If I want to watch an episode of The West Wing right now all I have to do is turn on my Playstation 3, connect to the Netflix app, and select an episode. That’s it! So simple! So easy! Alas, it was not always this way. Boys and girls, let me take you back in time to…
The Year 2000
By the fall of 2000 I had heard good things about this show called The West Wing which had already aired its first season. I tuned in for the season two premiere and was instantly drawn in by the fallout of an assassination attempt and the flashbacks to how the characters originally met. I wanted to watch season one so I could catch up and figure out why this Donna person was so devastated that Josh had been shot. Alas, in the year 2000 we did not have Netflix streaming. Nor did we have box sets of television shows available to purchase the year after they’d aired. We did have the Internet, but when I wasn’t at college all I had was dial-up. (Remember the SCRREEE-EEE-AAAATCH!! of the modem?) And even when I could use the fast internet at school, video compression techniques weren’t that great and YouTube didn’t even exist, so if you did manage to find a video online it was probably a blurry Real Player file. (Remember Real Player? No? Be grateful.)
So how was a girl supposed to catch up on a TV show? I went online and posted a request on a forum for the show. Then someone in California, my fairy godmother perhaps, sent me a box of VHS tapes of the first season. I was never charged for these tapes or even for the shipping, which was bizarre. I think the person who sent them wanted to be sure she couldn’t be sued for profiting off of the show, so she wouldn’t accept any payment. What she sent weren’t even the original tapes. I don’t think they were even copies of the originals, but copies of copies, and one episode had five minutes missing because of a severe thunderstorm warning in a state I didn’t live in. But I was so happy to have them! I was in procession of rare precious treasure! After I’d finished watching the tapes I paid it forward by giving them to a friend, who also felt special for acquiring such a rare commodity.
This must be how my parents feel when they tell stories about using record players.
Anyway, it is now ridiculously easy to catch up on TV shows, and most ways are even legal. There’s Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, and more. I definitely prefer this world to the one where I had to post on forums and usenet and lurk in IRC channels while waiting in queue to download the banned season three finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from a bot. However, I do miss that feeling of accomplishment I got. I felt proud when I was able to locate a copy of something that was not easy to locate. I felt like I was in a special club of people who loved a show so much that they’d spend hours copying it from one VCR to another for a fellow fan. You don’t have to prove your love of a TV show that way anymore. You don’t have to cut through a briar patch to kiss Sleeping Beauty or climb up a tower to see Rapunzel. You can just turn on Netflix. You can watch it in widescreen too, which I find particularly impressive because it meant someone behind the scenes was planning way ahead. It’s better that way and I wouldn’t go back, but I like to look back and remember how it used to be and all the things I used to do to prove my love for a TV show.
I still have the VHS tape of the last episode of Voyager. Hanging on to it like some keep baby booties. Yes, I know there are DVD’s and Netflix, but it is the actual tape we watched when I was recording on VHS before life with DVR’s. I have not seen a commercial in years (maybe decades).
Downstairs TV is hooked up with Wii and DVD player. Upstairs with Xbox and ROKU, TV in front of elliptical has a ROKU. We are big Netflix people too. Currently working thru MI-5.
Jeremy Logsdon says
I have to comment for no other reason than that I still have, buried on a hard drive somewhere, the RealPlayer video file of Graduation Day finale of Buffy, season 3. Thank goodness for the Canadians back then who DIDN’T have their Buffy finale banned for two months.
Ahh yes I remember those days, I do still have one vhs tape around here. . .I think it’s the muppet show, the only place it can be watched is up at my mother in laws house.
I had a similar experience yesterday. I was cleaning out the basement and ran across a set of dolls I had that were in pretty sad shape. A check of ebay turned up new ones (still in their boxes) for $15. So I bought them and they came, the boxes were in pretty bad shape so we lived it up and took them out of their funny cellophane wrappers with real price stickers (Originally $3.35, marked down to $2.99) but the thing that struck me was there was no barcode on the box. . .my 14 year old was amazed.
@Jeremy Logsdon – Yes! I also got the “Earshot” episode from the same IRC channel, although I think banning that one was a good decision. I still think it was ridiculous that they banned the finale.
I clicked on your browser history regarding the 20 year old albums. I had never heard of about 80 percent of those artists. Now that’s old! 🙂
Back in about 1991, in a copy of Countryside Magazine, was a request for vhs tapes of the British show “Good Neighbors”. I responded and sent copies. Thus started a treasured friendship that has continued. It’s funny how things work out.
I still have all of Babylon 5 on VHS. When I first started on the internet, the first “video” I saw was an animated gif that someone emailed to me. It took me and a friend of mine ten minutes to save it on the server, download it to the desktop and open it.
Sue B says
In May of 2001 my husband and I were joking about how our first baby was just bound to be born on the Finale night of Voyager. And yes on Wednesday evening of the 23 I was in the hospital. We watched the first hour then things got… noisy and painful. Any way, the one thing we did before we left for the dr’s appointment was to make sure the VCR was set and had a fresh tape. I had to ask the hubs if Belana had a boy or girl. I think I finally got to watch it the next week. With my own brand new baby girl.
Paula Saardchit says
How interesting that I ran across this article today. Just yesterday, I was cleaning out my old entertainment center because I got a new flat-screen TV (a gift from my kids since they couldn’t stand the thought of me watching my old-school TV anymore) to make room for my new entertainment center because the new TV is shaped differently and doesn’t fit anymore. Anyway I was cleaning out the drawers underneath and ran across about 20 VHS movie tapes that I had completely forgotten about! I haven’t owned a VHS player in years. Why on earth did I still have those? LOL. It felt weird to just toss them but I’m sure there’s not a soul on earth who would want them as a donation. So in the trash they went. And time marches on. Change is good right? Thank you for your article. I had fun reading it. You’re a great writer 🙂
I used to record Seinfeld episodes on VHS. If I couldn’t get home in time to record, I would have my younger brothers do it. I remember one night being pretty upset because one of them missed the first five minutes of an episode. I’m happy to report I now own all 9 seasons on DVD (which may sound antiquated soon enough).