Supercharge Your Summer Television Lineup

It used to be that once the spring TV season ended, I’d pretty much shut off my TV and take a break for the next three months. Occasionally, I might check out a rerun, but by and large, the time between the end of basketball season and the start of football was always a TV wasteland for me.

Of course that was before TiVo. Once I got a taste of time shifting, I realized that my television season never had to end. Over the years, I’ve missed a lot of good TV, but between the TV syndication agreements and TiVo’s ability to automatically record every episode, the summer has turned out to be a perfect time to catch up on shows that I’ve missed. Whether it’s been going back and watching every single Twilight Zone or catching the X-Files a decade after it aired, TiVo’s season pass functionality has supercharged my reruns in a way, that was never possible before.

Some shows are better suited for summer TiVoing, but when it comes to episodic content, there is a downside to TiVo reruns. The shows aren’t always in the order that they originally aired and it’s almost always impossible to catch the first episodes. This isn’t a big deal for sitcoms and some reality shows, but when it comes to episodic content, it leaves you confused over the storyline and can spoil earlier episodes, you haven’t seen yet.

That is where my Netflix account kicks in. If I know that I really want to see a series that tells a story, I’ll use Netflix to make sure that I get to see it in order. If I’m not sure if a show will be interesting or not, I’ll record a couple of episodes on TiVo and test drive it before committing to watching the entire series. This has improved my overall television experience because there is always at least some fresh content that I can watch.

Over the last few years, the studios have also started releasing more and more new series each summer. It’s a chance for them to try out more experimental shows or concepts. A lot of these new shows are things that I probably wouldn’t check out during the normal TV season, but with a little extra downtime, I’m willing to experiment with new programs, even if there is a good chance they won’t be back again next summer.

So far there have only been a couple of the summer premiers, that have become favorites, but if I can find two or three decent shows to start following, it would be enough to keep me busy. Here are some of the new shows, that I plan on checking out over the next couple of months.

The Loop – This show was one of the bright spots from last summer’s TV schedule, even if it didn’t get any hype. I saw a couple of episodes last year and think that the show is comic genius. Way better than Stacked, even if it doesn’t have Pamela Anderson in it. I’m not sure if it will survive, but I plan on enjoying it, for as long as it lasts.

Pirate Masters – I almost missed the series premier, but luckily I saw a blog post in time to record it. I’ve been avoiding the early reviews because of spoilers, but I pretty much love anything that Mark Burnett is connected to. I don’t think it will be as good as Survivor, but I do need a good replacement for Trump.

The Last Comic Standing – This isn’t a new series, but they are starting a new season. I started watching early on last year and immediately got hooked. The reality TV parts can be a little lame, but combining American Idol with comedians is a successful equation. I’m still surprised that Comedy Central hasn’t started their own show yet.

The Closer – TNT starts airing the second season of The Closer in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to the new shows. I’m still not 100% caught up in the series yet, but I like what I’ve seen and think that this will be one that I look forward to each week. It has some rough edges at times, but is still worth watching.

The Dead Zone – This is on my sometimes list. I like recording the Dead Zone because this is a show that you can watch out of order. It’s not good enough for me to want to see every episode, but I like having a few episodes here and there, in case I’m in the mood for a creepy supernatural thriller.

Standoff – This is a returning show from Fox. Right now it’s on life support, but the premise looks interesting. Normally, this is the sort of show that I’d try to go back and catch on Netflix, if it caught on, but since the show’s ratings are on the bubble, Fox has made the first season available for streaming online. My plan is to start recording season 2, while I’m getting caught up on the first 10 episodes from last season.

The 4400 – I really want to TiVo the new season of 4400, but have heard so many good things about this show, that I’ve promoted it to my Netflix queue. With the new season coming out, I may still get a season pass, but I want to watch it from the beginning, so that I know what is going on.

American Inventor – I’m not a big fan of American Idol, but have always had a lot of respect for the entrepreneurial spirit. I missed the show last year, but am anxious to check it out for the first time this summer. I may cancel my season pass early on, but I want to at least see how good their ideas are.

Painkiller Jane – I’ve always been a sucker for female spy type shows, so I was especially interested when I saw that the Sci-Fi channel was coming out with an addition to the genre. The show’s premise is basically La Femme Nikita meets Claire from Heroes. I watched the pilot and I wanted to like it, but the acting and writing was too b-level for me to enjoy it. I’m going to stick in there for a few more episodes, but so far I’m skeptical.

America’s Got Talent – This show looks like a train wreck, but I still can’t look away. Between it’s Gong show roots and David Hasselhoff as one of the hosts, this is either going to be absolutely terrible or a runaway sleeper hit. Either way, I probably won’t be able to stop watching, no matter how bad it gets.

Burn Notice – Last year, Heroes was the show that I anticipated the most, but this year it’s Burn Notice. The series has been described as a cross between the A-Team and Alias and will star Bruce Campbell, who happens to be one of my favorite actors. If you did not see him in Jack of All Trades or the Evil Dead movies, you should check them out. Everything he does has a very unique style. He is the best b-movie actor in Hollywood.

I’m usually willing to give most shows at least one chance. To help make sure that I record new shows, I rely on two tools to keep me up to date. First, I’ve set up a Wishlist for the word “pilotâ€? and have restricted it to 2007. I get a lot of false positives, when airline pilots are mentioned in the description, but it catches a lot of shows that I never would have known about.

If TiVo were to manually strip out the false positives and create a Guru Guide feed, only for brand new shows, I think that they could solve this Wishlist bug. In theory I like the concept of the Guru Guide, but in actuality, I haven’t found a lot of new shows, from the suggestions. If there was a feed for only new shows, people would subscribe to it. Rather than just focusing on celebrities and partners, TiVo should build Guru Guides that hold more mainstream appeal. Right now you can set up a Wishlist for comedy movies, but if TiVo’s Guru Guide could show me the top ten Comedies, based on what the TiVo’s audience has rated them, it would be a much more powerful option and a more mainstream alternative than some of the more advanced Wishlist features.

The second way that I find new shows is to read a lot of television blogs and keep my eyes peeled for new things coming out. When I find something that looks interesting, I immediately log into TiVo’s website and schedule it with a few mouse clicks. This is good for event shows and out of the ordinary things, that I might not normally catch. One downside to relying on TiVo’s website, is that you can only schedule shows, if it has guide data already associated with it. Because shows like Burn Notice don’t start for a few more weeks, I have to remember to check back or I could possibly miss the show.

One way that TiVo could get past this obstacle would be to let me set Wishlists directly from the website or maybe some kind of a reminder system where they could send me an email to remind me to go back and schedule it. They could also expand their data on the website, so that users could see tentative guide data later in the month and get notified only if there is a conflict.

Neither tool is perfect, but both do a pretty good job of making sure that new content shows up on my radar. There is more good TV out there, than I have time to watch, but there something special about getting in at the beginning of a series. Between the new summer series and having access to “re-runsâ€? that I’ve never seen, there is still plenty of new content out there, even if the smash hits won’t be airing again, until the fall.

Davis Freeberg is a technology enthusiast living in the Bay Area. He enjoys writing about movies, music, and the impact that digital technology is having on traditional media. You can read more of his musings at Davis is a TiVo and Netflix stockholder.

12 thoughts on “Supercharge Your Summer Television Lineup”

  1. Davis: I didn’t see “Rescue Me” listed in your article. If you haven’t watched it yet I highly recommend bumping it to the top of your Netflix account as the new season starts next week. FX has done an incredible job over the past few years creating new series. “Rescue Me” is starting its fourth season and has become my favorite summer show. It’s not as serialized as “Lost” or “Heroes” but should be watched in order, I believe.

  2. a new season of entourage starts june 17th. hell’s kitchen started last week too, but its not as good as the first season

  3. I’ll be Netflixing Season 3 of Entourage and Season 1 of 4400 this month. I have one more disc of The Office (Season 2). We also have Sleeper Cell (Season 2) and The Wire (Season 3) on the way.

  4. I will check out Rescue Me, but will probably Netflix it, instead of jumping in at the start of the fourth season. I’ve never actually seen Entourage, but people really like it. With so much TV, I use DVDs for the HBO stuff, so I don’t have as much flexibility as I could, if I was willing to spend more each month on content.

    Dave, you should catch the end of The Office using Netflix’s Watch Now feature. They just added the shows this weekend, but I bet that they’ll sell out. I’ve already seen all of the episodes and the UK version, but think it’s so funny I could go back and watch the reruns.

  5. WatchNow doesn’t really lend itself to viewing on the bedroom TV with Melissa. I’ve waited this long to watch the US version because when it first came out I kept comparing it to the UK version – Season 1 of which I loved. I watched some of the first season of Rescue Me – it was OK.

  6. Two episodes in Traveler (Wed 10est on ABC) looks interesting and I’ll give a second thumbs up for Hell’s Kitchen(Mon 9est on Fox). I’ll be checking out Burn Notice based on your recommendation when it starts. I like the structure/rules of Pirate Master but the lame Arrrrr pirate shtick will get old real quick.

  7. I’ll add my vote to Rescue Me. It’s a great. And I love your idea about a pilot Guru Guide. Are you listening TiVo?

    I’m going to add Burn Notice. I love Bruce Campbell.

  8. I am excited about new episodes of Standoff! I got hooked on this in the fall and have been waiting to see new eps. I’d recommend this to anyone who’s tired of summer reality shows and reruns.

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