TV’s new normal

Image: People made up as zombies with TVs on their heads

Image: People made up as zombies with TVs on their headsBy Mark Leiren-Young

“The DVD legitimized TV as an art form,” Glen Mazzara, executive producer of the monster smash “The Walking Dead,” told an audience of TV creators and broadcasters during an onstage Q&A at the Banff World Media Festival earlier this month.

The DVD also changed the TV viewing experience — a change that’s becoming the new normal in the Netflix era.

The last time I attended the Festival, “The Sopranos” finale aired.  Despite the fact that everyone was caught up in buying, selling, and schmoozing the day after the infamous fade to black, it seemed like there was no one who hadn’t seen it.

This time I felt positively ahead of the curve, because had I watched Don Draper’s season-ending leer via my iTunes subscription just a day after it aired. When I asked a few people at the Festival for their thoughts on the finale, they told me they’d be watching the show on their PVRs as soon as they got home.

“We’re all watching the same shows,” one TV producer told me, “but none of use are watching at the same time.”

I’m part of the club that believes that, ipso facto, if you wouldn’t place David Chase’s “The Wire” in the top 10 dramatic series of all time, you probably have tastes that are six feet under. But as a citizen of the formerly HBO-free zone known as Canada, I didn’t catch a single episode until I borrowed the DVD collection from the library and found myself riveted by the murder of Snot Boogie.

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, seriously, buy or download the series already.

I have friends who loved Kiefer Sutherland’s adventures as tortured spy Jack Bauer in “24” — but they loved watching the series all at once, after each season was over.

Some of my recent favourite TV shows haven’t been on TV in years, but I’ve found them on Netflix — which is where I’ve finally started checking out “The Walking Dead.”

But while the afterlife of TV shows has created a much richer experience for audiences  — and how could any TV creator not love the idea that their work lives on even after it’s been sent to the cancellation graveyard? — it’s a scarier prospect for producers and broadcasters. The idea of destination television being replaced by fans holding out to experience entire seasons must feel a bit like a zombie invasion, but bloodier. Attack of the Ratings Killers.

Meanwhile, a lot of “Mad Men” fans will be waiting until the release of the DVD box set so they can watch the whole season at their leisure or, since this is “Mad Men” we’re talking about, in their leisure suits — ideally with a martini in hand.

- Mark Leiren-Young blogs and does all sorts of other stuff at leiren-young.com