So much television, so little time.
That used to be my mantra, before TV became a thing that followed us from set to phone to tablet and back again, eventually becoming something that needed to be tracked in return, because it had expanded to nearly as many outlets as there were programs.
Now the problem isn't as much finding the time to watch something as finding the time to look for it.
That show you heard about from your sister-in-law or your friend's cousin — or me — was it on CBS or CBS All Access? Hulu or Netflix? Fox or FX? Acorn or Amazon? YouTube or Facebook? Crackle or Comet TV? And if you find it, how do you watch it?
If you heard howling earlier this month after the New York Times reported that HBO's new overlord, Warner Media chief (and AT&T veteran) John Stankey, wanted the premium cable service to broaden and increase its content to attract more subscribers who'd watch longer, that might have been me.
Stankey reportedly never invoked the name of Netflix. But when someone talks about watching one channel for "hours a day," it's hard not to think about the streaming service that's premiering original series and movies faster than I can add them to my Google calendar.
A few of these productions are wonderful. Many are not. This is also true of HBO, with the difference that I've never sensed that the people who oversee programming at HBO were trying to be everything to everyone. They may not choose wisely in every case, but they do choose, and if you're paying for HBO, you're supporting not only those wildly expensive dragons on Game of Thrones, but the very idea of curation.
We are now all our own curators, and while this is part of my job, the choices are overwhelming enough that I've lately found myself flipping from Netflix to Amazon to Hulu in my spare time, not quite able to commit to watching anything. It's as if I've become one of those people who looks over someone's shoulder at a party to see whether there's someone more interesting to talk to on the other side of the room.
And in this case, there probably is. It's a crowded room.
When Facebook last summer announced Facebook Watch, its entry in to the video-on-demand game, I probably sighed. (So many cat videos, so little time.)
But I've been intrigued by Jada Pinkett Smith's remarkably frank Red Table Talk series, and by the advance screeners for Sacred Lies, a new half-hour drama launching on Facebook Watch on Friday, July 27, whose first two episodes, and two others, were directed by executive producer Scott Winant (True Blood, My So-Called Life). Adapted by executive producer and show-runner Raelle Tucker (True Blood, Jessica Jones) from Stephanie Oakes' young-adult novel, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, it stars Elena Kampouris as Minnow, a teenager who grew up in a cult whose leader is now dead.
Minnow, sent to juvenile detention following a violent attack on an apparent stranger, is missing not just her freedom but her hands, and she isn't much interested in discussing how either of these things came about, at least until a forensic psychologist (Kevin Carroll, The Leftovers) finds a way to get her talking.
It's an interesting premise, and although I might have given it a shot for Carroll alone, Kampouris (American Odyssey) more than holds her own as the enigmatic Minnow, who won't give up her secrets easily.
Most of us aren't yet used to turning to Facebook for this kind of drama, but with an estimated 68 percent of U.S. adults using the platform, the potential audience is too big for Hollywood to ignore.
Haddonfield's Molly Nussbaum, one of the writers for Sacred Lies, has written for series on BBC America (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency) and Syfy (Incorporated), and earlier worked as a script coordinator for FX's The Americans, a job the graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts called her "second film school."
Now, as she explains to friends and family how they can watch one of the social-media platform's first scripted dramas, "I just tell them to go to the Facebook page for the show. You search 'Sacred Lies.' The show has its own page. You 'like' and 'follow' that and so when new episodes are available or any new content is available, it just tells you. It comes up on your news feed. It also comes up on a little thing called 'Watch List' where any shows you're following on the Facebook Watch platform, it sort of cues them up for you, almost like a DVR," Nussbaum said in a phone interview on Tuesday.
(Three of the first season's 10 episodes will premiere July 27, with the rest posting, one a week, at 9 p.m. Fridays.)
"It's a bit of a learning curve, but I just think people are surprised because they don't think of Facebook as like Netflix," she said. "People didn't think you could watch TV on the same place as you ordered your paper towels and your school textbooks, but now everybody goes to Amazon when they want to watch great content."
A 2007 graduate of Haddonfield Memorial High School, Nussbaum, 29, said she dreamed, growing up, of writing for the big screen. "I knew I wanted to write. I was surrounded by writers and storytellers in my family [her father, Paul, and her mother, Debra, are both former writers for the Philadelphia Inquirer, as is one of her brothers, Matthew, who until Friday was a White House reporter for Politico]. But I thought I really wanted to write movies," she said.
And then TV went from "at least at NYU … being this kind of uncool thing," to being the medium where things were happening. "All of a sudden, there was Mad Men, there was Breaking Bad, there was Friday Night Lights, there were all these shows that people were talking about," and after taking some television classes, she "completely fell in love with it," Nussbaum said.
"You get to live with a character and a story for two hours in a movie, and in a television show, if you're lucky, you have hundreds of hours to really dig deep into this world and these characters and go in so many different directions."
Television, too, has gone in many different directions, and "the playground has tripled in size," she said.
"More outlets making more content means more opportunities. … You get to do different kinds of things. It's not all just lawyer show, doctor show, cop show, family drama," Nussbaum said.
Writing for Facebook, she said, forces the writers to make tough choices, as they tell a story that on other platforms might be an hour-long show, not a half-hour one, something she initially found intimidating.
"How do we tell a great, rich story in this little time? … But I think if anything, the 30-minute challenge really made us rigorous and smart," Nussbaum said. "We were approaching it in the same way we would any other television show, just looking at it with this 30-minute constraint and saying, 'OK, how can we give people prestige television they might see somewhere else, but give it to them right on their Facebook page?' And that was really exciting."
She's maybe less excited about another opportunity Facebook offers: the chance to see what people think of her work, as they watch it.
"I'm kind of dreading it," said Nussbaum, who wrote the show's fifth episode and cowrote the finale with Tucker. "I just want to look at the texts from my mom telling me how great she thinks it is. That's the feedback that I sort of want, especially in the moment."
Yet she can see the appeal. This summer, Nussbaum has watched a few baseball games on Facebook Watch, and "it's so crazy. People are also commenting live on that and they're yelling at the umpire. … It does feel like we're all watching it together, like we're at the game together, which is cool," she said.
"There is something exciting, as a viewer, that you feel like you're at a giant watch party," she said. "But, yeah, for me personally, I think I'm going to be watching that side of the screen through my fingers."