Technology is changing spoiler avoidance

Even though we don't talk at the water cooler, we have what you'd call water cooler talks. Funny stories from work, funny stories from home, and really funny stories that were written by someone else.

In the days of "Seinfeld," the staple of a show's success was the water cooler talk it generated the next day.

Back then, there wasn't Hulu or full episodes available at NBC.com, and you weren't seeing that episode again until rerun season. The people who wanted to watch it had watched it, or would settle for your second-hand account if they missed it. So you weren't spoiling anything for anybody.

Now we have DVRs and Hulu, so we make television fit around our schedule. And we grew the notion of the spoiler; basically, the notion that says, "I've set up a time to watch the show, and it's later, so don't tell me ANYTHING."

The pressure is generally on the potential spoilee:

z A friend of mine who was a Cowboys fan had to work during a playoff game. He managed to not hear about it the entire day, and inadvertently saw a field goal setup before he turned the channel. As he watched the game, he wondered why they would show a chip shot field goal on SportsCenter unless it was a gamewinner or a big flub … like, say, Tony Romo fumbling the snap.

z I couldn't watch a full episode of "24," and opted to watch it the next day online. A Twitter friend divulged a key plot point. He apologized for spoiling it, but I told him that I shouldn't have been online during the airing.

z I haven't watched the latest season of "How I Met Your Mother" or "The Office," preferring to wait until DVD.

Technology is changing the spoiler again. Netflix has released three original series — well, two originals and a fourth season of "Arrested Development" — and made the entire season available at once.

It's easy to make a spoiler rule that says you can't discuss an episode publicly until the next one airs. But how do you create a spoiler rule for an entire season released at the same time? Is it OK to discuss it a week later? Two? A month?

"Arrested Development" makes the rules much more important. The episodes are based on individual characters, while the season is a story that tightly winds the stories together. A line that seems like a throwaway in the third episode pays off five episodes later.

That's key at our office, where two of us immediately watched the full season, another's only two episodes in and another has not had the time to start the season.

The legwork has moved from the spoilee to the spoiler, and perhaps it may never leave.

Well, there is one personal rule. Feel free to spoil the "Twilight" movies. I'm not planning on watching them later.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Clovis Media Inc. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by email: kwilson@cnjonline.com

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