I don’t remember which channel was playing Remington Steele. One of the obscure ones that you only watched if you happened to be, say, skimming every channel you had in the hopes of finding something on. (Those of us adept at this knew exactly where to skip to avoid the channels that were worthless—I remembered where all the sports channels were the better to ignore them.) Within a few weeks, when I got a job that required me to be out of my house at the time the show was on, I was setting my VCR so I wouldn’t miss it. Despite its having gone off the air when I was a child.
In the days before streaming, this would happen now and again. You’d encounter a show at random and become obsessed with it. Oh, you couldn’t binge it. The system wasn’t set up for binging. But you’d watch it as often as you could, and sometimes you’d rearrange your schedule around it. I had a roommate who got weirdly into Leave It to Beaver for a stretch. Many of us have since bought those shows on DVD, now that you can do that.
It’s not quite the same with streaming. The way we’d get into these shows was by seeing a minute or two as we skipped past. Not the obnoxious “let’s start this show while you try to just read the show description” that the streaming services have mostly decided that we want (Disney+ doesn’t do that, at least on my TV, and bless them for it) but a randomly selected moment as you happened upon it. Or the beginning, as we just didn’t bother to move away from a show we actually intended to watch.
I was thinking about this as I was trying to decide what to watch the other day. I own literally hundreds of discs. I subscribe to three streaming services and have access to another. Not to mention the free ones I could use, if I were so inclined. So what I was likely going to do was watch the same things I watch all the time. Not that there’s anything wrong with The Joy of Painting, and the only thing wrong with M*A*S*H is that Hulu decided that, since I’d already watched it, all I really wanted to watch was the last few minutes of every episode. But despite the incredible wealth of things to watch, there isn’t the same sense of spontaneous discovery.
There are movies I fell in love with this way, too—encountering them on cable. (There are few movies I have loved because I saw them on commercial TV.) Or on our PBS station, when our PBS station aired old movies on Friday nights. But the point here was that these were always older things. Not ones you’d see heavily promoted. It was the way stations killed time before the dominance of infomercials. So, yes, the first time I saw Gaslight was on Canadian TV in the middle of the day.
I forget what I read that described a child’s being put into a nursery full of ridiculous amounts of toys and crying because he couldn’t play with everything at once, and I suppose there’s a hint of that here. But as I’ve said before, one of the issues with streaming is that there’s no curation. It’s the nice thing about those collections that Disney+ has. You can say, “I want something from the 1950s” or “I want a musical,” and they’ve got things gathered that way. More effectively than the categories on Netflix, which everyone knows are wrong anyway.
Still, there’s something to be said for turning on your TV and encountering a show you’d never watched before, one where young Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist were dashing and daring and solved crimes together while almost but not quite falling in bed with one another. (With him referencing movies all the time; why aren’t more of you in love with this show?) Or whatever your version of the story is. If you’re old enough, I’m sure you have one.