What Should We Be Calling Television Now?

By  · Published on February 20th, 2014

Television is no longer television. At least, what we think of as “television” is no longer confined to whatever your cable box or bunny ears spit out on the boxed screen that sits on your Swedish-made entertainment center or hangs on your wall (you swanky person, you). “Television” as we recognize it now seems to fall under the extremely large umbrella of “continuing stories that are not movies.” While some constraints remain relatively constant (most “television” won’t premiere in a movie theater, though damn if any number of film festivals, especially SXSW, are turning that on its head), other rules are becoming increasingly more flexible (you might be able to watch all of a show in one sitting, or see it via DVD before it even bows on a small screen near you).

But if “television” is now the kind of thing you can watch on a phone or on a computer or on an actual television set and that comes to you by way of “networks” that are also no longer confined to the traditional terminology that encompasses “network,” what should we be calling it? We’ve got some ideas.

Our own Landon Palmer has already explored some of the issues facing modern “television” these days – from the outdated thinking behind “seasons” to his own thoughts of what he deems “television-after-television” (a somewhat unwieldy but ultimately spot-on way to classify what is populating our smaller screens these days) – and his deft take on these matters is a prime jumping off point for more discussion.

When television is no longer trapped into a television set, what is it?

Most notably, Netflix was an early adopter of literally unboxing television, crafting original programming that could only be seen via subscription and was, at least in the early days, most often watched via the Internet (nowadays, Internet-enabled consoles, from video games systems to Blu-ray players, allow viewers to stream directly on their televisions, bringing “television” back onto television).

The Internet remains a fertile ground for both original and network-crafted programming, providing a way for viewers to watch fresh programs like webisodes and original series that only exist on the Internet (think Hulu and its original programming) while also giving a home to what are essentially reruns (or clips) of network TV. Popular network shows have also taken to the web to debut supplementary material, often in the form of mini-webisodes, including programs like The Office, Grimm, and Parks and Recreation. Even for traditional television, out of the box ideas are becoming more and more commonplace, stretching the boundaries of what has long been classified as just plain old television.

Netflix has surely made great strides with its original programming, and while awards recognition is not a perfect measuring stick of such success, it is a understandable enough barometer – the company (studio? network?) pulled in 14 nominations at this year’s Emmys, just behind Comedy Central and ahead of Lifetime. HBO led nominations with a staggering 108 (in second place were CBS and NBC, both tied at only 53, with ABC coming up behind with 45), proving that the purely three-network model is no longer the best when it comes to giving viewers outstanding programming options.

“Television” isn’t cutting it, even as its programming (in all of its forms), well, is.

There’s no clear pick for a new title for what we’ve long deemed “television,” and plenty of possibilities spring from existing language – names like “episodic,” “programming,” “series,” or even just a basic “show” or “shows.” We could even combine them for a Mad Libs-styled new name: “original episodic programming,” “episodic series” (which is, admittedly, a bit redundant), “series programming,” or even “episodic programming series show.” Call it EPSS and be done with it.

Or, perhaps, go with something a touch more intutitive – if we’re still putting movies up on the big screen and we’re in at least some agreement that “television” is mainly consumed on a teensier flat surface, why not lump this whole great mess of art together under one banner: small screen. Let’s go watch the latest small screen program, consume a bit of small screen series, devour the newest small screen episodic. It has a ring, right?

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