Tune in tomorrow. Or now.
By Ron Scopelliti
So there I was, watching the pilot episode of “Firefly” for about the eighth time, when I started to question my priorities in life. Having seen the episode so many times, I know the plot; I know the outcome; I have large portions of dialogue committed to memory. Why would I devote two hours of my life to watching it again?
Because I can, obviously. Having grown up before Netflix and DVDs and even before videotapes and dinner-plate-sized laser discs, the ability to watch and re-watch a TV show whenever I want is something I take advantage of with particular delight.
In a way though, I miss the bad old days when a television airing was something special. Back then, when you saw something on TV you never knew when you might see it again, apart from a few exceptions.
For instance, it was a highly anticipated event when once a year, around Easter, they’d show “The Wizard of Oz” on TV. It was a rite of spring, when we got to hear that classic loaded question: “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”
Just an aside – I recently learned that the “Wizard of Oz” was originally broadcast in black-and-white, which must have made the transition from Kansas to Oz a bit less spectacular. Then again, after the rituals of adjusting the fine-tuning knob and positioning the rabbit ears (which were wrapped in aluminum foil for maximum effect), just getting a picture that was relatively free from snow was spectacular.
Of course, if you missed a line of dialogue due to some random static, there was no rewinding. You had to wait until next year to find out what it was that the cowardly lion mumbled. And if you’d accidentally dropped your phonograph needle late, you’d have to wait a full year to drop it on the third roar of the MGM lion and see if the movie really did synchronize to “Dark Side of the Moon.”
Waiting a whole year for a rerun seems bad, but a lot of movies didn’t even air that frequently. And TV shows, unless they were syndication staples like “Gilligan’s Island” or “I Love Lucy,” fared even worse.
In the early days of television, it wasn’t unusual for broadcasters to reuse tapes, and for shows to be recorded over and lost forever. So there are several episodes of “Doctor Who” that don’t exist anywhere, leaving gaping holes in DVD collections and diminishing the binge-watching capabilities of hardcore Whovians.
Which brings me to the other great video indulgence of our era – binge watching. No longer do I need to tune in at the “same bat-time and same bat-channel,” to see if the Caped Crusader survives. I can go immediately from cheesy cliffhanger to cheesy escape with no waiting period.
I stumbled into my latest binge when I was in the Greeneville Public Library, genuinely trying to be productive, and I noticed a 15-hour DVD collection of “Dark Shadows.”
How could I justify spending 15 hours of my valuable time watching “Dark Shadows?” Then again, how could I not? It was probably my favorite show as a kid, and I remember running home from Dorothy P. Dame Elementary School in the afternoon so I could catch the daily episode. How could I quibble about indulging in this sort of nostalgia?
Especially when 15 hours is only scratching the surface. Looking into the matter, I found that there were 1,225 episodes of “Dark Shadows” produced. 1,225 episodes of ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, parallel universes, stairways into the past, Lovecraftian overlords, séances, trances, and time travel achieved by using the I-Ching and meditation. No wonder I turned out as strange as I am.
And, getting back to the original subject, for many years it was impossible to re-watch episodes of “Dark Shadows.” Because it was a daily soap opera, it never had reruns until it went out of production and into syndication. If there was a good episode in 1967, you had to wait until it was released for syndication in 1975 to see it again. And that’s if it was one of the only 130 episodes that was released. But then again, that seemingly ephemeral nature is part of what made it so special that I had to run home to see it.
I occasionally think I should return to the old days, and watch “The Wizard of Oz” once a year in the spring. Why not revive the tradition? Or better yet, why not take advantage of the available technology and create my own tradition? Maybe each year as Easter approaches I’ll watch the “Firefly” pilot again. I wonder how it syncs up to “Dark Side of the Moon”…