This is a question I ask practically everyone I come in contact with; particularly for the past 2 years, after founding ATX Television Festival (www.atxfestival.com). It is rather remarkable how people’s answers have dramatically shifted in such a short time. At first it was, “ABC’s Sunday night line up,” or maybe HBO or AMC’s (which are still very much intact and kings of their respective domains). But now the answer, more often than not, is something like “I just caught up on Justified on Netflix” or “I’m watching the entire series of The Wire on HBOGo.”
Whether something is “currently” on, or from the recent or more distant past, matters less and less. Undeniably the next answer will continue to shift, sounding something like, “Well, I heard Netflix was making new episodes of that show Arrested Development [that ended unceremoniously in 2006], so I caught up on all three seasons and am now watching the new episodes Netflix produced.” In fact, Netflix is continuing in this direction as they recently announced they are picking up The Killing for a 3rd season — a series that aired on AMC, but was produced by Fox Television Studios [who will continue to produce it]. Netflix will assuredly be joined by close competitors Amazon and Hulu, who will begin to pick up past series with established fan bases and revive shows that didn’t have enough viewers to keep them on “regular TV.” (A term that will also fall to the wayside like “record,” “CD,” or “film.”)
Hulu (and Netflix) are currently making original content and have been for a few years. Purely original, as in not just picking up a canceled series and making more, but rather producing and finding new talent and original programming. Hulu has series from filmmakers Morgan Spurlock [A Day in the Life] and Richard Linklater [Up to Speed]. Netflix has House of Cards [David Fincher and Kevin Spacey], Derek [written/directed/starring Ricky Gervais], Hemlock Grove [developed by Eli Roth] and Orange is the New Black [from Weeds creator Jenji Kohan] coming down the pipeline.
In a different direction, there are series such as Childrens Hospital [who calls Adult Swim home] that started on websites like WB.com and made the jump from computer screen to more traditional television. These series give hope to every web-based content-makers that they too can become “legitimate.” As a programmer for a Television Festival, I would never want to discourage anyone from making creative material. The web is a wonderous place with both incredibly horrible and amazingly brilliant series. To sound like an old lady, it is incredible the technology that the average person has available to him or her. That said, please keep in mind that in this case, with Childrens Hospital, it was a series created/written and starring funnyman powerhouse Rob Corddry. It never hurts to have some celebrity attached. Take It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, for example. This series is one of the few examples of “independent television;” in the sense that they made the pilot independent from a network or a studio. Even so, they roped in Danny DeVito to add a little star power to their hilarious series. I would be willing to bet that Danny wasn’t necessarily what made the series good or got it bought, but it was what got the series in front of a decision maker.
Ultimately, what we are watching is changing. The way we are consuming it is changing. No one has to wait anymore. It’s available everywhere and all of the time. The term TV doesn’t mean what it used to. As viewers, we need to get passed the archaic definition of “watching tv” and learn that just because we don’t physically watch it on our Television sets doesn’t mean we don’t watch TV. We all watch TV. And we all like it.