The Afterlife Of A TV Episode: It's Complicated These days, there are many ways to catch a TV show, even if it's no longer on the air. Often, the trick is finding out which service — Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. — has the episodes you want to watch. And if the show is in reruns, it can get complicated.
NPR logo

The Afterlife Of A TV Episode: It's Complicated

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Afterlife Of A TV Episode: It's Complicated

The Afterlife Of A TV Episode: It's Complicated

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Now, for those who have had their noses deep in books and not, say, in front of a plasma screen TV, you might have missed some great shows out there. The good news: There are plenty of ways to tune into a show that you missed even if it's no longer on the air. As part of MORNING EDITION's How We Watch What We Watch series, NPR's Neda Ulaby walks us through one example of the many ways you can find a show once it's completed its run.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Say you're flipping channels. You run across "House" on your local FOX affiliate.


HUGH LAURIE: (as Dr. House) 12:52 p.m., Dr. House checks in. Please write that down.

ULABY: Great show. You want to watch another one. You pay Netflix 7.99 a month to stream videos, so you check there first. But it only has House DVDs. So you go to Hulu. It's got a few episodes. If you pay for Hulu Plus, which costs the same as Netflix, you can watch the final season, the one where House goes to jail.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Doc, what you need? Got some new girlie mags.

LAURIE: (as Dr. House) I was thinking of something more Vicoden-y.

ULABY: On Amazon Prime you can buy all eight seasons of House for 1.99 a show, or on iTunes for 2.99, says Mike Proulx.

MIKE PROULX: So that's going to cost you over $500 if you want to watch all of the seasons, if you've never seen the show before.

ULABY: Proulx wrote a book about the new ways for watching TV and how baffling it sometimes is to find the shows you want.

PROULX: It is really complicated for the end consumer, because it changes constantly based upon the deals that are being made with the television networks.

ULABY: Here's what deals mean when you look for "House" on old-fashioned television: You'll see reruns on the USA Network and on a cable channel called Cloo - it's all crime and mysteries. Cloo is owned by NBC Universal, which, as it happens, also owns "House." And it sells the rights to rerun "House" to local broadcast affiliates around the country. That, says analyst James McQuivey, is partly to blame for the inconsistencies.

JAMES MCQUIVEY: Every one of these local markets is saying, well, those reruns aren't worth anything to me if they're suddenly all available on Netflix. And so the owner of the program...

ULABY: That's NBC Universal.

MCQUIVEY: ...says, huh, how do we make sure that Netflix maybe gets one season?

ULABY: While Hulu gets half a season and Amazon and iTunes get "House" on demand, but only at a certain price. And while broadcast syndication is important, cable reruns are even more important.

MCQUIVEY: The biggest single source of revenue for the video business is cable. That's the biggest single source of revenue where they can point to and say, ah, those cable companies, they're footing the bill.


LAURIE: (as Dr. House) Do you have cable TV here somewhere?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) No TV, but we've got patients.

ULABY: So when it comes to "House," NBC Universal looks at cable networks and says...

MCQUIVEY: We'll kind of do whatever they say and if that means denying Netflix their chance, we're OK with that.

ULABY: Netflix and every other form of digital distribution. Now, when you add it all up, NBC Universal makes lots of money off "House" through digital and international sales. And it is about to release the complete box set on DVD. Quaint, right? DVDs used to generate massive revenue, but that stream has basically dried up, says author and analyst Mike Proulx.

PROULX: Who wants to be dealing with the costs of packaging, waiting for delivery, having to go to a store to purchase it, exchanging cash?

ULABY: Of course some people don't pay at all - quite a lot of people when it comes to "House," says Ernesto Van Der Sar. That's the pseudonym of a Netherlands academic who tracks illegal downloads on BitTorrent. He says for the past five years, "House" has been one of the top 10 most illegally downloaded shows.

ERNESTO VAN DER SAR: From the top of my head, it's probably around a million downloads for each episode.

ULABY: Most people download episodes within a week of when the shows first air.

VAN DER SAR: It's huge numbers, and that's only BitTorrent.

ULABY: You also have direct streaming sites such as The Pirate Bay or Rapidshare. But watching videos illegally is kind of like Whack-A-Mole. You never know when a show will get posted or when it might vanish. I asked analyst James McQuivey when the studios will give us legal ways to watch "House" anywhere, anytime, on any screen.

MCQUIVEY: That's at least five years away, because the owners of "House" are going to do everything they can to prevent that.

ULABY: Still, NBC Universal might want to consider a little wisdom from House himself.


LAURIE: (as Dr. House) That's one of the great tragedies of life, that something always - it always changes.

ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.