Vulture: “TV Has Always Disappeared. This Feels Different.”
Writing for Vulture, Kathryn VanArendonk captures the weird tv/streaming moment we’re in, with an ever-changing buffet of options that may disappear at any moment, never to return:
When TV appeared once a week, the rituals and rhythms of appointment viewing meant that although a show might vanish, there was at least one moment beforehand that was fully dedicated to its existence. In the age of newspapers printing TV listings, viewers who really wanted to watch something knew exactly when it happened. Even before then, the reality of the programming grid made television’s temporality crystal clear: In order to see what happened on NBC at 8 p.m., you had to watch NBC at 8 p.m. But streaming has turned TV into an amorphous, unending content blob. There’s no specific time to watch a show, no moment when it solidly exists as a cultural artifact. Each individual title becomes something like Schrödinger’s TV show, an option that sort of still exists as possible. Sure, you haven’t watched that show yet. But you haven’t not watched it, either — it’s still uncertain, still unresolved. But once a show is gone from its streaming platform, all that exists now is the realization it’s gone.
I would repeat my usual call to invest in physical media for things that you enjoy, but there’s fewer and fewer physical releases for tv these days, and sometimes studios limit the release to DVD, with no high-definition disc option (I would love a high-def box set of The Americans, for example).
VanArendonk points out something that I’ve never considered: tv doesn’t have a big-name, prestige equivalent of the Criterion Collection:1
There are certainly films that disappear from streaming platforms and never get DVD or Blu-ray releases, but collectors and film-preservation organizations like Criterion exist. There’s no comparable consumer-facing organization for older TV. Even the Paley Center, which has an enormous and impressive collection of TV that’s otherwise impossible to watch, is not in the business of distributing that collection beyond the physical confines of its NYC-based archive. (Sidenote: I desperately wish this is what Paley was all about! I would buy so many Paley Collector Edition DVDs of otherwise lost TV shows! I want a place where creators can nerd out in a giant closet of treasures and the video will go viral, and I want TV nerds to have their own fancy collector’s copies of Northern Exposure with all the original music intact.)
I still have one of the seasons of Northern Exposure on disc, although not one of the seasons with the fun puffy vest packaging. Sometimes it seems silly to me to still have these artifacts, but at least people could own their favorite shows. Yes, today you can “buy” digital download versions of many shows, but that ownership can be rescinded any time, and there’s no guarantee that your version will remain unchanged if rights (music, in particular) change.
Finally: Kudos to VanArendonk for continuing to stump for Teenage Bounty Hunters:
(If Netflix decides to remove the incredible, canceled series Teenage Bounty Hunters tomorrow, there’s no DVD or Blu-ray or rent/purchase option on Prime or Apple TV. It is gone.)
There’s small labels like Shout! Factory, of course—I have their box sets of Freaks and Geeks, My So-Called Life, and Sports Night. ↩︎