Hate-watching: How to find joy in TV you scorn

Associated Press Published: May 22, 2012
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NEW YORK (AP) — All this time I've been hate-watching and I never even knew it.

Turns out, "hate-watch" is a fancy term for watching shows you don't like but get perverse satisfaction from.

Hate-watching is a sport that used to fall under the broad term "guilty pleasure," but now seems retrofitted for the age of social media. It goes something like this: You watch a show you wouldn't choose to watch for any reason other than to mock it for its awfulness — say, by sharing snide Twitter exchanges with like-minded hate-watchers when the program airs. Collective delight.

Lately, hate-watching seems to have flourished at the expense of NBC's drama-focused-on-a-Broadway-musical, "Smash."

But as I think back through my years in front of the TV, I can't recall a more pleasurable experience of what I now recognize as hate-watching than the long-ago Fox prime-time soap, "Melrose Place."

Just consider the following circa-1994 gem of dialogue, as Michael confesses sheepishly to Kimberly, "I don't know how to say this, but ... um ... when I heard that you had died — y'know, grief and confusion — well, it's just ... um ... I got MARRIED!"

Classic hate-watching content! And even back in those dial-up, pre-Web days when "Melrose Place" was on the air, a howler like this line of dialogue could be savored communally, thanks to an innovative form of proto-social media: Mere hours after "Melrose Place" had aired, "The 'Melrose Place' Update" was ready and emailed to fellow fans by a twentysomething visionary in Bellevue, Wash., named Ian Ferrell.

"I think they're making something cool," Ferrell explained to me at the time, referring to the "Melrose" production team. "But I don't think they have any idea what they're doing."

That, of course, is what makes hate-watching so delicious: An awfulness, and hence an inadvertent coolness, the program doesn't know it has.

It was therefore left to Ferrell to deconstruct each episode, cataloguing its meaningful glances, its tearful "I'm sorry" confessions and all the scenes that culminated with sex — not to mention shining a light into its cavernous plot holes.

Ferrell (who today works at Microsoft) also welcomed other viewers' thoughts on the show, such as this satisfied assessment from one "Melrose" regular: "It's badly written, not very well-acted, and irresistible."

These days, it's "Smash" that's winning similar hate-love. A spirited discussion on a recent edition of Slate magazine's "Culture Gabfest" podcast explored the term "hate-watch," with "Smash" singled out as a glaring example. On Twitter, (hash)hatewatching became a trending topic.