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Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone" was one of the earliest examples of a holiday television marathon, with 8-hour blocks on New Years Day and the 4th of July.- Original Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone" was one of the earliest examples of a holiday television marathon, with 8-hour blocks on New Years Day and the 4th of July.- Original Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS (Anonymous, HANDOUT)

For millions of families, one of the major components of the post-Thanksgiving dinner family rest is zoning out in front of the TV for hours on end.

In recent years, the concept of binge-watching has taken off among pop-culture fanatics, with the phrase appearing everywhere to refer to the habit of watching multiple episodes of a series at a time.

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Though the phrase binge-watching has recently hit its cultural peak with the popularization of DVD season sets, DVR time-shifting abilities as well as streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu, the concept of watching huge chunks of television at a time goes back for decades.

One of the earliest proponents of the television marathon began in '80s and early '90s when the station Nick At Nite carved out a hugely successful niche of late-night reruns of classic television series. In the early days of cable television, the amount of airspace available nearly exceeded the available programming, leading stations to experiment with ways to fill up huge blocks of airspace. Nick at Nite created its own unique identity for the nighttime block of programming on the daytime children's channel Nickelodeon. By appealing to both nostalgic baby boomers and sarcastic Gen. X-ers, the channel brought new attention to old favorites like "The Donna Reed Show" and "Leave It To Beaver."

Since their bread-and-butter was already in rerunning libraries of old TV, Nick At Nite had an advantage over its cable competitors, a huge swath of cheap programming to burn. These factors led to the development of the first TV marathons, with "The Donna-thon: Seven Days to Tidy the World" airing the run of "The Donna Reed Show" over an entire week, "Maximum Smart: The Complete Get Smart" and a Halloween marathon of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."

Soon, other networks began to pick up the marathon concept, with Comedy Central's annual Thanksgiving marathon of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" kicking off in '91, and the Sci-Fi Channel holding "Twilight Zone" marathons every New Year's Eve and Day.

Last year, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" brought back its Turkey Day marathons in the manner of the 21st century with an online exclusive marathon, streaming six of co-creator Joel Robinson's favorite episodes throughout the entire day.

Binge-watching has evolved in recent years. Netflix made its first big changes to the way television is consumed with its original series "House of Cards," which saw its entire first season released in a single day, allowing viewers to binge until they were full of Kevin Spacey and political intrigue. The concept took on an even bigger twist with Netflix's second original series, the fourth season of Arrested Development, which used the binge-watching concept as an artistic and structural tool, with all 15 released episodes taking place during the same period of time, but with episodes structured around theme and plot reveals.

According to Experian Marketing Services Cross-Device Video Analysis, as of October 2013, 67 percent of people in the U.S. under the age of 35 watched streaming or downloaded video during the week, while 48 percent of all U.S. adults watched streaming video. Further separating new generations from standard broadcast television is the 12.4 percent of households inhabited by an adult younger than 35 who considers himself or herself a cord-cutter, replacing over-the-air or cable television solely with streaming video. In 2010, 5.1 million homes were considered cord-cutters, with that number jumping to 7.6 million by 2013.

Despite the changing demographics of viewers, traditional television viewing is still holding strong. This year, the television marathon had one of its greatest successes with a "The Simpsons" marathon on FXX. The marathon featured every episode of the 25-season show unbroken over the span of 12 days, breaking the record for longest-running television marathon. The series brought FXX its highest ratings ever. Bridging the two eras of marathon viewing, after the conclusion of the on-air marathon, FXX introduced the Simpsons World app, where subscribers can access every "Simpsons" episode ever for streaming at their leisure.

This Thanksgiving, TV stations will be hosting marathons for a variety of shows of every genre and intended audience, from "Adventure Time" to "Modern Family" and from "Cops" to "Millionaire Matchmaker." In addition to TV shows, stations will also host marathons of films with three or more entries from "Jurassic Park" to "The Matrix," James Bond and Indiana Jones.

In addition to marathons, TV stations also try and schedule their biggest pieces of appointment viewing for the holidays, when families gather around the TV in their turkey-induced slumber.

Carroll Arts Council director Sandy Oxx said though streaming services are encroaching on the classic idea of the water cooler moment, these shared cultural experiences still exist today.

"I still live and die with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I think the Super Bowl is a great example of something we still collectively watch. Even now we all still watch 'Breaking Bad' or the end of 'The Voice' and text and call each other. Things have shifted, but they still stay the same."

NBC is currently working to bring back the era of appointment television with programs that can only be experienced live, using social media interaction as a way to bring attention to the initial broadcast and away from time-shifting viewers. The live performance of "The Sound of Music" drew 21 million viewers, a number not seen since 2004, according to Nielson rating figures. Of the 21 million, there was a large margin of viewers live-snarking the proceedings on Twitter. NBC is hoping to recapture this magic in a couple of weeks with a live performance of "Peter Pan," with the Internet-friendly Christopher Walken as Captain Hook.

Oxx said one of her fondest memories of appointment Thanksgiving television was of the yearly screening of the classic film "The Wizard of Oz," which will be shown at the Carroll Arts Center this Saturday.

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"I think when you're young, your sense of time is very different than when you're an adult," Oxx said. "Back then, you had to wait a whole year to see it. There was no way to take it home. Something huge like the 'Wizard of Oz,' I waited the whole year to see it again even though it terrified me. I still remember as a 20-something living in New York, when these things called 'videos' came out. That was like a spaceship writing on the moon to me. We have so taken it for granted with Netflix and Hulu and streaming and onDemand. You can see anything at any time now."

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or jacob.denobel@carrollcountytimes.com.

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