“So, what do you do for a living?”
It’s a question you get on first dates, during lunch breaks, at the doctor’s office. I heard it earlier this week, while waiting in line for a drink. “I create #content” was too sarcastic of an answer, so I went with, “I write about television.” The response, especially lately, usually goes one of two ways: “Tell me a show I should be watching” (my current answer is You’re the Worst or BoJack Horseman, because I love making people laugh, then depressing the hell out of them), or, “I’ve been watching Game of Thrones, and…” It’s never “I’m watching The Big Bang Theory, and…” (I’d probably walk away), or “I’m watching House of Cards, and…” It’s almost always Game of Thrones, because Game of Thrones is the only show everyone watches.
Okay, that’s not literally true — “The Door” was “only” seen by 7.89 million people, although that’s the highest non-premiere or –finale episode in the show’s history — but it sure seems like it. Look at the way the Hodor reveal took over Twitter, and Facebook, and the whole internet. It even permeated into scary real life. I got the “What do you do for a living?” question from a bartender, who after I gave my answer, went down the “show I should be watching” route. I replied, and, completely unprompted, he asked me, “Do you watch Game of Thrones?” I do. “I don’t, not since season one. I don’t have the time. But I heard something big happened last night.” We then spent the next five minutes talking about a series he hadn’t seen in five years. (Don’t worry, there was no one waiting for a drink behind me.) There is no other show on right now that dominates small talk like Game of Thrones.
Back in the 1990s, this wasn’t the case. Friends, Seinfeld, E.R. — these were the water cooler shows, the ones that Gary from marketing and Linda from shipping and receiving, and a staggering 25 million other people, would come into the office the next day quoting. (It was even more dramatic in the 1970s. All in the Family averaged 34 million viewers in 1971-72 — there were only 207 million people living in the U.S.) Eventually, these conversations moved online, with some exceptions. Lost was a dream come true for your cubicle mate, and a nightmare for you, who had to listen to her insane theories. Breaking Bad was a critical darling that turned into a national sensation. Mad Men and The Sopranos inspired cocktail parties and raucous Italian dinners, thrown by people who misinterpreted Mad Men and The Sopranos. But all those shows are now gone, as is the idea of a “water cooler show.”