Friday, August 03, 2012


It's hard to escape the all-encompassing reach of the London Olympics. NBC and its umpteen channels are broadcasting and streaming events all day and dominating prime time with tape-delayed coverage of the so-called big events: gymnastics, swimming and anything else U.S. athletes are good at. Which, combined with the fact that the results are available online the second they occur, inevitably leads to cries of "Spoiler Alert please!" from folks who want to watch the events without knowing the results ahead of time.

NBC's taken a lot of heat for its insistence on showing events on tape delay in prime time, while networks in pretty much every other country show them live. The reason, of course, is ratings and NBC is, of course, reaping the benefits. But there are also folks who, like me, work during the day and can't watch events live either online or on TV and have to essentially avoid the Internet, radio and TV until they get home and watch the prime time coverage to maintain any kind of suspense. That's not an easy thing to do since many of us are online all day long at work.

The call for spoiler alerts is understandable and a fairly common refrain these days, given the fact that many of us are constantly on social media and can't resist posting about what we're watching. When there's a new episode of Breaking Bad, Mad Men or The Walking Dead on and I'm not watching live (I often DVR and watch later, even if it's 20 minutes after the show starts so I can fast forward through the commercials), I steer clear of Facebook or Twitter because there's always someone posting key plot points.

It starts to get a little ridiculous when somebody writes about a key moment in a movie or show that came out years ago and gets criticized for spoiling it for someone who hasn't seen it yet. Now that you can watch entire series on DVD or Netflix in one sitting, many folks are going back and watching shows like The Wire, Lost or The Sopranos that they missed the first time around. And some of them still insist on spoiler alerts.

With current shows, the Web has ushered in the trend of TV critics (and regular shmoes) writing recaps of current shows (as well as some older ones). Just about every popular show (and some not-so-popular ones) are analyzed in great detail each week on sites like The Onion's AV Club,, and many more. The writers are usually careful to avoid revealing any big spoilers and post the requisite "SPOILER ALERT" when they do, and commenters are admonished if they're deemed to veer into spoiler territory. Things can get tense at times.

The spoiler alert culture reminds me of a co-worker (and good friend to this day) when I worked at the old Beverly Times. I would do my reporting during the day, go home for dinner and go back in the evening to write my articles. The sports guys would be in the newsroom making their calls and writing up game coverage and other stuff for their pages, and my buddy Paul at the time was the sports editor. But in the event of a Celtics game being on TV, he would go into what he called "blackout mode." Even though the game was on the set directly behind him (with the sound off), he insisted that we not talk about the game because he was taping it and would go home and watch it after work. We would comply because he was a good guy and everybody liked him; if the request was made by a jerk, we probably would have spoiled games early and often.

This was the late '80s/early '90s and there was no Facebook or Twitter to ruin things, but we had access to the Associated Press sports wire on our computers, so Paul had to be careful to avoid game stories. It seemed to work for him most of the time. Every once in a while somebody would forget and blurt out a comment that spoiled the game, but Paul never got upset.

As a diehard Leafs fan, I torture myself by purchasing the NHL Center Ice package and watching pretty much every game during the regular season. Sometimes if I'm out for the evening, I'll DVR the game and stay off Twitter (since I follow a lot of Leafs and NHL sources) and avoid looking up scores. Then I'll get home at, say, midnight and watch the game, either in its entirety or if I'm really tired, just fast-forwarding through to the goals. Sometimes my cousin or my brother will text me with comments during the game and I'll have to ask them not to reveal any scores because I'm DVRing the game. Unless the Leafs are playing the Bruins, I don't have to worry about anybody else blowing the game for me because nobody else around here gives a damn. Which is great, really.

But with the Olympics this year, I haven't been watching much and I haven't tried to avoid any spoilers. I'm more of a Winter Olympics fan and I also have little patience for the sappy, jingoistic NBC coverage of the Olympics. I'm happy when American athletes win medals, I just don't need the back stories and manufactured drama that goes along with big network coverage. So spoil away.

That said, do NOT tell me anything about Breaking Bad after 10 p.m. on a Sunday. I'll be in big-time blackout mode.

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