Lily Sieradzki | Media Junkie
Not Mething Around
Published: Thursday, October 3, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 3, 2013 02:10
Who remembers Tuco? If you’re as obsessed with “Breaking Bad” as I am, you definitely remember that evil guy. I know I share this obsession with many other people, but that doesn’t make it any less real to me. The gorgeous New Mexico landscape, the insane plot-twists, the breath-taking cinematography, the complex character development, plus meth — what’s not to love? Like meth, it’s incredibly addictive. And, like Jesse at one point in the show, I’m hooked. And I’m not alone — “Breaking Bad” won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, and the show is watched by nearly 8 million people.
Let me clear up something up front. For those who haven’t seen the season finale yet: DON’T WORRY. I won’t be spoiling anything. This isn’t primarily because of what a good person/active citizen I am, but because I also haven’t seen it yet. So far I’ve managed to successfully avoid hearing the ending, despite the continuous Facebook chatter, and I plan on keeping it that way.
Like many others, I take my dose of “Breaking Bad” primarily on Netflix, not live on AMC. This weekend I embarked on a Season 5 marathon, watching the second half of the season that isn’t on Netflix in other questionable ways. But because I subsist mainly on on-demand online television (I don’t have regular access to a TV, #college), I didn’t get around to watching the season finale live. But about 10 million other people did, according to the New York Times.
“Breaking Bad” seems to have found the winning combination between live and on-demand television. Even though on-demand television sites like Netflix and Hulu are traditionally thought to undermine live-streaming TV, they can actually boost the show’s popularity by allowing audiences to catch up on their own time.
According to a Sept. 27 New York Times article, while the season finale was the most-watched show on cable Sunday night, its Netflix presence was blowing up as well. Netflix reported that in the past two weeks, the most commonly watched episode in the series was the pilot. After accepting his Emmy, Vince Gilligan told reporters backstage that he credited Netflix for keeping “Breaking Bad” on the air because of the extended audience and the buzz it created.
To me, this is an important new model that in some ways revolutionizes television. There’s no longer a stark and competitive binary between linear, plot-oriented television that airs each week and mass-consumable on-demand television. A show can be both things and still be incredibly successful, because it’s more accommodating. It accommodates people, often college students, who want easy and constant access to television. And it accommodates the large audiences of traditional television as well, by keeping shows like “Breaking Bad,” which was not incredibly successful right off the bat, on the air.
With the Internet’s predominance, traditional forms of consuming media are changing, and fast. This extends to music, with the purchase of records and CDs evolving to the Apple’s iTunes model of online purchasing, and then to music listening sites like Pandora and Spotify. It also applies to movies, with the transition from the dominance of movie theaters to DVDs and finally to on-demand viewing. There’s a constant push and pull between the artists and producers, who still need to make a profit, and us, the Internet-savvy consumers, who expect and demand increased access. And there are always those who choose to consume the media online for free, despite legal or ethical considerations.
Not only is “Breaking Bad” a great show in and of itself, it’s part of a smart business model that navigates these shifting norms successfully. As Mr. Gilligan said, “It’s a new era in television, and we’ve been very fortunate to reap the benefits.” So have I, Vince. So have I.
Lily Sieradzki is a junior majoring in English. She can be reached at Lily.Sieradzki@tufts.edu.