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TV 101: My Strange Hate For The Word-Of-Mouthers

by Jay Black, posted Apr 14th 2010 11:02AM
That's what all married men look like. Get it, because he's blue? Shut up.'Treme' premiered this week, but I was traveling and couldn't watch it. My plan had been to use HBO Go, but apparently "high speed internet" in Nacogdoches, TX really is just a system of tubes in the ground. The only site I could reliably connect to was a wholesale belt-buckle emporium.

Not seeing the show isn't a worry; 2010 might not have flying cars, but damned if we don't have a plethora of options for watching a show we missed. I'll eventually find it online, on demand, or on one of the approximately 419 identical HBOs that all have different names for some reason.

The only real worry I have is that if I wait too long to watch 'Treme', it'll be 'Friday Night Lights', 'The Wire' or 'Arrested Development' all over again. I'm scared that the word-of-mouthers will find out I'm not watching and they'll start annoying the living hell out of me.

Let's get this straight: I absolutely love all those shows. I also love 'Mad Men' and 'Breaking Bad.' I'm sure once I watch 'Treme', I'll love that too. It's not the shows I have a problem with. It's the people who constantly try to get you to watch them.

We've all been there, right? You're at a social event and a word-of-mouther starts up about the internet-approved show of the moment:

"You know what the wife and I have been watching?", he says, adjusting his eleven popped-collar Lacoste polos.

"Oh God, please, just kill me; seriously, take that fork and push it into my eyeball until you feel brain..." is what you want to say, but instead you just blink at him.

"'Treme!' It's such a powerful show, something that could only exist on HBO," he goes on, his Lacoste polos inexplicably shifting into an Ed Hardy shirt (because he's less a person than an amorphous blob of douche).

"Oh, right. Haven't seen it."

It's then that the word-of-mouther gives you a stare that is a perfect mix of pity, outrage, and arrogance. Pity because you're missing out on something great, outrage because your not watching the show might doom it to cancellation, and arrogance because his knowledge of the show puts him on the cutting edge, while you wallow in the 'Two and a Half Men' mud like the commoners do.

"Well, you need to watch it. Seriously, you won't regret it. It's just that good." He then wanders off and does this.

The weird thing is, the word-of-mouthers are usually right. I haven't watched a single one of those "you've got to watch" shows without being glad that I did. Even 'Breaking Bad', which combines three of the more unpalatable things on the planet - crystal meth, cancer, and New Mexico - had me addicted fifteen minutes into the first episode.

I should be happy that the word-of-mouthers are telling me about their shows. For one thing, they help me find new art to enjoy. For another, it's this kind of passion for television that allows me to have a job blogging about it.


Every time I have that conversation or every time I see a blog start with the line "If you're not watching '[show x]', you're missing out!" I find a peculiar resistance begin to form in my mind. And the more insistent people get about it, the more that resistance grows.

And, I know I'm not alone. If word-of-mouthers were really successful in spreading the good news about a show, 'Arrested Development' would still be on the air and 'Mad Men' would average more than 1/10th the audience a 'Dancing with the Stars' results show does. Clearly, other people are just as resistant to their approach as I am.

After spending far too much time thinking about it, I've come up with three key problems in how the word-of-mouthers approach others. If we could eliminate these three things, I believe a lot more people would be willing to give those shows a try.

1. Arrogance

We already covered this above, but it bears repeating. Stop acting like the fact you found a TV show before I did somehow makes you better or smarter than me. It's not like you wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on 'Finnegan's Wake' - all you really did was decide not to change the channel after you finished masturbating to 'True Blood'.

Also, stop acting like you're doing me a favor by suggesting the show. Try framing it this way, "Hey, there's a show I really like that I think you'll really like too. Do me a favor: please check it out, because I'm scared to death if more people don't start watching it'll get canceled."

That approach will make me far more amenable to watching than "WHAT!? You aren't a 'Wire' fan!? What are you, a big fat oozing pile of dumb!?"

2. Insistence

One or two soft sentences about what makes the show great (or, in the case of 'Mad Men', a quick Google image search for "Christina Hendricks in New York magazine") goes a lot further than the hard sell. Suggest the show and move on; don't turn the remainder of our conversation into a Mr. Smith-like filibuster about what why I need to be watching.

Further, try to limit it to just one follow-up. I've had friends start every conversation after the initial discussion of the show with "Hey, have you watched '[show x]' yet?" No, I haven't and now I might not come to your wedding because you keep asking me about it.

3. Definition

Probably the most annoying aspect of the word-of-mouthers: they try to use the relative obscurity and acknowledged superiority of the show to define their own personalities. You get the sense that they want you to watch the show, love it, and forever associate them with it for having introduced you to it.

'Arrested Development' as a mild suggestion of something I might like? Sure, I'll give that a try. 'Arrested Development' as a statement of who you are as a person? Not so much.

People like this are the reason that 40% of the non-porn internet is devoted to clever t-shirt sites: using the interesting things other people make to define yourself is a lot easier than actually saying or doing interesting things on your own.


Just to be clear: I'm not arguing against spreading the word about a show you love. There are plenty of quality shows that are in constant danger of cancellation and our advocacy of these shows can go a long way toward preventing that.

My goal is to get that word out without our friends screaming like Darth Vader losing on 'Millionaire'. Because it'd be a shame if something great like 'Mad Men' were to disappear because the word-of-mouthers couldn't find a way to get people to watch it.

Actually, writing that reminds me: the new season of 'Mad Men' is starting this summer. I should really call my friends and tell them how stupid they are for not watching it.

(Jay Black is a comedian and writer who really hopes you enjoyed this column. For more information about Jay or to catch one of his live shows, check out his website at www.jayblackcomedy.net)

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You're a douche. Who gives a shit about TV shows?

April 18 2010 at 11:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This article legitimately made me feel bad about myself.

However, I usually did it in college when i had the dvds on hand and would obviously only suggest shows that I was going to sit and watch with people. I caould not tell you how many people in my Fraternity I got to watch arrested development, lost, the wire, and breaking bad. They always seemed appreciative, but now that I don't live with them maybe I am just annoying

April 15 2010 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh man that sucks you have people in your life who want to share with you TV shows that they like. How dare they!

April 14 2010 at 4:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have to confess to being one of those annoying word-of-mouth spreaders - I just can't help myself. Someone telling me that they've lived their whole life without the glory of Joss Whedon's shows, or Don Draper, or Lost, or insert-name-of-awesome-show here ...

It's like telling me they've never heard of toilet paper, or ice cream. How can I go another second without clueing this poor shmuck in? It's an irresistable impulse! But I'll try to do better, I promise. If YOU promise to check out Justified on FX .......

Well crap. THAT didn't last long .....

Okay, seriously, my lips are sealed. Let's change the subject. You know, soap operas are very under-rated. General Hospital, for instance, has this great storyline that......


April 14 2010 at 4:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sounds to me like a personal problem. Also sounds like you can't seem to let your higher rational thinking overcome your own ego and arrogance. If you realize that when these so called "word-of-mouthers" suggest a show you usually end up liking it, then why don't you look past their annoying tendencies and check out the shows anyways. The fact that it bugs and effects you so much shows YOU have a problem and not them. They are just excited about something. I sure you have annoyed more than a few people with something you were excited about at some point. Get over it.

April 14 2010 at 4:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That's how I feel about Lost. The more I hear about how wonderful it is, the more determined I am to avoid it forever.

April 14 2010 at 12:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Dave's comment

For me, it's Arrested Development. If I never hear about how it's God's gift to Television again, it'll be way too soon.

April 14 2010 at 8:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Are family members open game? I constant badger my brother to watch certain shows.

April 14 2010 at 11:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm a (former) proud word-of-mouther, but now I'm slightly suicidal. Thanks for that.

Also, this is still TV we're talking about, right? if you really think someone suggesting a TV show makes them think they're better than you, perhaps some therapy is in order. They're not suggesting you go to some exotic island they know you can't afford; they're encouraging you to take three seconds of your time to program your TiVo to record something you might enjoy.

I was sort of with you for a little bit there because I, too, hate to be told what to do and usually will automatically do the opposite of what someone expects from me, once they've let it be known that is their expectation. But I don't think anyone suggesting a good TV show that I hadn't discovered yet has ever turned me off in this way. Of course, if someone asks if I'm watching [insert bad reality show] I just explain to them that I will never watch said show and move on, possibly remembering it to bring up in three months, when they declare said show to be the worst show ever.

April 14 2010 at 11:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How screwed up is it that I'm actually embarrassed to admit not ever having watched The Wire, Friday Night Lights, or Arrested Development?

Part of the problem is that there's a lot more really good TV than there used to be. It's not that they ratio of really good TV to mindless crud has changed. It's just that there's so much more TV than there used to be, that even though a small percentage of shows are really good, there just isn't enough time to watch them all.

Yes, I know, I could make the time to watch Breaking Bad if I skipped Legend of the Seeker, but dammit, you'll get my guilty pleasure TV away from me when you pry it away from my cold dead eyes.

April 14 2010 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to backbackheyhey's comment

I'm one of the 10 people on earth who were not impressed with the Wire or Arrested Development. I'm not afraid to say it, I just didn't get hooked after watching a few episodes of each.

The Wire, I watched a full season, and it wasn't my cup of tea.

Arrested Development, it took me 6 episodes to figure out the humor just wasn't what I was interested.

The problem I have with "word of mouther's" is that they tell you about a show at the most inopportune time, and then you completely forget until the next time you see them, when they tell you again.

I've found a pretty good solution, if you REALLY like a show, you find it online on Hulu, or /control or any number of sites that stream past shows, and get an email address, and send them an email with the link to the show.

That's all it takes. You don't actually have to say anything more than, "I'm going to email a link, check it out, and tell me what you think."

It's way less obtrusive.

April 14 2010 at 11:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I 100% agree with you on this term. Even on the internet with people going like "[Insert critically acclaimed show that never gets Emmys love here] is the best show evaaaarrrr!!!!" I get instantly turned off. Like give me time! Let me catch up during the off season so when it does come back, I can be part of that audience! Seriously.

April 14 2010 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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