One of the main challenges I have with this Blog is trying to come up with a steady stream of good ideas for things to write about. Naturally, this is a lot harder to do than it looks. After all, there are only so many dead shopping malls I can write depressing travelogues about around here, and most of them are taken (although I do really need to do some followup posts one of these days.) In fact, it’s pretty common for me to be pretty much out of good ideas at any given time. Because of this, I am getting ready to resort to plan B: Bad ideas. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to run out of those anytime soon.
Over the past few weeks, one of the things I’ve watched with unusual interest is all the hype on the Internet surrounding the final season (or half-season, as the case may be) of Breaking Bad. As it has transpired over the course of the past eight weeks, I’ve seen no end of analysis, theories, speculation and other assorted discussion running rampant all over the Internet. After each episode, detailed summaries of the plot were plastered across the Internet in numerous places, and dissected in great detail by commenters. People practically wrote entire dissertations trying to figure out how to interpret what happened and speculate on what hidden meaning might be behind it. Eventually, it seemed like virtually everyone had some theory as to what was going to happen in the end (mine was something along the lines of Walter going out in a big “everyone ends up dead” style shootout and the big pile of money getting set on fire and burning to ashes, which turned out to be kind of semi-accurate but not really.) The conclusion came this past Sunday as the final episode aired, and now with the full story told, people seem to be speculating endlessly on what it all meant, and how it’s supposed to be interpreted. It was interesting to watch how Breaking Bad went from being considered a reasonably good cable drama to being a must-see show in its final season, to becoming almost a cultural phenomenon of sorts as the final episodes aired. There’s really only one problem with the whole thing as far as I am concerned: I can’t be bothered to actually watch any of it.
For reasons that I’ve discussed in previous posts on similar subjects, I just can’t be bothered to actually watch most TV, movies or sports these days. That isn’t to say that I’m not interested in it, just that in most cases I’m not interested enough in it to actually watch it. Lately, I find that I’ve all but completely stopped watching TV, and although my overall movie viewership is up over the past couple of years from the virtually zero that it used to be, I still don’t watch all that many movies. Even for sporting events I typically don’t bother watching at all, and just look up the scores later. I must also confess that on more than one occasion I’ve excused myself for a restroom break during a movie in the theater and used the time to look up a plot summary for the movie I’m currently watching on Wikipedia. Yeah, I know, spoilers and things like that, but to be honest, spoilers just don’t bother me. As I’ve said before on this Blog, I have basically no ability to suspend disbelief, so I tend to take most movies at face value. Knowing what’s coming next doesn’t really affect that, and as long as I’m not spoiling it for anyone else I don’t see much harm in doing it. But I digress.
I suspect that a lot of the speculation and rumor that has surrounded Breaking Bad over the past couple of months is coming from the types of people who couldn’t stand the thought of writing a book report back in high school, yet probably didn’t realize that they were practically doing just that without even the prospect of being able to get any credit for it. Although I seriously doubt that any of the classic literature being studied endlessly in high schools around the world is at risk of being replaced by television dramas anytime soon (for one thing, I seriously doubt you could get the average teenager to sit still for 62+ hours of anything, much less if they were going to end up being graded on it) I doubt all the interest in this type of thing is going unnoticed among the academic community. I suspect it’ll be a matter of time before some random college out there is offering a credit class on Breaking Bad (and somehow I don’t think it’s going to be a chemistry class.) And yet, I wonder just how many of those people speculating on the Internet are in the same boat as I am, watching the whole thing from a distance but not actually partaking in any of it? There’s an entire subculture on the Internet that seems to thrive on this type of thing (although Breaking Bad is the latest and perhaps most visible example to date, a similar phenomenon can be seen around many other popular shows, with Game of Thrones being another prime example) but there’s no way that all of them are actually watching the shows all the time. Even the Breaking Bad finale got only around 10.2 million viewers, good for only about #82 on this list of the most watched TV series finales (For comparison, the two season premiere episodes of The Big Bang Theory shown last Thursday on CBS each had nearly twice as many viewers.) Although those numbers don’t account for people watching on DVRs, I suspect that a lot of the interest is coming from people who aren’t actually watching the show. This is where my bad idea comes in.
It’s when you start to think phenomenon in terms of sports that it all starts to make sense. On a typical Sunday during the NFL regular season there can be as many as 14 games being played, and the average fan with the average TV setup would be hard pressed to actively watch more than 3 of those games, and they can sort of watch maybe 5 or 6 games if they flip around the channels. The problem with all that flipping around is that a game like football has a lot of dead time in between plays, not to mention about half a zillion commercial breaks per game. And there’s always the nagging sense that while you’re sitting there watching the refs stare into their replay box as they deliberate a coaches challenge on one channel, something exciting could be happening on another one. You could see how someone could be driven to distraction pretty easily by the whole thing. Fortunately, the NFL has figured this out already and come up with their own solution: NFL RedZone. RedZone is a cable network that basically distills an entire Sunday’s worth of NFL action into a single channel, switching around between games just when things start getting exciting. Last year Rembert Browne of ESPN sister site Grantland wrote a fascinating article about spending a Sunday in the RedZone studio and seeing firsthand just how much effort goes into trying to distill a Sunday’s worth of NFL action into a readily digestible form. When you think about it, it’s basically the ADD version of football. Why not do the same thing with other television?
Granted, the TV version of this type of thing wouldn’t necessarily need to be an eight-hour live studio broadcast with teams of dedicated people scouring the airwaves for juicy little tidbits during prime time. I’m thinking of something more along the lines of a Sportscenter type highlight show for television, with assorted commentary and analysis thrown in for good measure. Of course the big-name shows would get most of the airtime (in much the same way that the more important games get most of the airtime in a sports highlight show) but they would still have the flexibility to put stuff from other shows in. Naturally, most of the show would be composed of highlight reels from the shows being covered, covering all the interesting bits from the latest episodes while leaving out most of the filler. This way, in an hour (or two, if a network has enough good shows) someone can get their pop culture fix for the week and know all they need to know to overanalyze and/or speculate wildly about whatever show happens to require overanalysis or excessive speculation at any given time. And then they have the rest of their week free to just ignore the TV.
Naturally, there’s no way the networks would actually go for this kind of thing, since they’re kind of dependent on having people watch the actual shows to sell advertising and make money. For some odd reason, the various studios and networks haven’t had much luck trying to monetize random speculation about their shows from people on the Internet speculating about their stuff without actually watching it. Just ask the producers of Sharknado how well that one has been working out for them (although to be fair I did actually manage to watch a decent portion of that one when it aired. Best comedy of the year, by far.) Ideally, I could see something like this being best done by a third-party network in order to keep the whole thing from turning into an exercise in slobbery self-promotion, but if something like this ever happened it would probably be the individual networks doing it with their own shows (and yes, any network actually crazy enough to do something like this would probably find it necessary to hire a number of new executives dedicated to doing nothing but meddling with this show all day.)
In other words, there’s no way it’s ever going to happen, at least not in any sort of useful form. But it would certainly be a lot more convenient than actually watching television, wouldn’t it?