The death—or diffusion—of the television water cooler has been much ballyhooed. But NPR’s Elizabeth Blair did a great segment on how word of mouth still helps build television, where the conversations about episodes have migrated, be it Twitter or the AMC’s post-episode chat show The Talking Dead, and was kind enough to have me on to talk about Scandal and how the labor law episode of The Good Wife got people who I hadn’t seen discussing the show dissecting it on social media for the first time:
She mentions something else that’s worth remembering, which is that some shows like NCIS, which get huge ratings, don’t really show up on social media at all. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a word of mouth discussion of the show, it’s just taking place in arenas where it isn’t necessarily visible and quantifiable. It’s fascinating how we assumed the existence of the water cooler for so long without being able to see it on a more than experiential level, and as soon as something more tangible came along, it became easy to reduce the physical water cooler conversation to the ephemeral thing it always was. But the simultaneous success of a show like Scandal, which made itself essential viewing in the time slot in part by making the ability to participate in the real-time social media conversation about it, and the longevity of something like NCIS provides a useful rule of thumb for talking about the television business right now. The old ways are far from dead, and the shiny new ones are far from triumphant, so it’s not a matter of choosing between them—instead, we have to keep an eye on both.