Are TV Marathons Passé?

For many people, the SyFy channel’s annual July 4 Twilight Zone marathon is a summer tradition. They binge on their fifth-dimension favorites, enjoy a cookout, and watch fireworks. Having been tagged in quite a few tweets by excited fans, I know firsthand how much people look forward to it.

Don and Pat

The same dynamic plays out on an even larger scale when SyFy shows a longer TZ marathon over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Everyone, it seems, becomes a kid again as they watch episodes that somehow seem as fresh today as they were 50 years ago.

So I was surprised to read the article “We Come to Bury the Fourth of July TV Marathon” by Gilbert Cruz, which appeared on Vulture.com. It begins:

Cast your mind, if you can, back to a time before streaming. To the time in which most popular movies and TV shows weren’t readily available on Netflix or Hulu Plus or iTunes or Amazon Prime or any of the other myriad Internet-based services that populate your Xboxes and Blu-Ray players and Apple TVs and Roku boxes. To the time of the holiday TV marathon, a tradition that all this streaming has effectively killed.

the passerby

Killed? More than a few TZ fans would beg to differ, myself included. But before you assume this sentiment is based more on nostalgia than reality (a tricky concept when it comes to the Serling-verse, we can all agree), let me explain why I think Mr. Cruz’s analysis at least partly misses the mark.

He’s correct when he says that viewers no longer have to wait for a network marathon to have access to episodes. The entire Twilight Zone series is available on Hulu, DVD and Blu-ray. You can buy all 156 episodes online at iTunes or stream episodes on Netflix. You can create your own uncut, commercial-free marathon, 24/7/365. So why wait months for the SyFy channel to bestow a slate of episodes that may not even include your favorites? Here’s why:

1. It’s affordable. True, discs, streaming files, and digital copies are not exactly a budget-buster for most people, but they are for some. The marathons, as well as the regular reruns that air year-round, are a cheap way for everyone near a TV to “Zone out.”

The-Monsters-Are-Due-on-Maple

2. It’s convenient. Even fans who own the whole series and/or can enjoy digital copies can appreciate the chance to let somebody else do the programming. And let’s face it, although we know we can set up our own marathons, how often do we do it? It’s nice once in a while to grab your favorite snack and let SyFy do the work.

3. It can surprise us. Even some of the biggest TZ fans out there can discover a “new” episode. Every marathon I’ll hear from a number of people who’ve been watching the series for years, and suddenly: “Wow, I never saw that one before.” Or they’ll see one they forgot all about, simply because it isn’t rerun as often as the others.

4. It draws in new fans. We forget that all the tech marvels outlined above help only if you already know the episodes. Yes, people can stumble across the series via Netflix, but that requires them to make a conscious choice to watch it. By contrast, think of how many people became fans because they were flipping around the channels, saw part of an episode, and got hooked. I’m in that category, thanks to a rerun of “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” I saw as a kid.

It's A Good Life2

5. It brings people together. The community aspect may be the most important feature of any marathon. Yes, we can all sit somewhere individually and watch whichever Twilight Zone we choose, whenever we choose. But come marathon time, we’re all at the same party. We can invite friends over and watch them together. We can tweet, blog, and Facebook about our favorites with others, in real time, as they’re being aired. We can debate which episodes are okay, which ones are good, and which ones are great.

So, yes, I’ll continue to give thanks for technology. I’ll marvel at the pristine picture and sound on my Blu-rays. I’ll enjoy an episode now and then on my smartphone as I ride the train home from work. But come marathon time, I know where I want to be: right in the middle of the party with the rest of you guys.

Stop by next time. There’s always room for one more.

rs-four-oclock-april-6-1962

***

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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 07/26/2012, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. #5 is it exactly! It’s the same with the Star Wars or Star Trek movies for me – whenever they’re “live” “on air,” I’ll stop and watch at least a few minutes because I know others are watching, too.

    Also, there’s maybe still some degree of supporting the franchise, “the home team”? I don’t know ratings get measured anymore, but I’d like to think watching a few ZONE episodes during the marathons do my bit to show there’s still support for this masterpiece.

  2. Good point, Michael. It’s like the difference between watching a movie at home or in a theater. Yes, there are some good reasons to avoid the theater (and not just to avoid armed nuts). But when you’ve got a good crowd, it’s nice to be able to laugh, scream or cry together. After all, wasn’t the dangers of isolation a major theme in several classic TZs?

  3. Hmmm, Paul, do you “watch” or “experience episodes” on your train ride home? Shades of Willoughby, if you ask me…. ;-]

    Great post. There is definitely something to said about a “sense of community.” And there are so many [media] platforms out there, I’m all for using them all, especially to keep the Twilight Zone legacy out in front of everyone!

    Nice “Twenty Two” ending, there, too. ;-]

    • Believe me, Frank, I’ve dozed off on the train before and half-expected the conductor call out a familiar name. Glad you liked the ending — making TZ allusions is reflexive at this point!

  4. Cruz’s take is incredibly myopic, but typical of many digerati. I think you nailed all of the good reasons, but especially the last one: “The community aspect may be the most important feature of any marathon.” IIRC, it was during last year’s TZ marathon that I “met” you on Twitter!

  5. I do remember now, Guy — made it all worthwhile right there! I’ve “met” a lot of good people through the marathons, which is something that would never happen if we all stayed in our own little media cocoons.

  6. CardinalIron

    Great piece. I’m a “The Twilight Zone” fanatic. I own almost all the episodes on VHS. Some I purchased, some I recorded, many of these recordings were during “The Twilight Zone” marathons. “The Twilight Zone” has always aired in syndication since as far back as I can remember. I discovered the series back in elementary school. Now as an adult it’s a series that at its best continues to inspire and surprise me. It’s a series that after more than 50 years still gets discovered and celebrated. A series that has long surpassed its era and become timeless. As only the greatest pieces of art do.

    • Even an uber-fan like me is surprised at how much there is to discover in Serling’s work. It truly never gets old. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Fantastic essay. Completely described everything that I was feeling. I’ll be in front of my tv w/bells on! Oh man, I just thought how cool it would be if I had TZ pajamas. I shall search on the web for them now!

  8. Reblogged this on gathermywords and commented:
    Just in time for the NYE marathon. To explain how the internet and our tv’s can bring a bunch of people from all over together.

    • Thanks for the reblogging! And I hope you enjoyed the marathon no matter what you were wearing.

      • Sorry it took me forever to reply. I need to figure out how to keep track of everything on the net. Sometimes, it’s too much and then I just disappear for awhile. Hope the new year is being good to you!

  9. I could not agree more with everything you said. Marathons are still alive and kicking, as they should be. It’s so true — how many marathons do we sit down and set up for ourselves? We get the DVDs, we have the days off, but it’s just not the same as being able to flip on the ol’ TV, flop down with some popcorn, and watch whatever episodes happen to be on.

    And you’re so right! There are always these lesser-known, more obscure episodes of TZ being thrown into the mix of these marathons. I’m one of those people who has been watching TZ for YEARS, and yet I’ve still come across an episode here or there that I hadn’t seen or that I didn’t remember. And my Lord, that’s kind of a great feeling! It’s like getting something brand new.

    It’s a shame that some people would like to see the humble marathon fall by the wayside, but it’s nice to know that there are still people left who appreciate these yearly random repeats. I know you and I certainly enjoy them — as we’re about to demonstrate in a few days! Been waiting a whole year to live-tweet the NYE marathon with you again, my friend!

  10. I own the complete series on DVD, and I’d rather watch the marathon on TV for all the reasons you mentioned! Mostly because I enjoy someone else picking the episodes, and I like the sense of community, like you stated.

  11. Yes! Just like when a major network used to air “The Wizard of Oz” or “The Sound of Music”…the artistry, memories and other things too beautiful to mention…bring us all together, once again. That is something that will never go out of style.

  12. Love this tradition. I agree on all points.

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