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The Rise of the Television Show About Watching TV

The Rise of the Television Show About Watching TV

Today Bravo announced it was greenlighting a show about people watching TV. “The People’s Couch” is an unscripted half-hour series that will will run for three Sundays in October starting on the 6th and will feature real people watching, reacting to and commenting on the new fall shows — sorority sisters, grandparents, and so on.

Bravo didn’t come by this idea itself — it’s an American remake of a UK series called “Gogglebox” currently running on Channel 4. But it’s also a reflection of the way TV is increasingly becoming a platform to talk about itself. As the small screen becomes both dominant to the cultural conversation and more and more nichified, we have a wealth of shows to talk about — “Breaking Bad! “Game of Thrones!” “Scandal!” — and less of a chance that everyone will be talking about the same one the next day at the mythical water cooler.

For television, as opposed to film, the conversation seems driven by immediacy and by details — hence the ascendance of the recap, in which we’re able to run through the episode we just watched and read about theories and interpretations of specific themes, allowing you to essentially watch along with the writer. And, to the frustration of those in different time zones or who are behind on certain shows, Twitter has become a place for live, ongoing conversation about episodes even as they’re on air, social media become one giant living room in which people are watching together and chatting online (while others huddle in the corner, hands over their ears).

“The People’s Couch” sounds ridiculous, but also as if it’s trying to do what audiences obviously have a hunger for, which is a more communal viewing experience for something that it, unlike film-going, is more prone to be solitary and done at home. And it can be paired with the growing abundance of “after shows” on various networks — the live shows that go on air or online after an episode of something particularly juicy.

AMC had so much success with following up “The Walking Dead” with “Talking Dead” that it introduced “Talking Bad” to go with the final episodes of “Breaking Bad.” FX has launched an online after show for “Sons of Anarchy” featuring creator Kurt Sutter, while Bravo’s got a sort of network-wide after show in “Watch What Happens Live.”

The richer and more interesting television gets, the more there’s going to be a desire for conversation about it, something networks have clearly realized and are capitalizing on. Whether we want to actually see on our television what we’re doing in our homes — sitting on the couch, watching the screen — is another issue, but the sentiment behind the series is, weirdly, understandable.

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