When “Mad Men” debuted in 2007, the term “bingeing” referred to Don Draper’s drinking habits.
By the time AMC’s iconic drama reached its conclusion in May, things had changed considerably. The leading man had found serenity — and finally given up the bottle, one hopes — and bingeing has taken on an entirely different definition.
Netflix has completely changed a nation’s viewing habits, and for those of us without self-control, it’s hard to resist watching. Just. One. More. To make matters worse, the streaming service feeds our habit, queueing up the next episode just as the previous one ends. The viewer has become the (passive) programmer.
Others have been quick to follow suit: Amazon’s series, including “Bosch” and “Transparent,” follow the all-at-once model. Even broadcast has jumped on the bandwagon, with NBC opting to release all episodes of its Charles Manson drama “Aquarius” online — to mixed results. (Hulu has yet to reveal its strategy, holding back its plans for J.J. Abrams’ drama “11/22/63.”)
It was only a matter of time before binge-viewing began to drive the creative process as well. The executive producers of Netflix’s “Bloodline” — the team behind FX’s Emmy-nominated “Damages” — confessed they crafted the series knowing it was going to be consumed in chunks. “We’re trying to tailor a show to be binge-watched,” said exec producer Todd Kessler. Indeed, the show, with its methodical, deliberate pacing, may have benefited from the strategy, carefully driving viewers toward the killer finale.
Netflix’s relentless programming strategy — each passing month seems to introduce yet another show — only adds fuel to the binge-watching fire.
Cue the inevitable backlash.
“Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner sparked the recent fire when he said during his post-finale tour, “If I did something with Netflix, I would try and convince them to let me just roll them out so that there was at least some shared experience.”
Even Netflix’s own Jenji Kohan, creator of “Orange Is the New Black,” has expressed her displeasure for that very same reason.
And therein lies the problem with bingeing. Along with that slightly nauseating “ICan’tBelieveIAteTheWholeThing” feeling, there’s no one to console you when you’re done or help you decipher that cryptic finale. And don’t even try to go on Twitter unless you enjoy public shaming.
Indeed, there’s something to be said for being able to dissect with friends — and followers — that OMG moment on “The Americans” when Paige called Pastor Tom while President Reagan delivered his famous “Evil Empire” speech. Or debate whether Don or Peggy wrote that famous Coke ad. (Not that there was ever really a debate.)
Contrast that with that climactic finale of this season of “House of Cards.” … Crickets.
And just because you have a whole plate of cookies in front of you — as one showrunner said to me — doesn’t mean you should eat them all at once. There’s something to be said for savoring them, one at a time.
How the binge backlash will impact the Emmy race remains to be seen. “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” have earned Emmy noms (though “Orange” will now have to compete as a drama); and “Bloodline’s” producers have earned nods for their work on “Damages.”
What is clear is that Emmy voters are going to have to do some binge-viewing of their own: Last year, 108 shows entered the drama race; this year, 145 are competing.
And nobody can watch them all, binge or not.