I miss appointment tv. Long gone are the days when you had to drop what you were doing, or you scheduled your time to ensure you were ready at 8:00pm to watch the newest Seinfeld, or Little House on the Prairie. Commercial breaks allowed for mad dashes to the bathroom or to the kitchen to grab a snack before leaping over the back of the couch to catch the first line of dialogue when the show started again. Next mornings at work or school were filled with conversations of what George had just said or Murphy Brown did. We weren’t compelled to share our immediate thoughts online, instead we could let them percolate, chuckling while lying in bed thinking about which anecdote we’d talk about the next day.
As a kid, my family and I revelled in Walt Disney sharing the magic of movie making and cheered another botched performance from Gonzo. We laughed together with Newhart, wiped tears together at The Wonder Years and shouted together at Richard Dawson and Family Feud. My teeth had to be brushed and my pajamas on which made for an easier bedtime for my parents and something I saw as a fair deal in exchange for staying up later.
The television landscape for my kids today is far different. Netflix opened the door to online viewing anytime on almost any topic on a variety of broadcast platforms. With the “if you liked” nudge, tv viewing has become increasingly customized to individual consumption. Our workdays are longer, our kid’s afterschool programming more complicated and families rarely eat dinner together, never-mind sitting down and watching something together. Even when we do decide the scheduling has allowed for a rare Friday night movie, it takes over half an hour to sort through the myriad of choices only to find that the chances of finding something that no one has seen in a genre that everyone likes is damn near impossible. There is hope though.
The emergence of high quality tv programming has opened the door to watching series with characters we care about in situations that are meaningful with real stakes attached to actions. Our family recently watched Apple TV’s newest offering, The Morning Show, and it was better than I expected. It examined a difficult and current issue and afforded an opportunity to discuss the #MeToo movement and workplace harassment in another way with our teenagers.
Last night we all found ourselves with an hour and a half of unscheduled time. My daughter had been following season 3 of “Amazing Race Canada” and was periodically updating us with stories of the foils and follies of some of the teams. We hadn’t planned it, it wasn’t scheduled on a network (we don’t even have cable), but boy was it fun to sit together and watch the last two episodes, wondering which team would win and laughing along with a brother duo who’d captured our hearts with their pluck and humour.
Appointment tv scheduled by networks isn’t coming back but perhaps we can create our own “must see tv”. Much has been written about today’s teenagers being overwhelmed with the demands and expectations of school, online identity curation and what they’re doing with their lives. There can be no rest from the continual bombardment of content, questions and demands to share one’s YOLO. Maybe we should take a page from the 1980’s and create our own appointment tv without any expected goal or outcome. Think of it as mindful viewing. I’m pretty sure our family would benefit from sitting together to laugh, cry and shout at our television on a more regular basis.