Confronted with the challenge of editing an article I had submitted a year ago, writing a paper for a conference for the week after next and starting work on my (now long overdue) book, it was with some horror that I realized I had put myself down to write a blog this week.
What was I thinking?
When Helen Wheatley got in touch to ask if anyone had written on HBO’s Girls, and then expressed surprise when I answered in the negative, I realized that not only did I not watch HBO shows anymore (because we know what channel screens them don’t we?) but that I watch very little TV at all.
Helen’s blog on Girls and Karen Lury’s piece for Flow TV (which I re-visited as a result of Helen’s blog) did, briefly, make me feel better but I find myself asking the same kind of questions as both of these scholars. How can I call myself a TV scholar when I rarely have time to watch anything at all?
I felt proud of myself for watching the last two episodes of The Great Sewing Bee (thanks to Rachel Moseley who sent her piece early thus giving me the heads up), I missed Broadchurchentirely and was gleefully brought up to speed by one of my daughter’s friends before even reading John Ellis’ blog last week. I managed to watch Our Girl, but more through luck than judgment, and came in halfway through, absentmindedly thinking that I could watch it in its entirety but not bothering because Stephen Harper’s blog told me as much as I needed to know. There are whole series that have passed me by. I still have the first season of True Blood in its cellophane cover. Nestled on a bookshelf with other DVDs that I know I will never have time to watch and, besides, if a series gets to season 4 before you’ve even watched one scene of season 1, there is no chance of ever catching up – I never have time to immerse myself in an orgy of box set watching any more.
I seem to have become one of those people that Billy Smart talks about in his blog on Juliet Bravo: a TV scholar that fails to watch a whole episode of a TV show let alone a whole series.
It was not always this way.
In the past I would have been appalled at my lack of commitment to TV. I would never miss an episode. Either videoing or watching live (whilst, of course, videoing at the same time so that I could watch it later) I would be able to tell you when a show was on and on which channel. And I would be one of those people that walked out of a room with her fingers in her ears rather than hear a spoiler.
But nowadays I have no idea what is on, or when. I know that the news is on at 10pm. Newsnight is on BBC2 after that and, once a week, Question Time makes an appearance – usually on Thursday (I think). Graham Norton is sometimes on later on a Friday night and Match of the Day is still scheduled for Saturday after the news. Which isn’t necessarily at 10 – or is that on Sundays?
And if scheduled TV doesn’t hold my thrall then what about catching up on DVD or Netflix or Love Film? I bought Breaking Bad on DVD – the first two seasons – many moons ago. They were among the unwrapped series languishing on my shelf until, over Christmas I was too ill to go out and we started watching the series as a family (yes Lorna Jowett – my family does watch TV together – not sure how appropriate Breaking Bad is for a 15 year old but these are desperate times). We made it through to about 5 episodes into season 2. The DVD broke. We have never replaced it and then I went to SCMS where, in the space of 20 minutes, a scholar spoiled the whole series. I could have wept.
I have Girls on my laptop. I started watching it and loved it. It stayed with me for days. Just as well as, despite having the whole of the second season still to watch (and half of the first) I still haven’t managed to get back to it for the last few weeks.
So, what is going on here?
I made the jump from teaching Film to writing about TV when I had my children. I had always loved TV and with HBO on Channel 4 (see, I do remember) and the first series of Oz and The Sopranos not to mention Sex and the City and Six Feet Under my cup truly overflowed. As the years have gone by it has become difficult to watch certain programmes at certain times with children at certain ages. I watched The Wire over the course of 3 months and never managed to get back into scheduled TV. And then I lost HBO to Sky Atlantic. What with Catch Up TV, i-player, time-shift TV and umpteen channels, as well as downloading, streaming, Love Film and Netflix (which I subscribe to but never use) I just feel totally overwhelmed by the hours that I am going to have to devote to just catch up. Empire Boardwalk still beckons (yes, after watching the first episode I never got back to it), I am up to speed with Homeland, Borgen and The Killing and eagerly awaiting a new series that I can start at the beginning and watch all the way through and that, frankly, lasts no longer than 3 seasons.
Quite simply I am spoiled for choice but have no time to watch anything.
More than ever I feel a need to return to Raymond Williams’ flow, a return to scheduled TV, and programmes that hook me in as a way of negotiating the schedules. Maybe so much attention to TV as ‘work’ has made me unable to watch it to relax, the notion of TV as entertainment an oxymoron, anathema to unwinding after a long day’s work writing about and teaching TV.
I went to HMV in the week it closed down. Wandering around the aisles, there was nothing I really wanted to buy. Except one lone DVD on the shelf: the complete first season of Luck. Reader, I bought it. Not only because Jason Jacobs has waxed lyrical about the series on a number of occasions on this website (and with Steven Peacock HERE and HERE) but frankly because it was cancelled after this first season. I actually stand a chance of catching up.
Is it because watching TV has now become a bit of a ‘busman’s holiday’? That I spend so much of my waking life devoted to the subject that it just feels like a chore now? Maybe so. It is certainly true that the past decade of writing about TV has devoured so much of my time that my version of relaxing now is to NOT watch television but to go to the cinema. And the last year or so has made me truly reflect on viewing practices as well as why we, as scholars, choose to write about what we write about.
One thing is true though. Without this website, I would never know what to watch anymore. I particularly enjoy the blogs that reflect on TV history. Mary Irwin’s about Penelope Keith, James Chapman’s about Robin Hood, blogs about British shows and reality TV, shows that I never write about, and those looking at children’s TV, the weather, multi-platforming (amongst many others) – remind me of a time that I just watched TV without having to study it.
Just keep sending those blogs in fellow TV scholars. One day I may be able to come back from the wilderness and truly begin to enjoy watching TV again.
Kim Akass is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Hertfordshire. She has written numerous articles and edited various collections on US TV (with Janet McCabe), is co-series editor of the Reading Contemporary TV Series with I.B. Tauris (with Mcabe), is one of the co-founding editors of Critical Studies in Television and is managing editor of CSTonline.