National News

August 30, 2013

Love TV? Power watchers date favorite shows

NEW YORK — Maggie Edinger, 26, is in a cozy relationship. It’s predictable and relaxing. She’s in that phase, she said, “where you start wearing sweatpants and completing each other’s sentences.”

And that’s just her relationship with “Law & Order,” plus spin-offs. She remains on the hunt for an actual boyfriend.

Edinger, who’s pursuing a business degree in New York while working in public relations, is a binge TV watcher extraordinaire. She looks at nothing but L&O, despite having dipped in and out of the franchise in real time over the years.

For some like Edinger, binging on TV shows and movies feels a whole lot like dating. While Edinger is happy and content in her crime-fighting bubble, others know they should break up but can’t imagine committing to new loves, especially those that might have too many seasons to fit into a weekend fling. I’m talking to you “Dexter” and “Breaking Bad.”

Then there’s the bitterness. Over spoilers. Or lack of, um, climax.

“I knocked off ‘The Sopranos’ in a weekend but c’mon, give me an ending,” laments 48-year-old Larry DeGaris in Indianapolis. “I was a late adopter and I got burned on that. I don’t have to like the ending. Just give me an ending. Wrap it up.”

Tony Soprano and family, for the record, left our world — amid mass dissatisfaction — in a diner booth with “Don’t Stop Believing” playing out as the screen abruptly went black.

“Really the analogy is sex. You want to reach a climax,” laughed DeGaris, who teaches marketing at the University of Indianapolis and is between girlfriends at the moment.

“In marketing we use relationships as metaphor,” he said. “It’s actually a good one. I have a relationship with this show. Where are we going with it?”

Olivia Piacentini, 25, is in Pittsburgh, studying to become a physician’s assistant. She spends hours on her schoolwork and has no time for a man. But as a TV binger, she gets around.

“There are times it’s there for me when people aren’t,” giggled Piacentini of her matchmaker, Netflix.

Her first love?

“It was Grey’s Anatomy. I had already watched it once and then going through school, I’m like, ‘Wow, now I actually understand what they’re saying on the show.”’

When she caught up with all nine seasons, she started over again. She serial dates Season 4.

“It does kind of feel like a relationship where maybe you don’t want it to end and move on to something new,” Piacentini said by telephone. “Maybe it’s a bad relationship sometimes because you know you should move on but you don’t. You stick with what’s comfortable and then everybody else is talking about a new show and they think it’s great but you’re not sure if you want to jump onto something new.”

Among her unfulfilled suitors: “Walking Dead,” “Orange is the New Black” and “New Girl.”

“I know that I should move on. I know that I’d enjoy them,” Piacentini said.

Todd Yellin, vice president of product innovation at Netflix, pushes content suggestions at folks like Piacentini for a living in the form of customer suggestions using algorithms not unlike those used by dating sites.

“We are trying to create matches, just like they are. And we also want to create love, just like they do,” said Yellin, in the San Francisco Bay Area. “That’s our version of marriage, when they get really hooked on a great TV show on Netflix.”

Yellin sees two types of power watchers among the company’s more than 36 million members in 40 countries: “The monogamous and the polygamous.”

The latter can juggle their dance cards and be happy. He explains the former in these terms: “There are definitely folks who say, ‘I’m not watching another show until I’ve watched ‘Breaking Bad’ from beginning to end,’ but then even in their monogamy they like to be titillated and spread it out sometimes. They say, ‘I don’t want to do it three times in a night. I want to do it once a night.”’

Bingers in stalking mode, where one show is watched all at once, amount to less than 1 percent of the company’s customer base, he said. An episode or two a day is more common and feels more like a stable relationship to Netflix, Yellin said.

“We’re not looking for a one night stand. We’re looking for a longer-term relationship,” he said.

Dr. Laura Berman, a sex and relationship therapist in Chicago, binged for the first time recently while stuck in an airport for six hours. “I lost my virginity to ‘House of Cards,”’ she said.

Berman sees similarities with dating behavior that point to the pleasure centers of the brain.

“I don’t know whether there’s been evidence of this,” she said, “but when you’re in a brand new relationship, with a real human, that is, they have documented that the dopamine centers of the brain, those sort of addiction centers of the brain, are actually firing like crazy, which is why you feel almost addicted to your new love and why when you break up, especially during that phase, it’s so unbelievably heartbreaking and feels like withdrawal almost.”

Andrew Park, 24 and single in Los Angeles, won’t be breaking up any time soon with “Golden Girls” and “Sex and the City.”

He said he waits until he can watch multiple seasons of a show on streaming sites for long, fulfilling stretches that last several days and nights. He buys box sets to make it even easier to hook up with old flames.

“I start at the beginning and watch episodes back-to-back, but when I near the finish I pop in the first DVD and start over,” Park said. “I can’t bear to watch the last episodes,” he said of those two reliable favorites.

“It’s comforting to hear the voices of my favorite girls.”

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