Binge Watching: There’s no time like the present

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By dhammza / Flickr/ Creative Commons

My mother always told me: Son, whatever you do… do it in moderation.

Oh, mom, if you only knew.

Moderation isn’t how I would describe my viewing habits. I watch shows over and over again. On Netflix. On Hulu Plus. On YouTube. It’s never ending. Those trying to get in touch with me be damned – including my mother, who will call and tell me she’d love to hear from me more often.

Actually, Jessica Goldstein of the Washington Post, says this binge watching phenomenon – the one that’s making me a bad son – has a name: “Nerd Glaze.”

“That sort of zombie stare that you get after spending an entire weekend watching, say, ‘Game of Thrones’ or
‘Breaking Bad’. And you show up at the office with a television hangover.”

Peter Dinklage coined it on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

The television screen, way close up. Via Flickr via ftbester / Creative Commons
The television screen, way close up. Via Flickr via ftbester / Creative Commons (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Dinklage stars in ‘Game of Thrones’, the HBO show based on a series of fantasy novels. Game of Thrones, and countless other programs, follow the old episodic approach. In a regular season, the program airs once every week. On the internet, the season is served up all at once.

Now, Jessica Goldstein says, with Internet everywhere, more and more viewers watch what they watch, when they want. And for however long they want to watch. And the only thing that stops us from watching just one more episode is: willpower.

“It’s like eating the entire sleeve of Thin Mints if you buy the Girl Scout cookies. You just can’t stop after one or two.”

It’s funny, in this day of so much control over what and when we can watch, we have less and less.

There’s another term for this, says Lisa Aziz-Zadeh, Assistant Professor at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute: addiction. “It definitely, depending on the show – it can give you a feeling of a high, for example, if it’s an adventure or action film. You can feel like you’re having that adventure yourself.”

Aziz-Zadeh says the motor-cortex — the region of the brain that, among other things – influences voluntary movement, is an incredible place of information and distribution.

And in those stretches of watching TV, she noticed something interesting: that the brain can’t really differentiate what’s real and what’s entertainment. “What we see is that you’re mapping other people’s experiences onto your own body representations and how that would feel if you were doing it yourself. If you were having the same experience.”

Which then she says, likely touches off the reward system of the brain. The part that includes dopamine and endorphins. Those are the ones  that make you feel good – and make you want more.

So how does all this synapse-firing, time-sucking, internet bandwidth-choking Nerd Glaze affect the entertainment industry’s bottom line?

“Honestly, Hollywood finds a way to get paid. It’s options. And what it’s actually doing, I think, is expanding potential viewership for its shows,” says Joe Adalian, who writes for New York Magazine’s pop-culture and entertainment website He says it used to be that people found ways to get a product online for free. Peer-to-peer sites. Illegal downloading. Think Napster or Limewire.

Now, Adalian says studios and networks are offering their products in a very simple way. That’s the lure. Easy, legal and for a small fee.

“That’s why services like Netflix and Amazon and iTunes and the all the rest are so much easier. Because then people say ‘alright I’ll pay 8 to 9 bucks a month and I’m not gonna have to worry about how to download or steal this’.”

That mentality means the streaming service Netflix can now drop – or release – a whole 13-episode season of its original show “Hemlock Grove.”

Bill McGreevy created the series based on his book. Eli Roth directs. They both spoke to KCRW’s Kim Masters on her show The Business. “You’re designing the entire run to work as a coherent unit,” said Roth, “It’s like a 13-hour movie, because every episode is dropped instantly on one day. So if people want to watch the whole thing straight through, they can,” added McGreevy.

And more and more, they do. I do. For hours and hours. And hours.

Yes, mom, I know: moderation.

My name is Steve Chiotakis. And I’m a binge-watcher.