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Online ‘Liz’ viewing leaves critic cranky

Lifetime telepic stars Lindsay Lohan

The producers of Lifetime’s “Liz & Dick” clearly put a lot of effort into getting the look right — everything from Lindsay Lohan’s hair and makeup to replicating scenes from “Cleopatra” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Except some of the nuance of that was no doubt lost watching on my computer monitor, which was how Lifetime insisted I preview it. If Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s romance was larger than life, I wound up taking in their story on the (very) small screen.

This isn’t meant to pick on Lifetime, since a number of networks — most aggressively ABC — distribute their programs to critics online exclusively, citing a combination of piracy concerns, the expense of distributing DVDs, and even environmental factors, since most of those discarded discs wind up in a landfill.

The problem is the experience watching online doesn’t really approximate viewing on a big-screen TV set, just as watching movies at home isn’t the same as attending a screening in a theater.

As a policy I won’t preview a TV program at a theater with an audience, precisely for this reason. Seeing something in the dark with a lot of people is fundamentally different than watching alone in torn sweatpants (don’t judge me) at home. If the goal is to be a surrogate for viewers, critics should ideally consume programming in the same manner most of them will.

So when networks require viewing programs via the web, I appreciate their reasoning. And in some instances, it makes relatively little difference.

For something with significant production values, though, it’s just not the same. And the longer something is, the less comfortable I am watching sitting in a chair, as opposed to having the option of a couch or bed.

Like a lot of modern innovations, if this is the way of the world, critics, including this one, will get used to it. And eventually wider distribution of web-connected TVs will render such complaints moot.

But that doesn’t mean we have to like it, even if we ultimately have to take it — pardon the expression — sitting down.

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