Why We're Nostalgic For The Days When TV Was Hard To Watch

Before the days of on demand, endless streaming platforms, and easily accessible free streaming websites of dubious legality, tuning in for new episodes of our favorite shows used to involve strict scheduling, dedication, and tactically precise bathroom breaks. While we wouldn't trade the current ease of access and convenience for the days of old, there are a few reasons why we can't help feeling a little nostalgic for the days when TV was harder to watch.

The Adrenaline Rush

A few years ago, my Gen Z daughter was shocked to learn that there was once a time when you couldn't pause or rewind live television. "What did you do if you had to pee?" she asked, horrified to learn that we once had to rush to empty our bladders during brief commercial breaks, lest we miss out on precious moments of a new episode that wouldn't be airing again for another week — if we were lucky. If you missed out, you just had to wait, and that was part of the thrill!

Similarly, grabbing a snack wasn't as easy as hitting "pause" and taking time to decide whether you're in the mood for chips or ice cream; it was an Olympic event that involved running to the kitchen, grabbing something to munch on, and racing back to the living room, breathlessly asking your siblings "what did I miss?!" while vaulting over the couch and trying to keep your eyes fixed on the TV. Nowadays, we can watch new and old shows at our leisure, so I guess us media-loving adrenaline junkies will just have to get our fix some other way — like trying to gauge which scenes in the upcoming three-hour long Batman movie will be worth sacrificing for popcorn and potty breaks.

The Simplicity of It All

The absence of cable alternatives meant we had a few channels with a few shows to choose from. While we'd never complain about the plethora of options available these days, sometimes the massive volume of all the shows and movies we can watch at any time can be overwhelming.

Before, we would have a dedicated handful of shows to stick with, and we loved them dearly. We didn't have as much control over our entertainment, so it was easier to make decisions, or to let TV networks make decisions for us. Now, there's so much to choose from that it can be hard to even make a choice at all. If you only have a few hours of free time to watch something new on Netflix or Hulu, you could easily spend half of that time just browsing the options. Not too long ago, I found that I spent so long browsing through on-demand horror movie offerings that I fell asleep before I could make a choice, and woke up to a screen filled with everything that could have been if only I hadn't been so overwhelmed.

More Appreciation for the Classics

While I watched plenty of cartoons and children's entertainment throughout my childhood, I also watched a lot of shows from bygone eras. "I Love Lucy" and "Sanford and Son" held my attention just as much as "Spongebob" and "Rocket Power" because channels like Nickelodeon would switch to airing syndicated reruns of shows that my parents (and grandparents) watched before they eventually became 100% children's networks. It made me more knowledgeable of pop culture overall because I was exposed to older media in a way that current generations just aren't. This fostered a deeper appreciation for the way television has changed over the years, and the way the writers and actors of the past influenced the shows we watch today. Now, it feels like a lot of references are becoming lost to time because there's so much to choose from, there's no incentive to revisit the shows that make up television history.

Ultimately, despite the occasional feelings of nostalgia for the before times of television, there's a lot to love about the direction TV viewing has gone. For one thing, it's probably for the best that our biological urges are no longer beholden to commercial breaks. There's also the fact that because we have so much to choose from when it comes to TV shows, there's literally something for everyone. Yes, the options can be overwhelming, but the ability to find exactly what we want — and when we want it — is worth the extra browsing time. It's also nice to know we no longer have to settle for being left out or behind if our schedules don't allow us to immediately catch the latest episode of whatever hot new show is dominating conversation. The current state of TV accessibility isn't just good for audiences either; there's a whole new world of opportunity for previously overlooked creators to have their shows greenlit because streaming platforms are more willing and able to take risks and bet on niche, experimental, and diverse content than traditional television networks — which is forcing those networks to step their game up as well.