To understand how viewing habits have changed, consider the difference between the couch show and the phone show.
At 10 p.m. on the final Wednesday of May, shrouded in the darkness of our basement, my wife and I did something we used to do quite often, but now—in the 23rd year of our marriage—we do only rarely.
We sat on our couch and watched a television show at the time it aired.
The occasion: The series finale of The Americans, FX’s gripping six-season Cold War drama. Although this was the first episode we’d viewed at its scheduled hour, we’d seen every other episode—all 72 of them. And we’d treated them with a reverence denied to most other television programming. We watched these episodes together—days or weeks after the official air date—while sitting on the couch.
In our household, The Americans is what we call a “couch show.” We record it or stream it and go to a specified place, the Pink family basement, to view it on a large screen. For the last few years, live sports notwithstanding, Better Call Saul is the only other program that qualifies for such loving premeditation and deliberateness. But these two shows are not the only ones I watch regularly. Not by a long shot. I’m also a big fan of Veep, Atlanta, Barry, Billions, and Silicon Valley. I’ve watched nearly all the episodes of all of these shows, but almost never while sitting on my couch. These I’ve watched on my phone or tablet in the interstitial moments of my life—a long wait at an airport gate, a late-night Uber ride, and so on. I call these “phone shows.”