Saturday, September 27, 2014

How to stop a binge-watching addiction

Binge-watching television shows—viewing episodes back-to-back for hours on end—may be America's new favorite pastime, but it's brought me to some pretty dark places. ...

Ultimately, I discovered that freedom from TV might be hidden in the structure of the episodes themselves.

One trick: Don't watch an episode to the end, because at that point, it's almost impossible to resist continuing to the next one. Instead, stop about three-quarters of the way in. The next time you watch, pick up from that point until most of the way into the following episode.

I know this sounds illogical. After all, how can it be easier to stop mid-show than at the end? But there's usually a lull in the narrative arc, when story lines get wrapped up and the pacing slows down. The show actually gets pretty boring.

"People unconsciously write this way," said Charlie Rubin, area head of television writing at the Tisch School of the Arts and a former writer for "Seinfeld" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." "It's inhale and exhale. There's always a dramatic moment, and then you pull back from it."

What's more, each episode weaves together multiple story lines, Mr. Rubin explained. The "A" story—the one involving the star—is what keeps you watching episode after episode (even the ones that don't end with obvious cliffhangers). The "B" and "C" stories involve the supporting characters.

"The usual rule of the universe is that you end your stories in order of their importance," with the minor ones wrapping first, Mr. Rubin said. "The order of finish is C-B-A."

Recovering binge-watchers can use this knowledge to their advantage. Although each show has its own template, you should try to quit at the end of the B or C story, said Mr. Rubin. "Once you cycle back to that A story, you want to see what's going to happen to Tina Fey or Tony Soprano. "

Colleagues who helped me test the theory (using "Scandal" and "Dr. Who") found that the sweet spot varies by series—but you can intuit it after watching a few episodes. In a roughly 45-minute episode (without commercials), it'll usually fall somewhere around 30 minutes in. ...

An essential one: disabling auto-play, a feature found on services like Netflix and Hulu that automatically starts the next episode in a series when the one you're watching ends. ...

You can also strike the problem at the source: your Wi-Fi router. Many models allow you to shut down access to the Internet on a set schedule; Netgear routers can target specific websites at certain times...
--Michael Hsu, WSJ, on curing by avoiding the cliff-hangers