Idol Chatter

Last season’s “24” ended months ago and next season’s series won’t start until January. I’m not sure there’s another show on TV that could retain an audience over that long of a hiatus, but perhaps one reason it works is the increasing number of people who are buying or borrowing the previous seasons on DVD.

The “24” phenomenon reminds me of what happens when a novelist becomes popular: a growing audience will buy his or her earlier books in an effort to catch up while awaiting the next novel. And that makes sense, because “24” is novel-like in its attention to detail, number of sub-plots, and depth of story and characters that can sustain an audience over a suspended period of time–with commercials.

I’d like to think the audience for “24” is growing because of the ethical challenges facing its characters in each episode and our cultural desire to examine our decision-making in a reflective-yet-entertaining way. I also think part of the reason “24” is capturing viewers old and young, men and women, network and cable is because it combines the convenience of entertainment-watching with the depth and breadth of a good novel. Spiritually speaking, we all have a bandwidth that is compelled by story, plot, drama, comedy, characters, conflict, resolution, and denouement. Books go deeper, but TV and movies are (for many) more convenient. “24” brings the best of both worlds.

But watching the prior seasons of “24” on DVD also means no commercials and no waiting until next week, and that probably has a lot to do with it. Instant gratification combined with compelling tension equals the consummate vicarious experience which doesn’t quite equal the ultimate real thing that is our lives and life choices, but it’s certainly safer and doesn’t cost as much to learn from.

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