Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Deja view?

"Supernatural" is one of those shows I always mean to watch more of, but due to its timeslot and the fact that more and more time passes and there are more and more episodes for me to catch up on, I suspect it's going to be one of those shows where I watch it on DVD years after it's over. For now, I've seen maybe a dozen episodes of the show across five seasons - and every time I randomly put on a repeat, as I did today with the morning TNT airing (season two's "Croatoan"), it's somehow always one I've already seen before.

I mentioned this on Twitter, and to a few friends, and all responded that this invariably happens to them with one show or another: they've only seen a small percentage of the episodes, and yet those are the only ones that ever turn up when they go looking for more.

So, three questions: 1)What show works that way for you? 2)Is there some kind of statistical theory that would explain how this happens? 3)Is/should there be a name for this specific phenomenon with TV shows?

72 comments:

Estes said...

Sorry to dodge your questions but Supernatural is awesome. It and The Office come on at the same time, so thank God for dvr.

Anonymous said...

This happens to me whenever my fiance puts on Sex and the City, it's almost always 1 of 6 episodes.

Therefore, I would call it a "Samantha" because she kind of gets around, so if one episode kind of gets around, that kind of works.

We also need to discuss the phenomenon or when there is one episode you loved of a show, but they never show that one again. The Simpsons when they go to Itchy and Scratchy Land comes to mind or Friends (though I never much cared for it) when they played the game Ross made up for the apartment. I loved both those episodes and those shows are on constantly, yet I've only seen them both a couple times.

Katie said...

Every time I turn on a Star Trek: Next generation episode, it's one of a handful of Wesley Crusher episodes (Yeah, I'm a geek, what of it).

Anthony Strand said...

Gotta be Friends. It seems like every time I ever see that show, it's the Super Bowl episode with Julia Roberts and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Danny said...

Speaking of Friends... I was never a fan of the show, but anytime I came across it, it was always a thanksgiving episode where they play football. I have probably only stopped on that show 10 or so times, with that episode being on 7 of those times.

Anonymous said...

1. Frasier is the first example that comes to mind.

2. I suspect it's a case of confirmation bias. You remember the times that you flip past and see one of those handful of episodes you know; you just don't remember the other times. There may be a few other psychological effects going on too, but I doubt there's a statistical explanation.

3. I leave that to more creative folks than I. :)

Anonymous said...

My mom has a story about how she and her brother watched the original Star Trek all the time, but whenever their father happened to see an episode it was always the same one (I think it was the one where Kirk teaches everyone how to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the end, a truly terrible episode).

As for why this happens, one possible explanation is that some episodes truly are shown more frequently in reruns than others. I don't know if that's true or not, but in the abstract it seems plausible that certain episodes would, for any number of reasons, be rerun more frequently.

Christian said...

@Katie: I'm probably one of three people worldwide who actually liked Wesley. Maybe it was because when I watched TNG for the first time I was about his age and kind of a nerd so I resonated with him.
Although I agree when I watch TNG reruns nowadays I find him kind of annoying too.
Though Wil Wheaton in person is funny, I love his memories of the future book and he seems to be a genuinely nice guy. (And he was funny on The Big Bang Theory as evil himself :))

Kate said...

Thank you for being brave enough to address this terrible issue facing TV viewers today. Okay, that's a bit much, but this absolutely happens to me.

I only watch NCIS when it's on in syndication and I'm multitasking. After how many years of that show, and I keep seeing the same handful of episodes.

Dan said...

Hmm, it doesn't happen too much with TV for me. But whenever I catch Flash Gordon on TV, it's *always* at the part where he's flying towards Ming's lair with those Hawkmen. Always. So much so that I've forgotten what happens in the movie before that point.

Anonymous said...

With respect to (3), perhaps you could name it the Caine-Hackman Theory, in honor of Jeremy Piven's best work in a feature?

J said...

This was the sort of thing that used to happen frequently before serious time-shifting kicked in. When we self-program, there's less chance for serendipity (or redundancy, in this case). So I'm sure there's a word for this somewhere in an OOP volume of Sniglets.

I was really hoping that "Croatoan" would turn out to be an adaptation of Harlan Ellison's infamous abortion horror story, but Wikipedia says it wasn't, too bad.

Anonymous said...

FOX always plays the same Seinfeld episodes. I feel like I've only seen 3 or 4 of them.

I only started watching Supernatural in the current season. Very easy to get into and not hard to follow. Much fun!

I slept on Psych & venture bros for the longest of time.

Carrie said...

Ugh, this always used to happen to me with Simpsons repeats. Every time I decided to check one out it was the monorail episode. Now, that's a great episode...but not the only episode. You know? So I gave up.

And Supernatural is definitely awesome!

Dudleys Mom said...

Maybe it's statistically related to the concept that if there are 23 people in a room together, the probability is 50% that at least 2 will share a birthday. It's not intuitive, but can be proven (however not by me any more). Plus the fact that syndicated shows repeat more popular episodes more often.

Skitch said...

Funny you should bring up Supernatural. I started to watch season 1 on DVD hoping to get caught up.

Then my DVD player broke. I still haven't seen more than a handful and, like you, will catch up with them eventually. In fact, a certain big box retailer is running a special on seasons 3 & 4 this week for less than $30 combined so I stocked up.

The one show I rarely see anymore, yet, when I do, the same two episodes are always on? Hart to Hart. Either Jonathan goes blind or someone is out to steal baseball cards.

Never fails.

Maybe we should refer to it as Temporal TV Displacement?

Christian said...

Uh, yeah, like for Carrie it always happens with the Simpsons for me too. I'm mostly a casual viewer, watch them when I've nothing better to do and seeing that there are A LOT of episodes I have maybe seen about one third of them (or even less). Still I rarely catch an episode I've not seen yet if I happen to stumble upon one.

april said...

I'm a Supernatural geek (though not as bad as the fangirls out there). I saw and own all the seasons. I actually didn't love the first season and think it got better after it became less episodic. However, I feel like the gore was lessened along the way, too.

As for the question, NCIS is like that for me. I know repeats are on all the time, but it seems like I've seen the same 5 or so episodes. It's one of the few big shows I don't watch at all. I have enjoyed the episodes I've seen though.

Pete said...

There's an episode of Family Ties where Nick thinks that French is the same thing as English because a French person told him that the French word for "croissant" is "croissant." He'll say stuff like, "Goodbye. Or as the French say, 'Goodbye.'" Almost every time I watch Family Ties, it's that episode.

Dave said...

Family Guy & South Park. Maybe it's just the early seasons in syndication, but why would that be true?

Anlyn said...

Funny enough, it happened to me during Supernatural's first season. I seem to remember that they showed a handful of episodes, then went on a break for a little while. Anytime they had a repeat, it was almost always "Dead in the Water". I hated that episode for a long time because of that. Now that some time has passed, I love it, but it was quite irritating for a while.

James Kang said...

The Larry Sanders Show. I still need to see another two dozen episodes, including the entire final season, but I can't make the time for it. I keep putting other shows ahead of it in my queue. I'm finally watching the first season of Deadwood (and I'm loving it). I have many other shows I'd rather watch ahead of Larry Sanders, but I'll finish it off eventually. Depending on the episode, it could be very, very funny.

rosengje said...

I have this problem with a lot of the TNT syndication programming (speaking of which, can we discuss how they have 5 hours of David Boreanaz programming a day? hilarious). I will occasionally watch their morning block of Angel, Charmed, and Supernatural. It finally got to the point with Angel where I went out and bought the whole series, but I have accidentally stumbled on Waiting in the Wings from Season 3 an absurd amount of times.

Robin said...

I call it the Xena phenomenon, since it used to happen with Xena: Warrior Princess when it was in syndication. Also happened quite frequently with Hercules.

Currently, I think it's CSI. It seems like I've seen the miniature killer 15 times, and I almost never watch that show.

Travis said...

could be because a lot of these premise, the premise is the same no matter the episode, so you just think you've seen it before.

I know I feel that way anytime I don't catch a new series from the beginning. When my ex insisted I start watching Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City with her, it very much felt like every episode was the same one. She was also a big fan of Supernatural, and every episode felt like a 'monster of the week' to me.

Eric said...

Happens to me, though I can't think of specific examples. We've always called it the "Law of Reruns."

christy said...

Buffy. Until it showed up on Hulu and I started watching it from the beginning, I had only seen one episode--I think it was "No Place Like Home"--and I had seen it three times.

Scott said...

The writing on Supernatural is just incredible. One of my favorite shows.

Anonymous said...

Just to echo what other people have said, after the first run on syndication syndicators have the option of running a subset of episodes, which is cheaper. Even though Golden Girls was on for seven seasons, it feels like there's only 25-50 episodes in syndication right now. I also have the problem of finding the "Chanandler Bong" episode of Friends-- I've been trying to show that episode to my husband for years!

James Kang said...

And I don't watch Supernatural, but I think it's a pretty strong show. I watch an episode or two every year, and it's clearly very well-done. Unlike most shows on television, Supernatural has a strong sense of direction. They have a real game plan. I stopped watching the show in the middle of the first season because it was too frustrating to watch the episodes where the brothers were taking care of yet another monster-of-the-week instead of concentrating on finding their missing father. But I still think Supernatural is the best case-of-the-week drama on television right now. Better than House, or Lie to Me or the Law & Order shows.

Like Joss Whedon, I would love to see what Eric Kripke could do on cable, particularly one of the elite networks like FX, HBO or AMC. If he could make a show with any of those networks, I bet it would become one of the best shows on television.

Moski1213 said...

I tried to watch Everybody Hates Chris on Nick @ Nite 'cause I missed the entire run on UPN/CW, and for about a month everything was okay. Then Nik started to rerun the same 15 or 20 episodes over and over and over and over and over. I stopped watching back in November, and anytime I randomly pop in, it's undoubtedly one of the episodes I've already seen.

Why they didn't just air it in chronological order and then re-cycle is just beyond me. I've still never seen more than 20 eps, and it's not even available on DVD to watch! Guess I'll go and dig it up online (shhhhh!)

--Ray

Jake said...

For me, Robot Chicken is that show. I grew up a huge Family Guy fan and was pumped when RC came out but after a few ho-hum episodes, I didn't make it priority watching. I've since kinda tuned out FG and American Dad (I'm just Seth MacFarlan-ed out) but every time I'm bored and catch a Robot Chicken episode on late at night, I always end up laughing. Maybe some day I'll plow through the whole series.

Sammi said...

My friend and I call it the Futurama effect. Neither of us watched the entire series, but we seem to have seen every rerun they play on Comedy Central.

Miss Elisa said...

Before purposely watching all the "Gilmore Girls" episodes in order, I think I caught "Road Trip to Harvard" (from season 2) a few times and had no idea what a star's hallow was.

Josh said...

Someone up the thread mentioned Frasier, and I would second that choice. However, it's not just that I see the same episodes of Frasier, it's that I see the same episode, singular. Every time I turn it on, I see the Leap Year episode of Frasier, where he encourages everyone to take a leap; he ends up trying to sing an aria on a PBS pledge drive instead of a Jack Benny song.

Funny episode, but...not something I need to see that often.

steph said...

that matthew perry/ salma hayek movie "fools rush in" is on EVERY TIME i check into a hotel that has hbo (so i guess that means hbo just runs it all the time). i finally got so sick of watching it in the middle that i rented it and watched the whole thing and... loved it. hahah

Zach Allen said...

I was just talking about this earlier today actually. For me it's Battlestar Galactica. I never watched it much but every time I would stop to check it out it seems like it would be the episode where the blond girl (sorry, I don't know any names because I never watch the show) gets in the boxing match. Also, How often does Lucy Lawless die on that show, because that seemed to happen every time I cought a piece of the show as well?

Anonymous said...

@Zach Allen

How often does Lucy Lawless die on that show, because that seemed to happen every time I cought a piece of the show as well?

Since you haven't seen much of the series, I'm betting you don't realize just how funny and ironic this statement is. Suffice it to say Lucy Lawless's character dies *a lot*. Like, almost once every episode she's in.

Mine is definitely Sex and the City. I've tried watching it in syndication, but I always see the same three episodes

Erin said...

I grew up in a house where The Simpsons was strictly prohibited. By the time I moved out, there was a good 15 years worth to catch up on. And yet, the first four times I watched a Simpsons episode, it was the same one...

Samuel said...

Oftentimes affiliates or cable stations airing syndicated will show certain popular episodes more often. Slate posted an "Explainer" about this a couple of weeks ago:

http://www.slate.com/id/2238830/

Billiam said...

When I was a kid who watched cartoons, the channel really would sometimes air the same episodes of a kids show over and over again (I remember this would happen with the 80s TMNT, as well as Winnie the Pooh, the 90s version of Spider-Man, and Ghostwriter). I would watch a show regularly, and say "This one was just on!"

BF said...

This used to happen to me all the time with Angel reruns on TNT. But it didn't matter, because they were seemingly always showing the Puppet episode, and the puppet episode was awesome!

Anonymous said...

Take a look at the Birthday Paradox at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthday_problem

This paradox is the surprising statistical result that in a group of 23 people, there is greater than 50% probability that two will share a birthday. We can apply the same logic to television.

If a show has 100 episodes in its syndication package, and you happen to catch 10 of them at random, there is a 37% chance of there being a repeat among them. If you see 15 random episodes, that probability rises to 67%.

Of course, if you watch regularly, then the episodes are in order and not random, so this breaks down. But if you only catch a show every so often, the odds aren't bad that you'll catch a repeat or two after not too long.

Michael 8-) said...

You mean, Murphy's Law of Reruns, Alan? (Sorry I couldn't find any better links.)

srpad said...

There are a few Adult Swim shows that people have told me are good that worked that way for me but I *know* this has happened to me more often than that but I am drawing a blank.

Andrew said...

One show I tend to see on all the time, though not on rerun is "Bones"...guess I should stop turning to Fox on Thursdays. I don't really watch since there are scenes in the show without Emily Deschanel in it.

Frasier is that show for me. Always tend to run into that funny show, but really haven't gone out of my way to watch more episodes of the series.

btw, Supernatural, definitely a guilty pleasure. That show is just really fun to watch, gotta say Alan, you're missing out.

Sam Sevr said...

The show / episode that this always happened to me was ER - "The Long Way Around" where Julianna Margulies gets caught in a convenience store robbery. I've seen maybe a dozen episodes and it feels like I saw that one half-dozen times.

As for theories, I think confirmation bias, plus more popular episodes being shown more often are the most likely.

Doug S said...

In the couple of years I've been reading this blog, Supernatural has stood out as a show that I am shocked Alan doesn't cover. It is one of the most fun shows on tv, and after a rough beginning has settled into a really great place. The whole angel thing, with the amazing Castiel, has been a revelation (sorry). Alan, might I suggest you pick this show as one you watch on dvd and review as you do it? Next summer? Knock off a couple of seasons?

BTW, I had heard a rumor that this would be Supernatural's last season - anyone have any more definitive word on that? Kripke isn't signed beyond this fifth season.

Anonymous said...

South Park is like this for me. I think I've seen probably 20 episodes, but I've seen half of them multiple times, about 10 times. Whenever I randomly have time to channel surf and watch South Park, it's ALWAYS one I've seen before.

Henry said...

Happens to me with sitcoms like Frasier (which was on again/off again for me) or The King of Queens. Farscape too, back when it was airing on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Anonymous said...

For me, whenever I catch Hawaii Five-O, it's always the episode where they have flush the guy out of the sugar cane by burning it down. I saw that, probably 6 times before I finally just sat down and taped the eps off tv and watched them on the weekends to see the whole show. Yet, even now, every damn time I stumble across Dano and McGarrett it's the same ep, usually even the same scene.

Linus said...

1. "Monk" (the one where Monk is sick I must have seen a half-dozen times) and, back when they used to rerun "Northern Exposure" on like Hallmark or something, the episode in which Joel becomes convinced his handyman is a professional golfer who had a famous meltdown in the US Open.

2. A combination of confirmation bias and luck would do it. Shows that rerun often cycle through an entire run in 5-10 weeks; if you happen to pop on "Supernatural" at those intervals, you'll see the same episodes over and over again.

3. I like "televisual apophenia", but I'm going to be the only one who does.

Todd said...

Oddly enough, this always used to happen to me with Saved by the Bell when I was a kid. We didn't get TBS at my farm, so I'd only get to see it when I visited grandparents, and it was ALWAYS the episode where Zack dates the girl in the wheelchair. Thus, many of the big cultural references of my generation are completely lost on me.

Stef said...

I'm also a huge fan of Supernatural, and I'm totally hooked on the overarching apocalypse storyline. And I just love Castiel.

For me- until I started catching regular blocks of "Criminal Minds" in syndication recently, I think I had seen the Luke Perry cult leader ep at least 4 times.

Jim Hill said...

Anonymous wrote: I also have the problem of finding the "Chanandler Bong" episode of Friends.


I'm sorry ... that's MRS. Chanandler Bong!

Anonymous said...

Law & Orders. The shows been on for years, YEARS, and I always see the same few episodes.

Tom said...

1) Grey's Anatomy. (Okay, maybe it only SEEMS like it's the same damn episode over and over.)

2) I vote for confirmation bias.

3) Nocturnal Recurrence.

Anonymous said...

@ Doug S.

Supernatural was just renewed today:

http://tinyurl.com/yzwcmb5

Diana Frost said...

I've seen every Supernatural episode and don't watch them more than once so this doesn't happen to me with Supernatural but it does with many, many, many other shows.

Matt S said...

I can explain Law and Order easy enough--TNT only runs the last several years worth of eps during the primetime weekday timeslots over and over and over again---i know cause my mom watches it every single night and every time i watch it with her i can tell you right away that i've seen it. (if it has Elizabeth Rhom or dennis farina or Fred Dalton Thompson in it then its all the more frustrating because i know i've seen a lot of these when they first aired....but i can't remember em half the time....it gets a little more hazy with benjamin bratt and Angie harmon--although even now i know for a fact i've seen that three part ep with lauren graham where they go to la to solve a murder at least 4 different times.)

i look foward to when they rerun the newer ones because i know for a fact i've seen em all because i've been watching it steadily since jeremy sisto and linus roache took over the main roles. of course if they too end up staying there for another seven or eight years who knows if i'll remember these current ones---i like to think i will but damn if i can remember them all.

(Also nbc seems to rerun the one with ned beatty as the dementia affected judge a really lot---i can't tell you how many times i've turned onto what i thought was supposed to be a new one on nbc this past year only to find that damned ned beatty one...at least i know for a fact i've seen that one! Guest Star Ned beatty--oh no i've seen this one!)

Baylink said...

I actually quite like "deja view".

rosengje said...

I love this thread. There is an episode of CSI, which I gave up watching after like the third season, where Nick is being stalked by his cable guy I think. At one point Nick is in his apartment and the guy drops down from the ceiling and it completely terrifies me. Every single time I turn on an episode on Spike it is that episode.

Anonymous said...

"Six Feet Under". Never saw it originally, but sometimes catch a rerun, but it's always the same episode with Kathy Bates and the mother's birthday.

Anonymous said...

@Todd - you're not gonna believe this but I think your Saved By The Bell was on yesterday.

Anonymous said...

You could call it "The Ned Ryerson Effect"...

Stacey said...

Bones! This happens to be me with Bones all the time. I've only ever watched the show in re-runs (TNT, I think?). But every time I find it, it's one of the handful of episodes I've seen, and I KNOW there have to be more! The show has been on for years. :)

Anonymous said...

it's funny you mention this. I almost never watch Yes Dear on TBS, but it's school vacation week so I turned it on today and lo and behold its the one episode I've seen four times where the curly haired wife remodels her fireplace.

Anonymous said...

Another vote for "deja view." Short, easy to understand, bilingual pun. What's not to love?

zzzdog said...

Bones and Criminal Minds are the two shows that immediately leap to mind with regard to the 'deja vu' phenomenon. I don't want to watch either show - I think they both have a pornographic quality to them that gives me the willies. Bones loves depictions of gore and putrefaction, and Criminal Minds revels in predatory, sadistic, psycho-sexual violence. Those thoughts and images don't sit easily in my imagination, so they are shows I avoid watching. But, once in a great while I don't get the channel changed, or I'm at someone else's house and one or the other of them will come on. If it's Criminal Minds, it's the episode with Keith Carradine and Amy Madigan, and if it's Bones, it's the episode with the guy who gets chewed up in the chicken plucking machinery. Without fail.

Sonja said...

ALF - the one with the giant cockroach. And the Seinfeld episode where they are looking for their car in the carpark...

jenmoon said...

Every time I've seen Star Trek TNG, it features a Barclay episode. I find him incredibly creepy and can't stand him, yet I've maybe seen one episode he and his holodeck fantasies wasn't in.

One night years ago I turned on Voyager...AND IT WAS A BARCLAY EPISODE! NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Anonymous said...

I do believe certain episodes are shown more often. For me, I tend to watch re-runs over a Labor Day that relate to your theory. You flip through the channels and oh look there is a marathon of Twilight Zone on SciFi channel. And inevitably it is the episode where barbi and ken are exiled by the pig people in disgust. Then I turn the channel