AUSTIN, Texas – Did you see the series finale of “Breaking Bad”? Are you caught up on “Game of Thrones”? You know who died on that one amazing episode of “The Wire” toward the end of Season Three, right?
As television has entered into what some call a golden age of deeper dramas and more sophisticated comedies (“2 Broke Girls” notwithstanding), we seem to be taking television much more seriously. Online, where conversations can escalate over a misplaced comma, spoiling a plot twist such as the death of a major character or what happened in the final episode of a TV series can get you yelled at.
Or typed at. Loudly. With lots of exclamation points. By people who hate spoilers.
It became clear last week that we’ve entered a new era of spoilerphobia with the final episode of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” Viewers who weren’t caught up on the show or who had to watch the Sept. 29 finale on a DVR delay had to shield their eyes at news headlines, shush co-workers and unfollow play-by-play TV commentators on Twitter.
“Breaking Bad,” an unpredictable epic where almost anything could happen from week to week, turned those who were in the process of binge-watching the series on Netflix into nervous wrecks. It got to be such a problem that Netflix introduced a tool called “Spoiler Foiler,” allowing fans to filter out information about the show from their Twitter feeds.
Some believe that discussion of TV online is fair game once a show has aired on the West Coast (accounting for the standard three-hour TV delay from Eastern time). Others believe you should wait at least a day to allow DVR viewers to catch up on shows before giving anything away. The most spoiler-averse believe you shouldn’t reveal any major plot points of beloved series, even old ones, since some people are still catching up on “The Sopranos” or “Lost” via DVDs or video-on-demand.
And then there are those who live-tweet TV events as they happen, enraging others.
Watching TV digitally on your own terms is great, but it’s also created pressure to keep up with TV plotlines in unrealistic ways. When Netflix released 15 episodes of “Arrested Development” or 13 of its new original series “Orange is the New Black” all in one bunch instead of parceling them out, who’s to say when it’s appropriate to reveal plot twists online? It’s kind of a mess out there.
Emily Gipson and Caitlin McFarland, TV junkies and founders of the annual ATX Television Festival, say that we’ve gone through two big shifts in TV viewing that may be contributing to the current battleground over spoilers. When DVRs started going mainstream, many viewers stopped watching all but the most important event TV (the Super Bowl, the Oscars) live. But the rise of social media has made many embrace the communal feeling of watching TV with others.
“It’s why television viewing in the last year or two has skyrocketed,” McFarland said. “The TV community online, it’s family, it’s your people. You want to watch it live with them.”