Why Do I Hatewatch?


By Molly Freeman

Stephen Moyer, Rutina Wesley, and Anna Paquin attending the True Blood panel at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con. Photo by Arrow of Apollo.

Urban Dictionary defines Hatewatching as “when you are watching a television program even though you tell everyone that it’s stupid and you hate it.” I’m currently hatewatching True Blood and The Newsroom, and in the past have hatewatched Girls and Smash. To be clear, hatewatching should not be confused with a guilty pleasure show. The difference is that when you watch a guilty pleasure show — such as Grey’s Anatomy, Pretty Little Liars, or The Bachelor — you actually enjoy it; whereas when hatewatching, you actually take no pleasure whatsoever from the television show.

So why do I hatewatch? Well, remember when True Blood used to be good? It used to be groundbreaking; it premiered at the height of the vampire lovefest that our culture participated in for a few years there; and it was so unlike anything many people had ever seen on TV. However, True Blood has been going downhill since season four and they just wrapped up their sixth season, but I’m still watching it.

Although I can’t speak to why other people hatewatch, I’ve found that the reason I generally hatewatch is because I want to like the show. I’m a journalist and I want to like The Newsroom; I’m a twenty-something female and I want to like Girls; I love musicals and I wanted to like Smash; I used to love True Blood and I want to still like it, but I can’t.

They’re terrible, utterly horrible, but somehow they still manage to be compelling. No matter how many of us can agree that True Blood is a bad show, it still managed to get renewed for a seventh season. Similarly, despite becoming wildly unrealistic in its second season, Girls will be returning in the spring of 2014, so apparently people still watch it.

HBO seems to have cornered the market on hatewatching between True Blood, Girls, and The Newsroom, but each of these series became the show-to-hatewatch in a different way. The first season of Girls was very well received and Lena Dunham even won an Emmy for it because it was a unique and extremely realistic look into the lives of twenty-something—white—women living in New York City. However, Dunham took all the criticism she received and went completely overboard in the second season, to the point where I know plenty of people who still watch Girls, but not many of them actually like the show anymore. Personally, I gave up during the Patrick Wilson episode (you know the one I’m talking about.)

On the other hand, The Newsroom has been on a rollercoaster with critics. The series was very highly anticipated before it premiered, but it disappointed a lot of people, myself included. I only actually watched the pilot, but then The Newsroom came back for a second season; I found myself watching it after True Blood and I got sucked in. This season is much better than the first, which fans and critics alike have noticed.

True Blood, however, has followed the path of many shows—it’s run for so many years that the novelty factor has worn off and they’ve done so many crazy stories and introduced so many supernatural characters that there isn’t much left for them to do. Unfortunately, we’ve all grown attached to Sookie, Jason, Eric, Bill, Lafayette, Sam and Tara so we can’t just abandon them without finding out what happens, no matter how awful and formulaic the show has become.

I’m sure hatewatching could somehow be tied in to human psychology in vague terms of transference, an emotional outlet, and a healthy way of expressing anger and/or hatred, but what it comes down to is that hatewatching is… kind of fun. Similar to adoring characters-you-love-to-hate, series like True Blood, Girls, and Smash are entire shows-we-love-to-hate.

However, it’s possible to relate hatewatching to a kind of addiction. It’s probably unhealthy, or at least it feels unhealthy, to continue tuning in to a show that I can comfortably admit I loathe. I don’t even watch True Blood for the sake of having something to talk about with coworkers on Monday morning, though I do occasionally vent with friends via text or on Facebook.

With so many television shows available right now—even Netflix and Amazon are creating original programming—it’s impossible for every series to be as great as Game of Thrones, Mad Men, or Breaking Bad. What we’re left with are guilty pleasure series and shows we like to hatewatch. But maybe I’d be a little happier with the state of television if I cut all the shows I hatewatch out of my regular television diet.

Unfortunately, we might end up with more and more series that we’re only able to hatewatch as a downside of Nielsen’s Twitter TV Rating,  which debuts this fall with the new television season. The new rating system will be an addition to the conventional Nielsen rating system that determines the number of viewers watching any TV program; it will measure audience based on their activity on the social media site Twitter.

But the new Twitter TV Rating won’t be able to determine whether viewers are tweeting good things about a television show, just that they’re tweeting. So if fans are complaining about how much they hate True Blood as they’re watching, the rating will just measure that a lot of people are talking about it. Before we know it, we’ll be in a thirteenth season of Bill, Eric, and Sookie’s love triangle.

Although my hatewatching might soon have dire consequences, I don’t think I’ll give it up. I still want enjoy the shows I hatewatch, I just wish the writers would make some different decisions and maybe one day they will. Or maybe True Blood will end in a zombie apocalypse, which would make all the years of watching — while either hating or loving the show — entirely worth it.

Then again, there’s always quality TV to rely on like Breaking Bad. Maybe hatewatching isn’t healthy, but at least it’s not crystal meth.