She wanted to immediately watch it over again though I don't think she ever did. It's a long road since she'd be doing one episode a day rather than 2-3 and there has been a lot of good TV since to pile up on one's queue. I've only ever watched each episode twice, though there are a few that I've watched several more times and some seasons I've seen all the way through a third time when I was introducing it to someone else. But being immersed in fandom while the last seasons were airing, it was easy to pick up on a lot of things. Plus I saw most of the episodes in real time with an episode a week.

I noticed that there was a lot my friend simply didn't remember when we talked about it later. Some people don't -- my SO, for example, often doesn't remember stuff a day or two later after seeing a show. Sometimes he doesn't even notice something at the time of viewing. But my friend was an English major and used to critical writing, so she was in a good position to observe and remember a lot of details.

I think it is easy to both become overwhelmed by a main storyline, especially if it's well told and serialized, and to be so eager for the next hit that there is relatively little thought paid to details as the story moves on. So it isn't just that the failings of a show can slip out of sight during marathons, but that people can be watching different shows depending on how they watch.

I thought of this with Clone Wars because it already mimics this experience. The Star Wars films were like Readers' Digest versions of the overall story, with a lot of details and developments cut for time or for a speeder chase. Whereas, while there is no shortage of chases and battles in Clone Wars, I am still sometimes surprised by how much story can be packed into the half hour. Some of them are simplistic while others hint at a lot more that could be explored in a different type of show. And since the show is animated, it can tell stories which a live action story would find difficult. (Imagine a whole movie underseas trying to tell the Mon Calamari story arc).

But the fact that there were 22 episodes in most seasons mean 22 potentially different stories to tell with new characters in each. It's a lot to keep track of. So if anything, it seems to me that bingeing is creating an even bigger divide between people immersed in fandom and people who aren't, because it is a lot harder to mentally flesh out the content one's watching without either time or the help of others to bring ideas to the fore.

Related to fan sharing, I heard discussion about the podcast Land of the Giants which revealed that the show that really put Netflix on the map was Breaking Bad, creating the "Netflix effect," where it takes an average performing show and makes it word of mouth content. The hosts discussed the factors of bingeing, lack of commercials, and on-demand factors as to why being on Netflix made such a difference in viewership. Meanwhile AMC downplayed this by mentioning their own marathons and the show's availability through On Demand.

But AMC was right that syndication anywhere tended to boost the visibility and viewership of shows current or past. The two factors that Netflix brought that were important were demographics and algorithms. While I can't say I rely on its suggestions for viewing, no doubt a lot of people do. Plus Netflix was able to pull in an audience that wasn't otherwise watching TV and was not affected by network branding, meaning that the show could get in front of people without relying on word of mouth or viewing habits.

What it made me wonder though was which shows which didn't do well on TV and were eventually cancelled, possibly prematurely, might have become huge hits on Netflix had the streamer existed a decade or two earlier, and had fans had an easier time sharing content across borders.