Futurama is back! Last broadcast in 2003, the sci-fi cartoon television series brainchild of The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening and David X. Cohen returned to Fox last week with all new episodes set in the year 3000. Futurama fans can get their fill of Fry, Leela, Bender, and Professor Farnsworth every Thursday now.
But while Futurama was off the air, has the future changed? In the seven years since 2003, the nature of television has changed profoundly. Many fans of Futurama and other hit television series now buy their shows a season at a time, in DVD form, and watch the shows at their leisure on DVD players, computers, and, if they choose to digitize the episodes, on iPods and other MP3 and MP4 players. Many choose not to watch network or cable television at all.
But the choice to provide all one’s own entertainment creates a new problem — a storage problem. Even if it was possible, as no doubt it soon will be, to buy one DVD (or Blu Ray disk) that holds an entire season’s worth of episodes, for true video lovers, even storing one DVD and DVD case per show can be too much.
J.P. Fernandes, a Milwaukee attorney, has not watched television in five years. Rather than watch television, he keeps almost 100 different television shows in his home — Kung Fu, Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, Arrested Development, The Chapelle Show, Harvey Birdman, Dr. Katz, 30 Rock, The Tick, The Tick Live Action, Family Guy, American Dad, King of the Hill, La Femme Nikita, and countless classics ranging from The Wild Wild West to The Rockford Files to Bionic Woman (the old and new versions) to Battlestar Galactica and many, many more. On any given day, he might pull out an episode of Rumpole of the Bailey, Prime Suspect, Crank Yankers, or a Discovery Channel show like Sharkweek. Or, he might opt for a trip down memory lane with an old Saturday Night Live episode, Sanford and Son, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Malcolm in the Middle, Dream On, The A Team, or even The Muppet Show.
“Futurama is awesome,” admits Fernandes. “But the quality of most programming has gotten so bad. Everything is clichéd; the story lines are thin…there are so many commercials. If you go DVD all the time, you choose what you want to watch, when you want to watch.” These days, electronic back-up copies of DVDs can be made so fast that it has become routine for Fernandes to keep hundreds of movies and television shows on his iPod. “I convert all of my stuff to iPod,” he says, “so that when I’m traveling, sitting in a car, waiting in a lobby somewhere…you can entertain yourself rather than just sitting there and looking at the wall.” Whether he digitizes a series or not, though, he must find a place to keep the original DVDs and their cases. Like many video aficionados, Fernandes cannot bear to throw out a DVD — even one he does not like.
“Someone might want to watch it, sometime,” he says. “It certainly does create a storage problem.” He says he has several tubs full of several seasons of old television series. He even has back-up copies of special favorites, like Kung Fu, “in case I want to watch them more than once,” he jokes. He has tried taking the disks out of their cases and storing them in binders. He’s tried storing them on spools. But there is still not enough space. And that’s not including the documentaries and movies, which he also collects. “I’m currently looking for a solution,” he says, noting that he will gladly put other items, such as files, books, and even furniture, in storage, before he will part with his media collection.
Fernandes is not alone in his exasperation with television. In 2008, Atlantic editor Michael Hirschorn wrote about his bemusement on realizing that his friends had stopped watching television altogether: “A visit to Houston,” Hirschorn explained, “convinced me that I just hadn’t been getting it. My friend Mike and his wife had done away with their TV entirely and instead had set up their 20-inch iMac widescreen as the focal point of a kind of jerry-rigged home theater; with no grievous loss in quality, they were feeding it with content from iTunes, various other Web-based media services, and DVDs. In doing so, they had dispensed with those hefty cable bills and had asserted an iconoclastic form of control over their media lives. It turns out, anecdotally at least, that lots of other people are doing the same. And that was my Homer Simpson “D’oh!” moment. Video without a TV console was not only possible, it was likely.”
Filmmaker George Lucas has become resigned to the fact that many people are going to do just what Fernandes and Hirschorn’s friends do – watch his movies on a tiny screen, on an iPod, MP3 player, or a video-ready cell phone. “I accept the fact that most of my movies are going to be seen on phones,” Lucas told a Time magazine interviewer in 2006. “People can get whatever they want out of it on a phone….I don’t recommend it, but I certainly don’t say don’t do that.” But, Lucas continued, “I compose it for the big screen, I don’t worry about the little screen.”
But even moviemakers like Lucas do not have room to store their entire film archives. Technicolor, for example, recently donated its older archives, which it no longer had room for, to the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.
How will individual movie and television lovers store their collections? Perhaps electronic storage will evolve quickly enough for movie lovers to be able to keep their collections on digital hard drives, though collectors like Fernandes already do this and find that even a digital hard drive can only hold a fraction of their media. Even if it were possible to store an entire collection electronically, many video fans would insist on keeping the original copies of the DVDs and jewel cases that they were purchased in. Consequently, they face a conundrum: put the collection in storage, and rotate select videos in and out of the storage unit — or pare down other collections, such as books, sports equipment, hobby materials, and knickknacks to make room for videos. Fernandes has already made his choice: “I would put something else in storage to make room for the movies.”
Fernandes, J.P. Interview with the author.
Hirschorn, Michael. “The revolution will be televised: TV can avoid the music industry’s fate and survive the digital age, but only by beating the Internet at its own game.” The Atlantic Monthly, March 2008. P. 117.
Matheson, Whitney. “Tattoo Tuesday: ‘Futurama,’ ‘Speed Racer,’ and more reader ink.” USA Today. June 22, 2010.