07 July 2011

Are reruns dead?

The question, from a backbencher: Netflix now has the distribution rights for all of the Star Trek television series--save Deep Space Nine, inexplicably. What does this say about the future?

The answer: It means that reruns are dead. It also means that the future will be nothing like Star Trek.


Over the past forty years, Star Trek reruns and marathons on cable channels and low-powered TV stations have been a staple of American life. They are so mainstream that even Transformers: Dark of the Moon (co-starring Leonard Nimoy, in his second appearance as an evil Transformer) features a joke about them. (The clip is about two seconds long; I identified the episode--"Amok Time"--halfway through it.)

But with Netflix, why bother showing reruns of Star Trek at all? Netflix Streaming is cheap--less for a year than for cable for a month--and easier to use than a DVR. For one thing, Netflix works over devices that are slightly more portable than a 48-inch screen. (After all, there's a reason why 80 percent of online streaming is over iOS devices.) The immediacy of the delivery, and the fact that Netflix remembers where you left off, is pretty much a killer app for me.

Immediately, of course, this is going to kill the TV DVD collection. Why bother? In an earlier age, I bought the first five seasons of Scrubs and the first four of The West Wing. These days, however, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't bother--without checking, I'm unsure if either show is on Netflix, but in either case I'd wait. I watched those DVDs pretty regularly when I had a Real Job, and that meant that I've watched the average disc in that collection twice. Maybe three times, in the case of the first seasons of both.

The same calculus must apply to cheap TV content. What is going to attract eyeballs to watching Patrick Stewart make it so in a bad episode--and Next Generation had a handful of those, as you may recall--when Netflix allows us to watch only the good ones and then recommend to us new shows that we never would have heard of without the recommendation engine?

What Netflix streaming is going to do, then, is accelerate the future of entertainment. And the future of entertainment will literally look a lot like the past. Whether it's Alyssa Rosenberg discovering Cheers or me reliving my own private 1980s with the remastered original series*, pop culture in the world of tomorrow will be forever competing with the past. That's good in many respects--the future The Wire will have to be that much better, since it will be competing not just with whatever else is on but with The Wire itself--but bad in many others, since the production of new cultural content will largely become either bad remixes or new dreck. In sum, whatever orgastic visions of the future of pop culture we may once have had, we will instead be borne back ceaselessly into the past.

* I'd like to say that I am astonished by how good the remastering and re-creation of the special effects are. The cheesiness is not entirely gone, but the vibrancy of the colors and the freshness of the score is really impressive.

21 comments:

  1. The wife and I had procured Deep Space 9, Voyager, the original series, and the next generation as DVDs over the last few years as we are fans of the series. She was a fan of the original series and skeptical of anything new, I grew up on TNG and DS9 and didn't think the old stuff could really hold a candle to Picard or Sisko.

    Regardless, we had been in the process of going through the Next Generation Series. I had purchased it off of amazon or ebay. The cases to hold the complete collections are notorious for being terrible and the collection we had invested in had been turning up random pauses/skips as there are defects in the manufacturing (or the terrible casing has scratched the disc).

    Thankfully, when we saw TNG on netflix, we immediately stopped watching the dvds. We do not have to change discs, worry about defective/damaged dvds, wait through the menu sequence, or worry about finding the discs because a particular spouse misplaced it when s/he put in a different dvd to watch.

    We were about half way through the 6th season when we swapped to netflix. The last half of the season and the beginning of the 7th has generally been a more pleasurable experience.

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  2. Oh. Also, there is something very wrong with the music from Season 7, Episode 1 on Netflix (The Descent Part II). I looked online and apparently this was something common to the British release of the episode, I am not sure if it is the same in the US (I may check our copy of it on dvd later...but it is so much work to load the disc in).

    Given how many cuts, recuts, quality types (hd, 3d, low quality for streaming, etc), I wonder if the netflix version of a particular episode or movie will become the default version people refer to. For example, I was an avid simpsons watcher when I was younger and I realized that the original version of the episode had more jokes than the syndicated versions. So, I would be shocked when certain versions did not make the cut. Likewise, some dvds may contain the "full episode" that contain items that were cut at the last minute for time issues. At some point, there will be more people who have watched the netflix version than the original broadcast, making the former seem like the "real" version of a given episode. This is a trivial event, but seems like it would be ripe for a Baudrillard-esque interpretation of reality and simulated reality.

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  3. The music for Descent Part I is really messed up on Netflix too. That's actually how I found this post...googling to make sure it wasn't just me going crazy or my computer speakers going bad.

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    1. Me too it. got better as the episode continued though

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  4. I can confirm, music on Descent Part 1 is weird, like playing a warped cassette

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    1. Oh thank god, I'm not going insane.

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    2. That's why I'm here too, lol!

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  5. I thought I was going crazy too... like maybe noise in the power lines was causing it however, I compared other episodes and it seems isolated on the specific episodes Descent Part I and Descent Part II.

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  6. I also googled "Star Trek Descent Part 1 warped music" and found this page. The music is horrible. I'm going to report it to Netflix and see if maybe they can fix it so no one else will have to listen to this torture!

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  7. Wow I thought I was going crazy too.

    Dammit netflix!

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  8. Still messed up, only in the beginning though...

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  9. Haha, also found this thread because of the warped music in Descent, part 1.

    Hoping Anonymous, from December 31, is right that it's just the beginning.

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  10. Confirmed that the music's pitch is distressingly off at the beginning of Descent, Part I, and though there are some moments were it's a little off throughout the episode, it's much less so than it is at the beginning. Watching Part II now.

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  11. I feel like I've just landed on an isolated planet where everyone is stuck in the same planet. I, too, have come here for answers about the Descent Pt. 1

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  12. Haha..exactly why I'm here, it sounds like netflix ported it from a bad VHS tape.

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  13. We just saw a version that is airing on BBC. It's warped too. I think the original went bad or something...

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  14. Just to point out it's not Netflix. It's the recording itself. Watching it on SYFY and the same thing is happening

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  15. This episode was just on syfy in the UK, came here googling for Descent warped music too!

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