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Overdosing on English TV Shows

Sitcom marathons, 10 seasons on DVD, dramas to download, and crime-time when it’s not prime-time. Have you turned into a binge viewer?

brunch Updated: Mar 18, 2013 10:45 IST
Shreya Sethuraman
Shreya Sethuraman
Hindustan Times

If she could, she would marry the Winchester brothers. Shinmin Bali hasn’t missed a single episode and would rather skip sleep and meals than an episode of the popular horror drama show Supernatural. The mass communication student says she can sit through hours of her favourite show and calls herself a certified addict. “I usually watch it on AXN, but when I can’t wait for the next episode to air here, I get it off the Internet,” she says. She’s been doing this since 2011.

Law student Karandeep Aazan Khanna has been doing much the same for the last four years. He’s been hooked on shows like Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, Suits and Boston Legal. "I watch around four-five hours of shows when I have the time, which is usually the weekends," he says excitedly.

You probably know people like this. And if you’re really honest, you’ve probably done something like this too. Binge viewing – the act of consuming your favourite TV show in huge chunks instead of single-episode doses – has taken over our TV viewing (and many would add) our waking lives. We’re catching up on an orgy of plotlines on our trusty laptops late into the night; slipping disc after disc into the DVD player just to find out what happened next on a cult drama show; we’re staying in on Sunday with the TV on for eight hours just to watch a marathon of our favourite funnies; those of us with fancy set-top boxes are even recording stuff we miss to watch them all at once, when we please. With today’s technology, it seems you can not only watch what you want, when you want, but also how much of it you want at a time.

View Finders
TV channels are well aware of how this demand-supply dynamic has shifted. Taking a cue from international networks, Star World India began airing marathon sessions of their most popular shows four years ago. Rasika Tyagi, senior vice-president of English programming at Star India explains that the move gives viewers a chance to catch up on what they missed. “It also allows the channel to get new viewers to watch three to four episodes together. Besides, the viewers ask for it regularly,” she says.

While the crime drama Castle has found new fans in the marathon format, Tyagi says that sitcoms make for ideal binge viewing as they’re fun to watch with the family. “You don’t need to be clued in with the plot of a sitcom,” she adds. Zee Cafe’s marketing head Sharlton Menezes agrees: “They give us space for five-six episodes, which need not follow a story line, which makes sitcom marathons perfect for bingeing.

Drama on the other hand, requires the viewer to follow the story line.” The channel receives regular requests for marathons of The Vampire Diaries, The Mentalist and Pretty little Liars from viewers. None of these are sitcoms, which probably means fans are waiting to binge on drama too!

On The Record
While Menezes credits the phenomenon to the audience realising how easy it was to catch up on their favourite shows at one go, AXN business head Sunil Punjabi is of the opinion that binge viewing has always been around. He points out that film channels would run movie marathons like the Matrix trilogy long before anyone thought of doing the same with TV shows.
Tata Sky first allowed customers to record regular TV in 2008. The company’s CEO Vikram Mehra says that the need arose due to the fact that usually when our favourite show is on air, we might be busy doing something else. “You might have weekends free to watch television, but maybe your preferred show isn’t on air. Even internationally, almost 50 per cent of the market has digital or personal video recorders at home. So having the option of recording works well,” he says. Airtel, Videocon and Dish TV also offer digital video recorders in India.

On TATA Sky (which also lets you record your favourite show through your mobile phone or computer), Grey’s Anatomy is the most recorded programme. With channels like AXN, it’s suspense dramas like 24 that won over binge watchers. “Once a season was over, the audiences continually requested us for season marathons,” says business head, Sunil Punjabi. While other channels rely on drama for bingeing, AXN reserves marathons for reality shows such as Minute To Win It, The Voice and So You Think You Can Dance. Supernatural is another hot favourite.

If you’re not one for watching TV on TV, there’s always the DVD box set. Just order them off the Internet! “DVD sales account for 5-7 per cent of total media sales,” says a spokesperson from Flipkart. Their bestsellers include sitcoms like F.R.I.E.N.D.S, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.

Long-Term Gains

It seems like there’s a healthy appetite for international programming in India, and we’re well versed with the art of the binge. But if most of us already ‘know’ about the international shows, why would a channel bother broadcasting them all the way back from Season One? Tyagi explains that this is because even though we are familiar with the larger storyline of a show, it’s unlikely that every one of us has watched every episode, especially those who’ve turned fans midway. Zee Cafe, which is running a marathon of the detective show Numb3rs, is doing it for much the same reason. "This is to add on to the current base of viewers, to introduce the show to an untapped audience and convert them into avid viewers," Menezes explains.

However, a certain element of doubt does arise when bingeing; especially when you’re watching a cliffhanger-ridden thriller like Homeland or Supernatural. Shouldn’t they be watched in breaks, not one single session? “No. It’s something you cannot resist,” Khanna says. “The wait is tough, which is why I wait for some weeks for episodes, download them, and then watch them.” Bali adds, “I’m not anti-spoilers, so whenever a new episode airs in the US it’s all over Twitter. In essence, I’ve already “read all about the episode”. What’s left to see when it airs here is the video!”

It’s easy to assume that local interest in episode after episode of a foreign show is because there’s nothing interesting on Indian TV. “That’s a myth,” Tyagi says. “About 99 per cent of people who watch English shows are also heavy consumers of Hindi programming.” She explains that binge viewing among most Indians is probably because parents usually watch Hindi shows in single-TV homes, forcing niche shows into other viewing formats. “But we all are clued into what’s happening in the most popular soaps,” she adds.

Whatever detractors of binge watching say, it is here to stay. So much so, that in the US, Netflix (a site that offers on-demand Internet streaming media) launched a political drama starring Oscar winner Kevin Spacey called House of Cards. It’s a lottery for binge watchers – all 13 episodes released simultaneously on its website. It’s won rave reviews too. Sounds like something you can’t wait to gobble up? Yeah, us too!

The Binge Buffet
Some shows are just better watched back-to back, season-to season, as you leap from one cliffhanger to another. Soaps, thrillers, period dramas, action-led whodunnits, comedy and epic fantasy – we show you how to gobble it all

How I Met Your Mother
Ted Mosby, in 2030, tells his kids how he met his wife. The long winded story covers several seasons, and offers tantalising hints about the mystery woman. But it’s the journey, with Mosby’s buddies Marshall, Robin, Lily and Barney, that’s more fun. Some of it is, LegenDARY!

True Blood
Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress who can read minds. But figuring out if you want more fries is the least of her concerns. She’s caught between her love for Bill and Eric – both vampires. This isn’t Twilight. It’s smarter, funnier, weirder and has a cast more attractive than 15 Edward Cullens.

Marine sergeant Nicholas Brody has been missing in Iraq for eight years. Then, he suddenly returns. America calls him a hero, but one CIA agent, Carrie Mathison, suspects he just might have turned terrorist. Is he plotting an attack? Is she the one who’s nuts? Find out in the next episode!

Mad Men
Back in the ’60s, Madison Avenue advertisng agencies were where you could smoke all day, drink whiskey for lunch, sleep with all the girls in the typing pool and still make money. The easy life had its own complications though, as Don Draper will demonstrate.

What happens when an ordinary man turns vigilante serial killer? If he works in forensics for the Miami police, he’ll just get away with it, again and again. As Dexter chases his victim, the law chases him. You won’t want to turn it off.

Two brothers move heaven and earth as they fight every kind of “thing that goes bump in the night”. Brunch editor Poonam Saxena gives the show two thumbs up. Do you still need another reason to watch?

Game Of Thrones
Several families fight for the control of the Iron Throne on the fictional continent of Westeros. At their disposal: magic spells, dragons, armies, bare boobs and lots of evil cunning.

Lawyer Harvey Specter is too smooth for his own good. That’s why having a brilliant junior associate like Mike Ross helps. The only problem, Mike’s not a lawyer, he never went to Harvard, and he was once mixed up with drugs. Will they come out on top this time too? You’ll really want to know.

Every episode, Jack Bauer has only 24 hours to save the world (which mostly means America) from the forces of evil. And every episode, he does it, as you bite your nails and sweat.

What we're bingeing on
So we've told you all about bingeing on TV shows and we've given you a list to start off your binge journey. Having said that, some of us at Brunch are serial bingers too! Here's a list of the shows we're bingeing on currently.

1. Saudamini Jain
Mad Men (Season 1-5): I'm watching the series for the third time (or was it fourth?) because season 6 is out in three weeks!! So I have got to squeeze three hours of Mad Men viewing every other day! Oh, so wonderful!
Scrubs: Because it's my comfort show. All day Scrubs' marathon whenever I'm bluesy. Zach Braff makes my heart giggle.

2. Rachel Lopez
True Blood: I watched six seasons over two months, staying up late and at times wishing I was a fairy with delicious magic blood. Lots of cliffhangers and very very attractive actors. Even the baddies are pretties.
The Wire: Again, I feasted on the entire series over two months. The Wire is heart breaking, genre bending, jaw dropping and mind boggling. And through it all, it changes the way you've watched TV.

3. Mignonne Dsouza
Downton Abbey: I adore period dramas and also loved Julian Fellowes' Gosford Park
The West Wing: I know I'm way behind with this, but hell! I'm addicted!

4. Shreya Sethuraman
Grey's Anatomy: I'm done until Season 8 and can't wait to get hold of Season 9. Characters I thought as neurotic earlier have become extremely interesting and I never realised I'd start respecting Alex Karev (Justin Chambers). Oh, and regardless of Owen Hunt's PTSD symptoms and countless personal issues, I can't but not like him. He's Scottish too!
Suits: Harvey Spectre makes me want to ditch journalism and go back to law altogether. And can't we have the jury system back in India already?!

5. Monica Gupta
Seinfeld: Yes, it's O-L-D, but it's funny and the deadpan humour never ceases to make me laugh. And yes, Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up comedy parts, just before each episode begins can be a template that our stand-up comics here can learn from.
House of Cards: A nicely done political thriller. It stays true to the book it's based on, and with Kevin Spacey in the lead, you can never go wrong, can you?

6. Manit Moorjani
The Mentalist: Because Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), the protagonist of The Mentalist, looks at a person through and through. He analyses every aspect of the person, the behaviour in different situations, changes of facial reactions, their replies to very different questions and makes a thorough judgement - and that's all very very exciting. His way of solving a case by toying with human behaviour makes one keep watching this serial over and over again.
Lie To Me: Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) has the perfect way to solve crimes in a very professional way. While Patrick Jane (of The Mentalist) might not be very professional, Lie To Me uses applied psychology (that means analysing every single reaction change in a conversation) and scientifically gets the truth out.

(Illustration by Abhijeet Kini)

From HT Brunch, March 17
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First Published: Mar 15, 2013 16:22 IST