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HD: TV Marathons: social

“Every Simpsons Ever” was great, so when are we going to see more TV mega-marathons?

Last year, spin-off cable network FXX celebrated its change in stature from a channel that no one knew existed or acknowledged to “That channel that plays The Simpsons and I assume sometimes other stuff” with a weeks-long marathon of every episode of The Simpsons running nonstop in chronological order. The result was a ratings behemoth and a cultural mini-phenomenon, particularly on social-media – a rare moment when millions of media consumers found themselves fleetingly united by shared memories of the pop-zeitgeist. This put to lie the idea (long assumed since the ascension of DVDs and streaming) that easy on-demand access to “bulk orders” of re-runs had spoiled audiences’ appetite for binging via broadcast.

Now, VH1 (wow – speaking of things you likely forgot existed, amirite??) is looking to score a similar “moment” with a reverse-chronological, nearly-complete marathon run of Saturday Night Live. Will it be a phenom to match Every Simpsons Ever? Nobody can say – Except me. I can. I can say. It won’t be – but while we wait to find out here are a few other series that could benefit* from the marathon treatment.

Sure, there’s been plenty of block-booking for Trek over the years, but never a complete start-to-finish broadcast of the entire franchise from The Original Series to Enterprise. There’d probably be some logistical kinks to work out – you don’t want the Animated Series, which effectively comprises a fourth season of TOS, to be slated into overnights where it can be overlooked again, or for Next Generation to overstay its welcome in prime hours where everyone can realize how underwhelming so much of it actually is. Whatever is going on with the reboot movies, Trek‘s home has always been on TV – and it’s high time to reestablish its place in broadcast history.

The Flintstones was TV’s first animated sitcom, and as I’ve mentioned before watching its evolution as it transitioned from a mostly adult-targeted series to an unending succession of children’s animated anthologies and specials is a single-show history of American television animation. Efforts at relaunching the First Family of cartoon sitcoms for the new millennium have stalled over the years, so maybe an eye-catching extended revisiting of the franchise could refocus peoples’ interest.

This feels like a no-brainer: Doctor Who has been running for so long and so much of its modern existence is infused with that sense of legacy and history that running as much of it has survived over the years (yeah, it’s that old) start-to-finish would probably be a ratings bonanza for whenever BBC America doesn’t have anything but reruns to show anyway (so, most of the time then). In all seriousness, Whovians are one of the most enthusiastically-generational of fandoms, with whole families of adherents a common sight on the convention circuit. An every-episode (televised) marathon in which older fans could share the chronological classics with the younger would be a major event.

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Yes, fine, the not-too-coherent Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration likely killed any revivalist interest in this series for a long while. But even still, the fact that a gothic soap opera featuring vampires and all manner of ghoulish goings-on was so damn popular for a hot minute in the U.S. is noteworthy part of Boomer TV legacy. The best way to appreciate how oddly this series transformed as its story developed across episodes (eventually incorporating time-travel and ghosts, among other plot twists) is to see it happen step by step.

Let’s dispense with the formalities here: Yes, M*A*S*H the beloved television series is a rather different being than M*A*S*H the critically lauded Robert Altman movie comedy – to the point that they end up as almost diametrically-opposed entities despite sharing an origin, premise and some of the same cast. Yes, it’s amusing to note that a series about the Korean War actually lasted longer than the Korean War itself did. Yes, that “Korea” is being utilized as an obvious metaphorical stand-in for Vietnam is thuddingly obvious in both versions. Finally, yes, the series’ carefully-maintained balance between comedy and sanctimony suffered awkwardly when star Alan Alda gained creative control in later seasons.

But y’know what? It’s still one of the greatest things ever broadcast on network television, and a miracle series that endured cast-changes, tonal shifts and demographic realignments with an aplomb that any showrunner today would envy. At one point in TV history, the final episode of M*A*S*H was the most-watched event not involving a moon-landing ever – maybe it’s about time we were reminded of why.

Honestly, though, the show that needs marathoning the most is the one that kicked off the would-be craze: “Every Simpsons Ever” wasn’t simply a well received stunt for fans of the series, it was an event that swept a huge area of popular-culture. It’s the sort of thing that, frankly, ought to become a yearly tradition. I can easily imagine FXX bringing the ‘thon back as a yearly event, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade or the Super Bowl, with a new season’s worth of episodes added every year. I know I’d watch it.

*Note:* List does not include Anime because the frothing message-board rage of self-professed Otaku demanding to know why [insert-450-episode-series-about-promiscuous-schoolgirl-mecha-pilots-of-your-choice-here] was “somehow overlooked” is marathon-entertainment of a kind in and of itself.


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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.