Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Syndication Effect: Re-watching Your Life Slipping Away...

During high school I watched Cheers 1 to 2 times a day as well as every Thursday night. Why?

Americans love them some TV. We love crime shows, dancing shows, survival shows, courtroom dramas, melodramas, soap operas, investigative tabloid journalism, morning talk, PBS-type docs and of course – sitcoms. It is the latter that have helped shaped my generation, but was invented by a few before. The sitcom is a sickeningly stale refuge of dependability and thoughtlessness that can both placate the masses and give insight to those who watch hard enough. It's magical.

Something happened the other night. My husband made a plea for a temporary moratorium from our nightly Simpsons viewings. Huh, what a concept - not watch The Simpsons on a weeknight. I know it can be done, I mean they weren’t always in syndication like this, right? But, the fact is, I can’t really rem
ember a time when reruns were not available on a weeknight during pre-prime time. I’m pretty sure I’ve been watching Simpsons reruns on a nightly basis for the past 15 years or so. And now, we’re cold turkey and I’m OK with that. But, it took 15 years of re-watching before I reached my temporary saturation point, 15 years of watching something I’ve already seen. That is, fair readers, a direct result of The Syndication Effect.

I took an informal Facebook poll a few weeks ago asking "friends" and friends which sitcom reruns they tend to watch regularly and why. The shows ranged from Martin and Friends to The Simpsons and Seinfeld, but the reason why people re-watched was the same - comfort. I've been getting into The Cosby Show recently - which was so ridiculously funny and brilliant, even my slightly racist late grandpa used to love it! We return to these familiar wo
rlds because we know them, love them and except for Sweeps week, nothing really changes so we can depend on having our desired predicted reaction every time. And something happens to a show in rerun form - its context matures while its intention remains the same. We're able to glimpse back at what was once topical and marvel at how much more we know now. The fashion alone on Friends, the sharp jabs and celebrities and politicians featured in The Simpsons, the absence of cell phones alone creates scenarios that just don't happen anymore - it's all there and it makes us feel secure...and even a little clever.

Could they be any cuter? I KNOW!

With the endless supply of TV series on DVD and both legal and unlicensed content online, the weeknight syndicated rerun is in danger of going away as the average viewer has implemented syndication programming of their own. Now you don't have to wait a day before the next old episode - you can watch like 7 hours of The Office, Buffy, The West Wing, Cheers (I even saw a Wings box set at For Your Entertainment once) or anything you want that they've deemed profitable enough to put on cheaply produced DVD's. Self syndication brought Family Guy and Futurama back from the dead and I'm quite thankful for one of those resurrections. TV is in trouble and it's being forced to roll with it, come up with new ways of getting us watch from our couches, our computers, the bus...wherever. Content will never be in short supply and again and it will be accessed everywhere. But as savvy and far-reaching as TV gets, I still have a weird feeling that you'll be able to watch Saved By The Bell somewhere deep in the cracks of the non-HD channels. The King of Queens will mysteriously go on forever, which by the way was on Network TV for 9 years and it was the last of the 90's sitcoms to die. Mediocrity and predictability will continue, it's sad but true. 2 1/2 Men is poised stay on the air as long as Charlie Sheen's face can still move slightly when he speaks. Funny how the unexceptional never get canceled early, they just slip under the radar or flounder away on CBS somehow. But, let us all hope that one day many years from now good shows like 30 Rock and...., well, 30 Rock, will stand the test of time and become something more than TV episodes that you've seen 4 will become a really good friend and not just the one you hang out with because there's just nothing better to do.