We are currently living in some of the finest days of television watching. Shows like Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black and House of Cards have raised what was already a very high bar set by Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Wire.
But why is it that, even though we have access to TV masterpieces, we continue to be swept back into the open arms of comfort TV shows?
On Foxtel, you can watch Seinfeld at least six times a day on TV Hits. If that doesn’t sate your appetite, 7Mate airs the show 11 times a week as well and, according to Seven’s publicity department, its 6:30pm weeknight episode draws between 127,000 and 136,000 viewers. Not bad for a TV show that hasn’t run a new episode since 1998.
It’s not just Seinfeld that gets all the airtime. On any given day across free-to-air and pay-TV you can watch multiple episodes of Sex and the City, The Simpsons, Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier, The Big Bang Theory and Law and Order, among others.
Many are also the top rating shows in their time slots.
These are the shows that week-in, week-out draw you back every time.
It says something about our thirst for nostalgia that we can’t get enough of TV we’ve already watched, but what is it about a re-run that really keeps us returning.
It’s uncomplicated, we don’t have to think about it, it’s predictable and makes us feel good – Dr Barbara Evers
Murdoch University cultural sociologist Dr Barbara Evers says the secret to the success of these old TV shows is that they are as familiar as a friend or a favourite item of clothing.
“It’s uncomplicated, we don’t have to think about it, it’s predictable and makes us feel good,” Dr Evers says.
“It’s very comforting that it’s a ‘one way street’; it’s one-dimensional in that we only have to watch and not respond to anything.
“We also have defined idea of what the characters are like. If we would happen to see them in real life our first reaction would be to greet them as if they were a friend (and then be embarrassed to realise that we only ‘know’ them as the character they play).”
This is most certainly the case with show like The Good Wife, a new show destined to be re-run for eternity. The producers put together a dream team of former ER star Julianna Margulies and Sex and The City’s Chris Noth – how could we not watch?
Something all of these sitcoms and dramas also have in common is an internal story arc, meaning each episode has its very own plot. So you don’t have to have watched from episode one to get the gist.
In other words, the Cheers theme song could be changed up here: “Where you know everybody’s name”.
The familial element of shows like Friends and older shows like M*A*S*H, and the back-to-back repeats, means you can watch your favourite show forever. Bliss.
The free-to-air networks and Foxtel play to this nostalgic element openly.
Foxtel says its viewers will always have a place in their hearts for favourites.
“Foxtel subscribers continue to embrace classic series such as Seinfeld, Law and Order, Sex and the City, Frasier and The Simpsons. Our research shows that our viewers turn to our dedicated ‘favourite’ themed channels regularly and we believe that Australian viewers will always have a place in their heart for these much-loved worldwide hit shows,” a spokesman said.
So what’s your favourite comfort TV show? Tell us below.