- Instead of endlessly moaning about the supposed lack of serendipity on the internet, why can’t we try new ways to automate it?
- When I started college, you could watch Simpsons reruns for 90 minutes straight. The dorms picked up two different Fox channels that syndicated the show; one played it at 6 and 7, the other at 6 and 6:30. So if you were watching at 6, you could also pick which episode you wanted to watch. Sometimes, if both weren’t that interesting, or if you’d seen them recently, we’d just cut out for dinner and pick up the later episode. Usually, that wasn’t a problem; the Simpsons had been on for nine seasons, and nearly every episode was a classic.
- If The Simpsons didn’t work, you could watch Law & Order on A&E. Or Bravo. Or TNT. Or Lifetime. I may be misremembering all of the channels the show was on at once, but there’s a reason why people (like, say, writers on The Simpsons) would joke about watching 14 straight hours of Law & Order on basic cable. The show was on a lot. And again, it hadn’t been on for twenty years with multiple spinoffs yet. Not every episode was great, but every episode was classic Law & Order, usually better casual dramatic entertainment than 90% of what was on then, let alone now.
- If neither The Simpsons nor Law & Order were available, you could always watch The Shawshank Redemption. ALWAYS. I’ve seen this movie at least fifty times; I’ve probably seen it from-the-beginning, not-edited-for-TV once or twice.
- Have you ever noticed what PBS does during pledge season, at least every other year? They play Ken Burns’s The Civil War. Or some other crazy-ass, awesome, twenty-year-old documentary or costume drama series. And I watch it. Randomly, in pieces, over and over again.
- When people talk about serendipity, they’re not always talking about discovering something that’s totally brand-new. In fact, I’d hazard that they’re USUALLY talking about randomly unearthing something that’s comforting and familiar.
- This is ten times more true with television.
- But it’s true in other media, too. People like being able to browse through their own physical book and music collections, because you never know what might suddenly force itself upon you. The real anti-serendipitous edge to social networks like Facebook isn’t that they don’t introduce us to anyone new; it’s that they eliminate the unexpected meeting-up with a friend or former classmate. You don’t get to catch up because you’ve never fully lost touch.
- You actually can’t watch really old episodes of The Simpsons or Law & Order online. They have the new shows on Hulu and NBC.com and whatnot, but the syndication is a completely different deal. This saddens me.
- Watching a syndicated Simpsons or Law & Order rerun isn’t actually random. It’s chance, which is different. Why not make it actually random?
- This is Showroulette. You pick a show — let’s say that every show’s gotta have enough episodes to be in syndication, and only the backlist shows are available. Save the new ones for your running-show website — and you get a random episode.
- This is the genius part, at least for me. Say you don’t like the episode you got. (I mean, sometimes Law & Order kinda stunk.) You can change it out for a different show, also picked at random. But every time you switch, you’ve got to watch an ad.
- There are ads for the act breaks, too. Here, though, you can switch to a different episode without starting over – kinda like flipping the channel.
Come on! Tell me you wouldn’t try this! Tell me that 10% of you wouldn’t become obsessed with it.
Tell me there’s a better way to sell ads for older shows in syndication. Tell me there’s a better way to make a little more money off of long-running TV series without cannibalizing DVD sales. Tell me why this wouldn’t actually be better for most casual TV-watching (i.e., 90% of TV-watching) than any other online TV.
Tell me it wouldn’t be better to spin to a random episode of Soap or Hill Street Blues or Star Trek or The Bernie Mac Show than some random dude or chick or cat who might not even want to chat with you.
But mostly I want you to tell me ways to make this idea better. Or bigger. Or, just, more.