The Long Night has Begun… for the Shared Television Cultural Experience

By: Chris DuPrau @ChrisDuPrau

Growing up I remember major cultural events involving TV shows.  You would literally schedule your day around making sure that you were some place where you could watch the show.  It was important because you wanted to see it, but also because you didn’t want to be the only person NOT to see it.   Sometimes it was so big a deal you figured out how to record it using a VHS tape via your VCR. 

  • Cheers Finale
  • The Fresh Prince Finale
  • Seinfeld Finale
  • Friends Finale
  • Snooki getting punched in the face on Jersey Shore

With a limited amount of entertainment options, it was much easier for a show to grab the nation’s attention and for it to have a cultural moment that would bring millions of people to their TV at whatever time the show started.  The time when a show can do that is quickly fading.  In terms of comedies, it is basically impossible.  Two of my favorite shows ever, Parks & Rec and New Girl, ended their runs with but a blip on the cultural radar.  Dramas like The Sopranos, Lost, Walking Dead and Breaking Bad all captured the national consciousness with Breaking Bad being the first show I remember people binging on Netflix so they could catch up and be part of the conversation in the final season. 

Breaking Bad ended in 2013.  Six years in today’s society feels like 20.  We had lots of entertainment options then, but we have an impossible amount of options now.  It is nearly impossible to get the majority of society to take an interest in the same thing, much less the same TV show.  With Hulu, Netflix and Amazon people have unlimited options on things to watch outside of the traditional cable sphere.  Apple and Disney are both developing their own streaming service which will only increase the divide.  Those services also drop the entire season of a show all at once.  If you didn’t watch all of Stranger Things Season 2 within a week of it coming out, you missed the conversation.  Only one show now has the ability to draw in a ridiculous audience and force people to watch it live, not DVR’d, not via On Demand, but LIVE.  That show is Game of Thrones, and it will most likely be the last shared cultural experience show we ever have. 

I was a late arrival to the Thrones universe.  I didn’t start watching until May of 2016 after my second son was born.  My wife gave up during season 2, and I stopped a little.  Then as if being drawn by the Lord of Light himself, I was brought back in, and hard.  I watched all the episodes getting ready for the Season 7 premiere.  I read all the books.  I read all the supplementary books.  I watched YouTube video after YouTube video.  I became a freaking diehard. 

The greatest entertainment love I have in my life has been with me since I was 4, Star Wars.  It’s been a part of my life pretty much longer than anything else.  Before each Star Wars movie, there is a feeling I get, it’s a nervous excitement.  I want to see it, I NEED to see it, but I’m nervous because the movie could change the whole way I look at the Star Wars universe.  This year before the premier of Thrones I had that feeling.  It wasn’t just me who had it though; it was tons of people.  Everyone wanted to watch it.  At work, everybody was talking about it.  No one said, “Don’t say anything I DVR’d it.” Everyone wanted to be part of that moment when the show came back.  This past week they kicked it up a notch for the 3rd episode as many people, who never watched the show, wanted to see the Battle of Winterfell.  The next day when I told people they couldn’t sleep because of it, many shared the same sentiment.  I mean who could sleep after something like this.

It’s amazing to have so many people interacting together over something.  It’s fun. It’s exciting. And, it’s never happening again. 

There are too many damn options out there for there to ever be a culturally uniting show like this again.    That may sound like hyperbole, but really think about it.  If you were to get 10 of your friends, people who have the same interests as you, do you think you could all agree on 6 shows that you all watch pretty consistently.  Probably not.  Now think if it’s people from work.  Could you find 10 people to agree on 4 shows?  You might get a few “oh I’ve seen that, I liked it” but you probably will get very little consensus.  Now imagine if it was a random 10.  Would all of you agree on even 1 show?  Everybody is watching different things at different times.  Stranger Things was a big deal.  I’ve never seen an episode.  I just realized This is Us came back from its Christmas break.  The season is already over.  I love Jack Pearson, and I forgot that saint of man came back. I’m sorry Jack!

I don’t see how a society that is divided on sooooo many things can ever have a monocultural moment like this again.  I’m not sure we’ll ever have 18 million people watch an episode of TV together again.  Thrones is having a moment right now, and culturally we may only get 3 more moments like this ever.  A time when we are all soaking in the TV light at the same time watching the same show.  Soak in the light everyone, for the night is dark and full of terrors.

Valar Morghulis

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