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