‘Lost’ Weekend: A Season in One Sitting
ROBERT MICHELIN’S landlord was worried. She lived downstairs from him and had not heard a noise, not so much as a footstep, in his apartment for two days. Mr. Michelin himself was weary, and his girlfriend was too.
“You should have seen the two of us in our P.J.’s,” Mr. Michelin, 23, a student of ethnomusicology who was then living in London, wrote in an e-mail message, “exhausted from lack of sleep, hungry at times, stressed at other times, elated and shocked most of the time.”
“But,” he added, they were “determined to complete the season.” The entire second season of the television show “24,” that is. Mr. Michelin, who now lives in Freeport, N.Y., was holed up in front of the television in a marathon viewing of 24 episodes of that hit series on DVD. “We did not see the light of day until we were done,” he wrote.
Thousands of television series, from the era of “I Love Lucy” to that of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” are newly available on DVD’. They have already made an impact on people’s precious leisure time and given new meaning to the concept of the lost weekend. Viewers cram a 13-episode television series into one gluteus-numbing session in front of the set, forgoing sit-down dinners, party invitations and all manner of social obligations as they revisit a favorite series like “Lost” or “Six Feet Under,” or catch up on what all the fuss was about.
Almost since the advent of television, viewers have parked themselves on La-Z-Boys to binge on football or old movies. And in recent years, some network and cable stations have shown old series like “The Brady Bunch” back to back. But only recently have viewers had the technology – which besides DVD’s includes on-demand satellite and cable channels and digital video recorders like TiVO – to screen for themselves the entire second season, say, of “The X Files,” which is packaged on seven discs.
“About 70 percent of all TV DVD titles have been released in the last year, so it’s a pretty new phenomenon,” said Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer for Netflix, the online DVD rental company. And the market is only expected to grow. “They’re cramming over a weekend,” he said. “A month’s worth of viewing in one sitting.”
Three years ago, only about 230 series were commercially available on DVD, Mr. Sarandos said. Today there are about 2,000; critically acclaimed favorites like “24” and “The Sopranos,” but also oddities like “The A-Team,” “Knight Rider” and “MacGyver.”
The Netflix DVD’s currently most in demand, Mr. Sarandos said, are “Lost,” “Six Feet Under,” “Chappelle’s Show” and the original BBC version of “The Office.” (The all-time favorite television DVD from Netflix is Season 5 of “The Sopranos,” he added.)
Jan Saxton, a film entertainment analyst at Adams Media Research in Carmel, Calif., said that studio revenue from television-show DVD’s was $2.3 billion in 2004, up from just $132 million in 2000.
“That’s a huge jump in four years,” Ms. Saxton said. The growth is expected to continue, reaching $3.1 billion in 2006, she said, adding, “The big money is in the current hit shows that are coming right off the TV.”
Bruce Gersh, the senior vice president for business development for ABC Entertainment, said DVD’s help build brand awareness. One of ABC’s aims in making the first season of “Lost” available to buy or rent was to pump up anticipation for the second season, Mr. Gersh said.
He was not worried that DVD sales would encourage viewers to skip watching the original broadcasts, eroding the audience that advertisers pay the network to reach.
“We obviously look at it as an opportunity to gain new fans as well as to gain new revenue stream,” he said. “It’s a great promotional vehicle for the series.”
Some marathon episode-watchers are fans who want to see a favorite series uninterrupted by commercials. Others are catching up on the early seasons of shows they have just begun to like. Then there are those people who intentionally miss new episodes of a favorite series, preferring to see them all at once on DVD, like an epic film. Fans of “24,” in which each episode is a consecutive hour in a single day, are famous for this.
“You can’t stop,” said Kimberly Dolan, 32, a lawyer in Manhattan who discovered the series after it became a hit. “It leaves you on a cliffhanger every week.”
On one particular “24” binge, Ms. Dolan ran to her local video store at midnight to get the next “24” DVD, only to find that she was not alone in her need; several other people were looking for “24” DVD’s.
Marathon viewing of series is creating a new breed of television aficionados, some say, people with a sharper eye for narrative twists, suspense techniques and character development. Like film buffs they become familiar with the names of the directors and writers of a series, pick up on nuances others may have missed and acquire a deeper appreciation of plotlines.
“From a dramatic standpoint the characters really come alive,” said Jason Treat, 31, of Washington, who once watched more than 20 hours of “Twin Peaks” in what he described as a “spooky” house in Baltimore. “You become much more invested in what’s going on.”
That people can find such large chunks of time to devote to television does not come as news to John P. Robinson, co-author of “Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time,” which reported that people have much more free time than they think they do: from 35 to 40 hours a week.
“Television is just about half of free time,” said Dr. Robinson, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and director of the Americans’ Use of Time Project, which collects diaries from thousands of people about their daily activities. “It’s the 800-pound gorilla of free time.”
Seven Rivera, 31, a lawyer, once squeezed five full seasons of “Gilmore Girls” into two months, though he said his most impressive DVD marathon was when a snowstorm caused his office to close and he spent about 22 hours watching the entire first season of “Angel.”
Such devotion means that every now and then he must decline an invitation to happy hour. He has been known to turn off his cellphone and later claim that it died. His more creative excuses include informing callers that he and his roommate are engaged in a John Madden PlayStation tournament or that they cannot go out because they purchased an “Ultimate Fighting Championship” from pay-per-view.
“You make up a reason,” Mr. Rivera said, “because you can’t say you’re not going out on a Thursday night because ‘I’m going to see how this ‘Gilmore Girls’ ends.’ ”
Dave Kass, 28, who works in public relations in Manhattan and who used to watch “Real World” marathons on MTV with a girlfriend, recently purchased a digital video recorder, the better to enjoy marathons of favorite shows like “Deadwood,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Entourage.”
“My DVR is my new girlfriend,” Mr. Kass said. “And she does whatever I tell her to do.”
While watching so many consecutive hours of television might be considered antisocial, series marathons can also be a way for people to share with others a show they are already hooked on, or to trade DVD’s.
“We want to introduce them to friends and family,” said Gillian Crippen, 27, of Northampton, Mass., who along with her husband, Andrew, 28, is a fan of the BBC series “The Office.” The Crippens have given “The Office” DVD’s to Ms. Crippen’s sister, shown them to friends and taken them on trips.
Harlan Eplan, 40, part owner and a vice president of a technology company, said that he, his sisters and their 77-year-old father all enjoy watching Bravo’s marathon broadcasts of previous seasons of “The West Wing,” so that viewing becomes a family affair, even if they are not physically together.
Impatience with the weekly suspense built into a television series is another reason people prefer watching one episode after another. “You don’t have to wait,” explained Laurie Dawson, 41, a massage therapist from Manhattan, who usually complements her marathons with Indian food. “It’s immediate gratification.”
Alan Cohen, 39, a journalist in Manhattan, agreed. “Lost” is the most recent show he watched continuously. He had missed most of the first season and did not want to start watching halfway through so he simply waited for the DVD box set to come out.
“There’s something exciting – and probably tremendously sad – about finishing one episode of “Lost” and knowing you’ve got another one all ready to fire up,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “No more of this waiting-a-week-to-find-out hassle. It’s like finding a cache of Playboys as a kid. One Playboy was cool, but it was so much better knowing you’ve got all these other Playboys on deck, ready to go.” Autor: STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM