Category Archives: Popular Culture

Future Imperfect

“You’re welcome to Le Carre—he hasn’t got any future.”

—A publisher who rejected John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, which would go on to be described by Publishers Weekly as “the best spy novel of all-time.”

file000152304352 When it comes to predicting the future, we all make mistakes.  As we age, we hope to make them slightly less often, but, let me assure you, we never entirely escape the incidence.  Some of us, however, are in positions of authority which make the dimensions of our prognosticating blunders truly spectacular.  Infamous examples abound, especially in the cultural realm…

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

—Harry Warner of Warner Brothers, dismissing the idea of ‘talkies’ in 1925.

“Guitar groups are on the way out… The Beatles have no future in show business.”

—Dick Rowe, Decca Recording executive, snubbing The Beatles in 1962.

So too in the realm of technological future-telling.  Tim Wu, in his highly entertaining The Master Switch, recounts how in 1877 Western Union [Telegraph] was the most powerful information corporation on the planet, exclusive owners of the only continent-wide communications network.  The Bell [Telephone] Company was at the time a new and struggling tech firm with few customers and even fewer investors.  Such was the financial duress felt by Bell that the company’s President offered Western Union all of Bell’s patents for $100,000.  William Orton, Western Union’s President, declined the offer.  A company memo circulated a year earlier summed up Western Union’s take on the admittedly primitive Bell technology: “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”

Lest you think that the pace of technical innovation was invariably slower in the 19th century, it should be noted that, less than a year later, Western Union recognized the error of that take, and embarked upon a furious development effort of its own, commissioning a promising young inventor named Thomas Edison to come up with a better phone.  The effort would prove strangely inopportune (proving that luck too always plays a part in determining the future), when, just as Bell launched a patent-infringement lawsuit, it was discovered that Jay Gould, Robber Baron King mentioned elsewhere on this blogsite, was secretly buying up shares of Western Union, in preparation for a hostile takeover.  Western Union was suddenly obliged to view its telephone dust-up as a “lesser skirmish, one it no longer had the luxury of fighting.”  The company settled out of court with Bell on less than favorable terms, and Bell soon re-emerged as the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), which would become the most successful communications company of the 20th century.

file1251307481611In a ‘look back’ article published earlier this year, U.S. News revisited its own predictive report from 1967 entitled, “The Wondrous World of 1990.”  The predictions made in the 1967 piece range from wide misses—a manned Mars landing, a cure for the common cold—to the remarkably prescient—a “checkless, cashless” economy, an “automated” (Google?) car.  (A blithe addendum notes how, if the driver of the robotic car does not accelerate as instructed, “the [computerized] roadway takes over control.”)

More broadly, two prophecies stand out for me in the 1967 article, two points central to the themes of this blog.  One is a miss; the other a palpable hit.  The miss discusses how, “Production and wealth will rise faster than population, so that incomes will climb steadily.”  This in turn will mean that the typical 1967 worker, who was then putting in about 2000 hours a year on the job, would, by 1990, see those hours drop to 1700 or less.  “The four-day week will arrive,” trumpets the article.

If only they had gotten that right.

The hit relates to, “Underlying the transformation to come is a quickening in the tempo of development out of scientific discoveries already made.”  One Dr. Richard G. Folsom, then President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is quoted: “The magnitude of change will expand, even explode.”

That much they did get right.

 

Documentary Demise

Documentary film may be the definitive post-digital-revolution media product: big audience; no market.  From all indications, documentaries are as popular as ever, perhaps more so, but making—that is financing—documentary films these days?  That’s another story.  In a recent report, titled Getting Real, the Documentary Organization of Canada reported that Documentary production volume decreased in Canada by more than 21% from 2008/09 to 2010/11.  The number of documentary projects dropped 23% in that time, from 591 to 457.  It’s not at all likely that the situation has improved any since.

IMG_8598 (2)The decline began with the great 2008 recession.  The television industry is one of the very first to feel any economic downturn, as even large companies can quickly cut advertising budgets in response to nose diving sales.  But, as the report indicates, by 2010, “Canadian conventional broadcasting revenues rebounded to pre-2008 levels, and specialty cable channel revenues continued to grow despite the recession.”  Essentially, Canadian broadcasters seized the opportunity presented by the 2008 crash to reduce or suspend the commissioning of documentaries, and they have chosen to maintain that diminution ever since, despite revived revenues.  Government regulators have meekly stood by over this dismal decay, too timid to promote cultural values in the face of stressful times within the free enterprise arena where combatants like Rogers, Bell and Shaw snarl and throw up their steroid-enhanced arms to the roar of the ratings crowd.

Prior to 2008, all three of the major Canadian networks, CTV, Global and the CBC, carried documentary ‘strands’ as part of their regular programming schedules, commissioning numerous one-off documentaries each season, usually as part of a loosely integrated series.  Audience numbers were not huge, but they were steady, and it meant that a vibrant community of documentary filmmakers existed across the country, and that Canadian audiences were regularly exposed to their work, along with the stories and issues contained therein.

Alternate means of funding have of course arisen post-revolution, chief among them crowdsourcing, but another recent report, this one by the Canadian Media Fund (CMF), called Crowdfunding in a Canadian Context, is illuminating in this regard.  Despite the lurid success stories of millions raised in just days (akin to those mega-rare video clips that go viral, when it’s hoped that every clip posted will), the report makes it clear that, “Crowdfunding is best suited to independent producers and developers who work on a smaller scale, with smaller budgets.”

Documentary filmmaking is far less expensive than is dramatic filmmaking, but when the making is by experienced professionals, budgets generally still need to run at least $250,000 for an hour-long show.  The larger Canadian production houses, those with full-time staff and facilities to pay for, are reluctant to consider a budget of less than $400,000 per hour.  (A top-drawer freelance documentary cameraperson will be looking for $800-$1000 per day, the best editors for $1800-$2000 per week.)  The CMF report states, “Crowdfunding appears to be best suited to smaller-scale funding with the majority of projects posting funding goals and reaching funding volumes of between $10,000 and $50,000.”

Adding to the problem is the decreased cost of production hardware.  Topline video cameras that just 10 years ago sold for $20,000 can now be replaced by DSLR cameras costing less than one-tenth of that amount.  Ditto with computer editing systems.  Post-production set-ups that once filled rooms with multiple monitors, tape decks and tower drives, are now supplanted by a laptop set upon… well, your lap.  These days just about anyone capable of picking up, pointing and pushing the record button on a camera, then operating a computer, can go about making a documentary.  It’s meant that there is a plethora of product out there now.  Most of it isn’t very good, but it’s out there, glutting the market.

The post-e-revolution landscape is an arid one for documentary filmmakers.  Their great tradition is fast becoming like too many other contemporary art practices, something that young, single people living in shared accommodations can afford to pursue, or that people with other jobs serving to pay the mortgage and feed the kids can create as a sideline.  Despite a ready audience, the documentary artform, as practiced by skilled professionals, is wasting away.

 

Copyright and Wrong

The digital revolution has ushered in a new culture war.  On one side are the creators: the artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers who, by law, hold copyright over the works they have originated.  Joining them—significantly—are the entities, most of them corporations, which have traditionally promoted and sold their creations: the major record labels, the publishers, the film and video distributors.

kellysfordLined up on the opposite side of the battlefield, thumping on their shields, are the digital audience legions, all of us who read, listen to or watch copyrighted material online, often without payment.  Joining this army are those corporations whose revenue is found in monetizing websites that traffic in copyrighted (as well as uncopyrighted) material, chief among them of course Google, which owns Youtube.

The history of this warfare is interesting, with many incremental skirmishes along the way.  Back in the days of vinyl, no one knew how to replicate an LP at home.  The record labels ruled, and their reputation as rapacious ogres was opportunistically well earned.  Tape came along, and with it rerecording, but the rerecorder still had to first buy the record.  Then music was digitized, processed into a computer file that could be copied indefinitely, with essentially no loss in quality.  And then came the nuclear bomb, although again the shock waves went out incrementally… the internet.  For the creators and their corporate allies, all hell broke loose.  And the market has never fully recovered.

A peace settlement for this war is remarkably difficult to achieve, and thus it drags on.  The defeat of Napster in 2001 seemed a clear victory for the creators, but as of 2011, music sales in the US were still at less than half of what they were in 1999.  As mentioned in an earlier post, Douglas and McIntyre, the largest independent publisher in Canada, filed for bankruptcy in 2012.  MGM, owners of the single most successful movie franchise in history—the James Bond films—sold for $5 billion in 2004, but is now evaluated at less than$2 billion.  The list of dead or wounded grows steadily.

One basic distinction that has to be upheld, if ever this war is to be over, is the one between those who ‘remix’ copyrighted material, mashing it up in their own artistic creations, and those who simply copy and sell unadulterated copies of other people’s work.  Remixers are artists unto themselves, complimenting rather than threatening the appropriated work.  Unlicensed resellers are simply thieves who deserve prosecution.

So too should we distinguish between individual downloaders of copyright material and the file-sharing and ‘locker’ sites who facilitate their downloading.  These sites have always employed the old dodge of, “We don’t actually do any illegal uploading or downloading ourselves, and we’re not responsible for any of our users who do.’  It doesn’t wash.  Here we should bust the dealers, not the users.

Too often even this distinction is not maintained by zealous corporations who, NRA-like in their paranoia, blindly prosecute any and all perceived violations of copyright laws, targeting even the smallest infraction.  Lawrence Lessig, in his book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, recounts how lawyers from Universal Music Group threatened the mother of a two-year-old with a $150,000 fine after she posted a 29-second video of her son dancing to a Prince song on Youtube.  Give me strength.

Most importantly I think, this war needs to be seen as a war of corporate interests, none of them more altruistically motivated than the other.   As Danny Goldberg, former head of Warner Records, is quoted as saying in Robert Levine’s Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back, a recent and effective rebuttal to Lessig’s book: “What happened is this extraordinarily powerful financial juggernaut entered society and changed the rules about intellectual property.  But that was not necessarily inevitable, and it wasn’t driven by all of these consumers—it was driven by people who made billions of dollars changing the rules.”

The creators are of course the ones who must be protected in this conflict.  The corporate interests who have sided with them have simply done so as technology changed and the commercial advantage swung from them to other corporate interests.  Just as Facebook lobbies mightily for weaker privacy laws, Google lobbies mightily for weaker copyright laws.  Why?  Because the effort serves their bottom lines.

There is very little moral high ground in the copyright culture war.  There is only the area off to the side of the main battleground, where the creators continue to suffer and die.

 

 

The Happiness Train

file000971156487-1If nothing else, the happiness train is well funded.  By one estimate, those buying tickets spend about a billion dollars a year on self-help books alone, comprising roughly 6% of the overall book market.  And if we look at the book bestseller lists in the weekend newspaper, we’re sure to see at least one book there promising a bulletproof prescription for happiness and fulfillment.  If money can’t buy happiness, the selling of happiness formulas is certainly enriching a lot of people.

Except that happiness does in fact correlate with money, to a certain level at least.   There’s an ongoing debate underway, but it seems clear that there’s a distinct law of diminishing returns at work with increased money and happiness: beyond a certain quantity of money, the payoff in more happiness begins to drop off.  What seems more important in ensuring the happiness dividend is to spend the extra cash on experiences, not stuff, and to give some of it away.

These findings come as part of a whole slew of research that began back in 1999, when a small, select group of academics, led by Martin Seligman (here he is in a TED Talk), met in Akumal, Mexico, and gave birth to what is now called Positive Psychology.   They defined their new field in a “manifesto” as “the scientific study of optimal human functioning;” this as opposed to the traditional psychological study of mental illness.

Some of their recent findings are fascinating.  One of the most interesting to me is that older people are generally happier than younger people, although it isn’t clear why.  It seems to me that this is likely the case because, as we age, we are steadily relieved of “the burden of the future.”  That burden has to do of course with expectations and aspirations around work and personal relationships, and as we reach a certain age we are obliged to choose between accepting life as it is, or continuing to grieve for what isn’t, and won’t be.  If we can choose acceptance, rather than frustration, the payoff in contentment is real.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother happiness research discovery that I find intriguing is that people with children are not generally any happier than those without.  This does not surprise me; any parent knows that having children involves a whole lot of work, expense and sacrifice.  Two parents today with two jobs and two small children endure an abundance of stress.  Even more so perhaps for the single parent.

The payoff with children is not in happiness, not for a long time at least, but in meaning.  If you ask the two no-more-happy parents described above if they regret having children, I suspect the answer will be almost uniformly no, and that’s because the raising of children engages them in an experience that is profound.  It locks them into a course where, if they can succeed at all, they can feel they’ve done something consistent with the most important values they hold; those having to do with love.  In the end, family will come first, and we would do well to remember that when caught up in the blur that is life with a career and small children.

At the risk of sounding rather formulaic myself, I think it’s critical to understand that the happiness train isn’t going anywhere.  As the adage would remind us, happiness is not a destination but a manner of travelling.   Those who have climbed onboard must engage in the present, and refrain from regretting the past, or machinating on the future.  As the great American songwriter James Taylor has espoused, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”  If you’re onboard the happiness train—and we all are—you shouldn’t worry about whether you’ll arrive on time, or what you’ll do when you get there.  It shouldn’t matter which terrain the train is travelling through, island retreat or urban jungle.  Neither should you be concerned with where you are in the journey, whether that be the aspirational beginning, the hardworking middle, or the hopefully more contented end.  (Luck will play a significant part in the circumstances you’ll find yourself in, come the end, but you can’t do much about that either, other than to be prepared.)  Just try to enjoy the ride.

 

Suicide Watch: the CBC in Crisis

121px-CBC_logo_1940–1958The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was effectively born a mixed-blood child back in 1929, taking over a series of radio stations first set up by the Canadian National Railway.  Early CBC radio broadcasts included American programming, and, even in my day, as a kid growing up the late 50s, early 60s, CBC was ‘affiliated’ with many privately owned radio stations across Canada, replete with ads.

The breakthrough came in 1974, when the radio network stopped running commercial advertising.  What followed was an unprecedented flowering of creativity and quality that saw CBC Radio become as good as any broadcast service that’s ever been offered, anywhere.  In the wake of that 1974 decision, CBC went on to undoubtedly become the most important cultural institution in the country.

I have to stress that these accolades belong rightly to CBC Radio, as opposed to CBC television, which began in 1958 with an impossible blend of commercial and public mandates, and has never been allowed to try flying without the debilitating weight of advertisers (and therefore the abiding incentive to seek higher ratings).

Last week the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (the CRTC) granted the CBC up to four minutes of advertising per hour on Radio 2, the music arm of the network, beginning what will surely be the death throes of CBC radio as we have known it.  This coup de grâce comes after decades of brutal cutbacks to the Corporation, all while overall federal spending climbed steadily.  The most recent will see a further 10% cut from CBC’s annual budget by 2014.

Thus you might lay the blame for its demise at the feet of CBC’s hostile patron in Ottawa, which has, over the years and despite it all, born the critical brunt of mostly exceptional CBC news services.  But this latest blow has of course come at the behest of CBC management, desperate to maintain its own viability.  It’s CBC staffers who have initiated their own suicide watch, in a mad attempt to stay alive by imitating the very private stations which threaten them.

CBC has one and only one viable future—as a distinct alternative to the private broadcasters.  What possible justification for its taxpayer outlay can the CBC find in providing what the private stations are already providing?  It should be but somehow isn’t dreadfully apparent to CBC executives that every inch closer to their commercial counterparts they step is an inch closer to their own oblivion.

It’s likely too late for CBC TV.  For a nation as small as Canada, in today’s media marketplace, it’s likely just too expensive to produce quality television with taxpayer dollars.  What’s more, CBC television was simply too cruelly compromised from the outset, never able to assume the robust communal role that might have won it unambiguous public approval.  CBC TV’s only hope for survival now is as a PBS-style broadcaster focusing upon news, public affairs and other serious, not schlocky (i.e. Battle of the Blades) factual programming.  That means no sports, and, like PBS, no original production of dramatic shows.  (In anticipation of all those who would cry ‘elitist’ in the face of the reduced audience that such a content shift would entail, let me say that I and many others like me would gladly, immediately contribute their own personal monies to such a service, were it to be commercial free.)

As to CBC radio, it certainly isn’t as good as it used to be when bigger budgets meant a more international focus.  But from AM’s The Sunday Edition, hosted by Michael Enright—who himself should be considered something of a national treasure—to Rich Terfry’s Radio 2 Drive, which, for my money, provides the best music programming anywhere on the dial, CBC Radio has, amazingly, been able to pretty much get it right.  This formerly brilliant and still great national lead character must not be allowed to hang itself.  Canadians everywhere should stand up and shout, as loudly as they possibly can, at both their MPs and at the frightened, misguided CBC managers, calling for the preservation of a genuinely public radio broadcaster, 100% government and listener-supported.

Otherwise we should just pull the plug right now, before it gets too painful to behold.

 

 

Rich and Famous

Back in 1968, Andy Warhol notably said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”  Back then, the gates to fame were securely guarded by the sober keepers of what was referred to as ‘mass media.’  Few had access to any form of media beyond a ‘photocopier,’ and so it took great skill or achievement, or spectacularly bad luck or choices to gain a remote audience of more than a handful.

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I think of Michael James Brody Jr., who in 1970 announced he would be giving away one million dollars, and who was then of course immediately engulfed in media attention, including an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, where he prophetically sang a less than distinguished version of Bob Dylan’s, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”  (Proving that opportunistic might be a more accurate descriptor for the mass media of the day than discriminating.)  Indeed, Brody quickly faded from the public eye, committing suicide in 1973; his life a sad comment on Warhol’s original pronouncement.

These days anyone who can turn on a computer has access to an international medium, and the average teenager on Facebook has more than 500 ‘friends’ providing an instant audience.  The average 22-year-old in Britain has more than 1000 Facebook friends.  Certainly it amounts to a ‘network’ of sorts, encompassing plenty of people who can’t be considered friends in any genuine sense, but who nevertheless, as the YouTube slogan formerly suggested, allow the individual to resemble a minor-league ‘broadcaster.’

Numbers still count of course.  Google Adsense does not come sniffing around any blog without a serious number of daily clicks.  (Google makes searching for an accurate take on this number remarkably unproductive.)  So when it comes to money, big dogs still rule the kennel, and in that sense not much has changed.  But in other important ways nearly everything has changed.  Now any ordinary mortal can ‘share’ everything from the breakup of her most recent relationship to, famously, unwisely, his participation in last night’s riot.  And with these changes, the very conception of privacy seems to have morphed for current 20somethings.  (The average 50something has roughly 50 times fewer Facebook friends than the 20something.)  Any smart phone now knows precisely where we are at all times, and, if we wish, it will happily notify all our friends of as much whenever they happen to be in the neighbourhood.  More ominously, if Eli Pariser in The Filter Bubble is right, facial recognition technology will soon advance to the point where whomever—the government, your employer, your husband—will be able to search for you wherever security cameras may have observed you, which is just about everywhere, isn’t it?  The prospect represents a virtual paradigm shift in our public/private lives.  As Pariser, writes, “The ability to search by face will shatter many of our illusions about privacy and anonymity.”

Personally, I’ve never quite grasped the attraction of fame, at any scale, whether it be via The New York Times or Facebook.  Money, sure; it’s highly convenient.  Power, again sure, if you’re able to contend with its corrupting capacity.  Fame can obviously facilitate these other, more ostensibly desirable ends, but fame in the sense that you won’t be able to go out in public without being recognized, that strangers might approach you, looking for some sort of buzz of interaction—the very idea that anonymity will be gone for you—I just don’t see the payoff in that.

In June of 1968, Valerie Solanas, a marginal figure in Andy Warhol’s notorious ‘Factory’ scene, tried to kill him.  She very nearly did, and Warhol had to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life.  Maybe it’s just my perverse take on things, but the attempt seems to be the apogee of the dark side of fame.  A murder attempt is obviously not the sort of attention anyone needs, but then, the need for widespread attention seems to me to be something all of us should regard with suspicion.  As David Bowie has suggested, “Fame, what you get is no tomorrow.”

 

The Netflix Experience

In the words of one young Youtube entrepreneur, Netflix Canada (Netflix.ca), “kinda sucks.”  The video-streaming service costs just $7.99 a month, and before you think this is yet another example of the truism, “You get what you pay for,” it’s not quite that simple.  Netflix provides unlimited viewing of any fare offered on the site, but our young capitalist makes the above comment in comparing the limited selection of movies and TV shows available from Netflix Canada to the vastly greater supply available from Netflix USA.  (Netflix also provides a DVD rental mailing service, but that much is not the subject of this post.)  Our hero offers this assessment, by the by, before then telling you how to subvert the restriction on Netflix merchandise in Canada and gain access to Netflix USA, and there are any number of other videos on Youtube instructing you on how to do the same, sometimes for free, with adverts, sometimes for a low monthly fee.  God bless the youthful rebellious heart of the internet.

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This international supply discrepancy may be nothing more than the math involved with 300+ million people potentially paying $7.99 a month versus 30+ million potential customers paying same amount.  Or maybe the folks at Netflix just didn’t bother including the Canadian marketplace in many of the deals they originally signed with distributors for their product; Canada is hardly a big slice of the North American pie.

Then too there is the political element.  Canadian broadcasters and cable providers are up in arms about the expansion of Netflix into Canada.  They point out that Netflix is sucking a fair chunk of change out of Canada, into their Los Gatos, California corporate headquarters, without putting much back in, save for the licensing of a few typically older Canadian shows.  They are not required, as are the broadcasters, to invest in the creation of new Canadian product.

The aggrieved broadcasters—whom no one in their right mind should ever feel sorry for—tried taking their complaint to the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (the CRTC), but the federal regulator, in predictably ponderous bureaucratic fashion, has thus far not been swayed.  That’s only partly because they are ponderously bureaucratic; the fact is that they, like many people, haven’t quite fully awakened to the impact Netflix is having, and will have on the future of television.

Before saying more about that impact, it should be reiterated that Netflix does indeed provide a dodgy product in Canada.  Much of it is mediocre, nearly all of it is older, and the way it is provided is odd and shifty as well.  Worthy titles are buried beneath layers of ‘More Like This,’ and certain of them seem to come and go.  I once noted with pleasure, as I was trolling through the product, that Truffaut’s superb 400 Blows was available.  I made a mental note to watch that on a later occasion, but when that occasion arose I was nonplussed to find it no longer offered.  Netflix in Canada is far, far from fabulous, but it is just good enough to last, and ultimately prosper.

If it hasn’t already, Netflix will fundamentally change your television viewing experience.  My teenage daughter has never watched conventional TV, but us boomers grew up doing so, and the habit for me continued, albeit increasingly selectively, until recent years.  Not any more.

At this point in my life, the idea of watching television (with the sole exception of live sports) riddled with advertisements is just not something I’m prepared to face. Yes a few ads are clever and entertaining—the first time—but nearly all of them are irritating, banal and predictable, if not insulting.  And of course they are an unwanted interruption.  Netflix comes free of all this, comes to the ‘act break’ of an television episode, flickers briefly to black, then marvelously resumes a second later.  How much better is that?

Internet moguls complain as loudly as their broadcaster brethren about how many advertising dollars remain in the broadcast pot, despite the audience numbers flowing steadily to the web.  But this too will change.  60% of PVR users fast forward through the ads, and sooner or later advertising execs are going to wake up to such factoids.  It amazes me that anybody is still watching conventional, ad-laden TV, with the exception of live news and sports.

But none of this illuminates the truly critical difference with Netflix: Netflix takes long form viewing to a new level.  I think I first grasped the value of series long form storytelling in watching BBC shows like Brideshead Revisited and Upstairs Downstairs back in the 70s—longer story arcs, from the beginning to end of a 13-part series for instance, as opposed to from the beginning to end of an hour-long episode, had so much more depth, so much more space to develop characters and themes, and the nuances of both.  These series could track with much greater validity through long periods of time, setting the appropriate pace, and doing so in a way that was more telling, resonant, complete.

Despite these quality exceptions back in the day, as a movie critic friend of mine said to me not long ago, if anyone had said to me, back in the 70s, that there would come a day when I would be generally more interested in watching television shows than I would movies, I’d have thought said speaker was sadly not far removed from a complete psychological breakdown.  Not any more.  For my money, the quality of storytelling extant in a current series like Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead is notably superior to almost all the fare being produced by mainstream Hollywood these days.  There are numerous reasons for that—television has always been a more writer-friendly environment—but chief among them is the ability to exploit the long form story potential of series versus one-offs.

And of course, not only does Netflix offer an ad-free, long form viewing experience, Netflix offers these shows at your own personal viewing schedule.  No waiting until next week for the succeeding episode, no obligation to watch until the credits roll in order to know how the current conflict is resolved.  Netflix will hold that show, at precisely the point where you pushed the stop button, ready for you to resume watching at your convenience.

The leap from episode to series story arcs has been a tough one for dramatic TV producer/writers to make.  Many of them still have not been able to summon the requisite courage.  (Hello, the team at Justified!)  Focus groups from out of the hoary past have told these creators that they didn’t want unresolved episode endings; they wanted story closure now, not next week, or at the end of the season.  Netflix changes that, forever.  That unresolved episode end is now just a couple of clicks away from the tale resuming.

The best television shows are the ones that embrace long form storytelling wholeheartedly, and Netflix allows you to in turn embrace these series at your leisure.  Enjoy.  You’ll never look back.