Posted by: annmariegamble | May 28, 2009

Non-Reading Life

After many years of using my TV solely as a DVD player, I started watching network television again this spring. The first excuse was that I was going to write a screenplay, and the way to get a feel for the rhythms of a narrative arc that takes 30 minutes to unfold was to watch a lot of 30-minute shows.

The second reason was, quite frankly, that I felt lonely and left out. Sometimes it seems like everyone watches TV, and there’s a whole set of people and stories I don’t know anything about. I don’t mind not understanding the cover of People, but some of the shows sounded pretty good.

The Internet to the rescue. At first I only googled the references and at most read some reviews and looked at the stills. But it turns out that not only do all the networks post full episodes that you can watch online, there are now archives. Hulu.com not only has back episodes of virtually any show you’ve ever heard of, they have movies and the Super Bowl ads. They’re affiliated with NBC; there are other web sites affiliated with other networks.

Anyone with a collector’s mentality has a time management problem in the Internet age: out there somewhere is the complete set of whatever it is, if only you can figure out the search terms. Sure, I can watch the last five episodes of Chuck on Hulu (which is not a 30-minute show—how quickly that went by the boards), but the show has been on for two seasons. How about the backstory? What was the setup?

As it turns out, other TV watchers have the same issues, and some of them know how to record in a format they can upload. YouTube pulls “clips” (what someone else’s attorney calls “episodes”) right along, so static links are hard to find, but keep searching, Bones fan—clips from that episode where Brennan and Hodgins are buried alive are out there somewhere.

Not surprisingly, the guy who uploaded the buried alive episode likes the show, and I end up back at their page for other stories. Bones has at least two big fans in China who’ve been posting on Sina, a service similar to AOL. (Another video sharing site is called TuDou, which is derived from the Chinese word for “couch potato.”)

One treat of watching clips on Sina is that they are subtitled in Chinese; most of the text on the page is ideograms. Sina users can blog and upload photos as well as post videos, and in spite of the fact that it’s all in Chinese, I’ve gotten a glimpse of my fellow Bones fans. YYeTs (that’s how the user ID shows up on my screen) has general tastes—clips from lots of shows from around the world. There’s a Chinese costume drama on that page that looks interesting. Qujing is more narrowly focused on crime shows and police procedurals. And along with the video clips are photos of a very cute toddler—climbing a jungle gym at the park, out with Grandma, pictures of daily moments very similar to ones I’ve photographed with my kids.

To me the backdrops look exotic—a park in China!—but it’s clear that the focus for the photographer is on Baby’s presence in his parents’ world. I used to wonder why on earth someone in China be interested in these shows. But late at night in the Central Time Zone, with my kids in bed, I watch Bones and Booth crack the case and qujing’s toddler learn to walk, and I am very glad for the Internet.

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