Prime Time

Mediawatch: Of a Certain Age

2013-06-25T02:15:00Z 2013-08-01T13:30:08Z Mediawatch: Of a Certain AgeBy Kathryn MacNeil Entertainment Columnist
June 25, 2013 2:15 am  • 

I don’t care what anyone says—turning 50 is a massive gut-check, and those who say that it’s not a big deal are either a) in denial, b) lying, or c) in their 90s. (Also, to all of my fellow body-conscious Baby Boomers out there, I apologize for using the words “massive” and “gut” in sequence.)

There are a few outward changes that occur right away: a routine doctor’s appointment suddenly involves new, eyebrow-raising procedures; my mailbox overflows with aggressive recruitment propaganda from AARP; and the “Breakfast of Champions” has changed from a mocha frappuccino with an Egg McMuffin to a cup of black decaf and a calcium supplement.

But some changes that accompany aging are less tangible—more of a mindset, really. In fact, even though Baby Boomers are a much more diverse group than their common nickname indicates, almost universally, we crave the one precious resource that, maddeningly, is dwindling at a seemingly exponential rate: time.

Luckily, today’s entertainment options have evolved to support our quest to save time, offering unparalleled flexibility, particularly when it comes to television programming.

As the first generation that grew up with the TV as the center of the home, we Baby Boomers were slaves to the clock. “Prime time” in the Midwest required us to be seated, quiet and ready to pay attention by 7 p.m., when the catchy theme song of our favorite show began. If we missed all or part of the broadcast, we would have to wait until the summer rerun season to catch up, or, in the case of the highly anticipated once-a-year “specials” such as A Charlie Brown Christmas or The Wizard of Oz, we would have to endure an agonizing year-long delay. We embraced the “pause for a word from our sponsor” as a golden opportunity to grab a snack or use the bathroom.

The advent of the VCR in the ’80s gave us five luxurious options that today’s youth take for granted: we could record something we would otherwise miss, view it multiple times, rewind a particular section, fast-forward through commercials, and—something almost breathtaking in its simplicity—we could “pause” the program if nature (or a crying baby) called. Granted, a lot of planning and programming (and a constantly blinking electronic “12:00”) were involved, and an embarrassingly large percentage of early VCR tapes were filled with a week’s worth of soap operas—but it was state-of-the-art for its day.

The subsequent birth of digital media and the accompanying ground-breaking DVR technology blew our minds with time-saving flexibility. Even though we still to this day refer to digital recording as “taping,” we revel in its counterintuitive capacity to pause and even rewind “live” television. The DVR can be programmed with a click of a remote control, and it obediently remembers to record shows (even while something else is watched!) for handy viewing when a block of time becomes available.

Just when it seemed that TV-watching couldn’t get any more convenient, along came Netflix, which, for a monthly fee, offers unlimited, commercial-free viewing of not only movies, but past seasons of a multitude of television shows, which can even be streamed on a laptop, iPad or cell phone, giving a new definition to flexibility. (Viewing hint: Now is a perfect opportunity to check out entire seasons of a show you neglected to watch during its heyday—like my current obsession, “Friday Night Lights”—while favorite programs are on hiatus over the summer.)

Netflix is so explosively popular, it even produces original programming, the most buzz-worthy example of which is the recent resurrection of hilarious cult favorite “Arrested Development,” which was cancelled in 2006 due to low ratings.

Fifteen of the new episodes were all released simultaneously at 2 a.m. CDT on May 26, 2013, and in an unexpectedly retro twist, my teenage children stayed up until the wee hours of the night to be a part of this online “premiere” phenomenon. Normally, I wouldn’t allow middle-of-the-night TV watching, but it was fascinating to see these young people—who were raised in the watch-it-whenever-and-however-we-want age—watching the clock and waiting patiently for a TV show.

And so we’ve come full circle: it turns out that it may not start at 7 p.m. CDT every weeknight anymore—but that delightful anticipation of entertainment and escape will always be “prime time” to someone.

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