I Think It’s Time We Talked About Ending Your Therapy

February 27, 2008

Note: This post also appears on TheFuriousRomantic.com.

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There are a lot of good things about HBO’s new series In Treatment. I won’t be sharing my thoughts on any of them, however, because HBO has pissed me off.

Having watched the very first episode of In Treatment while visiting family (I cannot afford cable at home, a result of “the artist’s life”), and having enjoyed it enough to want to watch more of the show, I did some research when I got home and was surprised to find that HBO was offering the show online, for free, via an iTunes podcast. This seemed too good to be true, but I tried downloading the episodes from the podcast, and it worked, so I shrugged and decided to just not worry about it. This was a pleasant feeling, and I privately congratulated HBO on the marketing move. I was still convinced that something fishy was going on, but my naive prediction was that I would be allowed to watch the first season of the show online, in this manner, before then being cut off.

This prospect did not bother me. I understand that even when your total production budget has been dramatically reduced – due to the fact that you shoot 90% of your show in one room, and that the majority of your cinematography consists of filming two actors sitting across from one another, at only a few different camera angles and under the same lighting arrangement – that these things cost money.

So on my merry way to therapy I went, for approximately three weeks. Due to the different sort of format they use for the show (each week features five different original episodes, but I am not going to go into any more detail, because I’m pissed off) I was able to watch fifteen half hour episodes, online, for free. That’s seven and a half hours of free premium entertainment. More than just a taste, this represents several separate meals. They might have been good meals, too. Actually, I can’t remember. I’m pissed off.

The fifteenth episode of In Treatment is a particularly good one. Again, that’s about all I’ll say, because HBO has pissed me off. I shouldn’t have been surprised, when I went to download episode sixteen and didn’t see it pop-up in the podcast subscription menu, but I was.

I clicked around in the iTunes store for a little while. I noticed that a reviewer from the store had left a “wake up call” for future downloaders relaying this information, that: “only the first fifteen episodes are available online.”

My first reaction was to say, “that figures.” My second reaction was…”wait a minute…only the first…fifteen!”

Poke around the pages for In Treatment on the HBO site, and you won’t see any information on this fact in any place that the eye can easily see. I’m not saying it isn’t there, because there’s a chance that it is written somewhere, in some place that only clever corporate dickheads can find, but it definitely isn’t in a place that’s easy for the consumer to see. On second thought, it probably isn’t there at all. I don’t know. I may have been too pissed off to give it a proper look. Not the point.

The point is that offering fifteen full episodes of a good show online for free, and then cutting the cord just as things are getting interesting (not that they were! I’m pissed off!) is straight-up steaming bloody bullshit. Had it been five free episodes (the first full week of the show) I would have understood. But three weeks? Seven and a half hours?!

There’s a saying that often pops up within certain examples of popular culture entertainment that usually consists of some variation on these words:

“Jesus, man, get me a little excited first before you fuck me.”

Like anyone else, provided that any one variation on this line is funny enough, I’ll reward it with a smirk – or even laugh. But now I know how it really feels. Now I have been all hornied-up, poked just a little, and then abandoned.

Fifteen episodes?! Seven and a half hours of build-up, and now my only option is to pay up or get out?!

It’s a dirty, shameful marketing trick, HBO, and, to be honest, I expected more from you. And just so you know, HBO, I’m fully aware that the freebies could have been just as much of a market test as a marketing ploy. But it doesn’t excuse your behavior – it doesn’t excuse the nature of how you did it, and your decision to provide a minimal amount of easy-to-miss disclosure about what you were doing in the first place.

Force some pre-roll online advertisements, of the same sort that they run before the streaming online episodes offered by the major networks, on me before you give me the freebies. Give me the option of paying two bucks to Apple for downloads of each additional episode past the first five or so, but don’t ever play with me like this, and exploit my interest in your quality entertainment, ever again.

Because you know what? In addition to pissing people off, it also lowers you. I’d expect this from ABC, or NBC, or CBS. I’d expect this sort of behavior from a big bad television station. But you’re not TV…or are you?

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