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We must purge the trend of binge watching TV

Posted August 31

The upcoming fall TV season is upon us, and with it, a carefully crafted schedule designed to optimize advertisers’ exposure to the right audiences. I mean, it’s not a coincidence that The CW has put both "The Flash" and DC’s "Legends of Tomorrow" on the same night — the network is surely hoping that viewers who come for one will stick around for the other.

But many of us look at that, roll our eyes, and say “Scheduling — pfft! Weekly schedules are a thing of the past!”

Not only do DVRs allow us to record shows and watch them on our time, but Netflix and other online content providers are increasingly releasing entire seasons all at once. This month, Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos announced in an interview with Variety that the streaming service would be spending $7 billion (that’s with a b) on developing its own original content next year — so this trend of dropping a whole season for viewers to binge in one weekend seems to be the way of the future.

But, as I see it, it’s a bad trend. TV producers need to stick with the weekly format.

It’s better for a show’s producers to take their time and let a show breathe, allowing for a longer media cycle — 10 weeks instead of one weekend — and give it time to build to a conclusion. I mean the whole appeal of reality shows like "The Bachelor" is that they build up to a climactic finale. (Not … not y’know, that I’ve ever watched "The Bachelor.")

We don’t always need immediate gratification; in fact, delayed gratification can lead to more enjoyment.

A traditional release schedule is also better for fan discussions, be they online or at the water cooler. I didn’t watch the show "Lost" when it was on-air, but my understanding is that the weekly installments allowed for tension and speculation that — were a viewer to binge an entire season — would be lost … if you’ll pardon the pun.

When fans binge an entire show at once, they run the risk of spoilers. You may want to talk in your online community about "Luke Cage," but if you’ve only seen the first two episodes of the first season, you risk having the rest ruined for you.

There is also a quality issue. Many of the new prestige-format TV dramas seem to insist they are higher quality than they are, but when viewers binge-watch, they see every flaw in, well, higher resolution because they spent so much concentrated time with the material. My reaction to HBO’s "Westworld" was that it was four good episodes stretched out over 10 hours.

The other side of binging is purging, where you don’t process the material you consumed so quickly. I did watch season two of "Daredevil" all in one weekend, and I don’t remember much of anything beyond the first two episodes.

Yes, first-world problems. I understand. But still.

Binging has historically always had a very negative connotation. Indeed, two years ago the University of Texas (Austin) released a study that linked binge-watching with loneliness and depression.

It could be a chicken-and-the-egg scenario: you’re lonely, so you watch an entire season of "Luther" … or you watch a season of "Luther" and end up feeling lonely. But either way, over-consumption is generally viewed as self-medication to treat mental illness, but frequently exacerbates it. Up until very recently, binging meant over-eating, not watching television.

But if Netflix and others are going to make binge-able shows, do it the right way.

One of the great reasons for the success of Netflix’s "Stranger Things" — a show that I love enormously — is that there were only eight episodes. This was enough that you could binge it, without ever feeling that the show overstayed its welcome.

So please, online providers: It’s OK to make us wait. We’ll enjoy your show more, remember it more and discuss it longer.

Jared is an award-winning writer who comments on the intersections of politics and culture. Reach him on Twitter @whitleypedia - or don't, since Twitter is stupid.

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