The marathon was an Ancient Greek creation and involved running for mile after mile after mile - a feat of endurance. Upon the invention of moving pictures the "movie marathon" began during the heyday of theatrical films where all day affairs showed movie after movie after movie of the same genre or actor. The same concept moved easily to the small screen and soon independent television stations during the 60's and 70's would show monster movie after monster movie after monster movie. With the advent of cable - the Super Station and countless genre specific channels - the need for programming bred an endless amount of marathons but now old television shows fit into the mix. You could spend a weekend watching episode after episode after episode of Gilligan's Island, and they still wouldn't get off that darn island.
Then came DVD/BLU-RAY - where a whole film series or an entire season of a hit television show could be purchased and a new phenomena was born - the Box Set Marathon. Did you miss the first season of this year's Emmy-winning drama (Homeland)? No problem. Buy the box set or subscribe to an online service and watch the entire season in a day or two. This is a new viewing habit that will most likely change viewing habits more than HD screens or Tivo. But will it be for good or evil?
I must say that I have been affected by the marathon bug...sort of. For some reason I never sampled the show Fringe when it first appeared on national television five seasons ago. Last year, while visiting relatives I began watching the show with my brother-in-law who had watched it since its inception. He caught me up somewhat on the previous three seasons but Fringe is a very complicated show full of obscure scientific concepts and wandering story lines. I tried to read up on past seasons and thought I had a grasp on the show that would allow me to enjoy the episodes to come. My interest was piqued and I became a fan of the show even without having watched the first three seasons. Then the Science Channel began airing episodes from the first season with episodes also available online. I caught the pilot and a few succeeding episodes and found myself enlightened - not only having the show make more sense because of new knowledge about characters and story lines but the feeling like I finally belonged to the club. Before I was just a visitor, a mere spectator into J.J. Abrams and company's surreal world but now I was a card carrying Fringer who had the metaphorical keys to a serial kingdom.
I have yet to spend an entire day or weekend watching a single season of a show - impossible with a wife and two kids - but in the course of a week or so I have watched the entire first season of Fringe, sneaking episodes in between shuffling kids to school, doing laundry, playing with Thomas the Train set, proofing letters for my wife and writing script proposals. I see the fascination and the intoxicating affect of watching episodes of a serialized drama one after the other after the other. It actually makes the story make more sense, in a way, and seeing character arcs in motion - more like watching a feature film but one that lasts 20 hours.
In this age of MTV and Smartphone rapidity where we want everything fast and furious it's interesting that people sit on couches for hours and hours watching a screen only breaking for the bathroom or bowl of favorite junk food. All I can say is that the marathon lives on. You can scoff of those who participate or you can join the new age and try it yourself. Go ahead. Haven't you wanted to see the first season of Breaking Bad or Royal Pains? As they say - just do it. Just don't make it a habit - you still need to exercise, eat right and have a life.