What rewatching old shows teaches us about ourselves


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In the early 2000s, just a few years before Netflix began offering streaming services and when time spent watching TV in America was at its peak, Cristel Russell had an observation: Amid the boom of new television series, why did so many people choose to rewatch shows they’d already seen? Russell, a professor of marketing at the Graziadio Business School at Pepperdine University, realized the phenomenon applied not only to television, but books, movies, and travel experiences, too. “I thought this question had already been studied,” she says. “And it turned out it had not.”

Russell and a collaborator, the marketing researcher Sidney Levy, interviewed 23 study participants to parse their motivations for revisiting familiar media. Published in 2011, Russell and Levy’s paper helped define the concept of a rewatch — volitional reconsumption — and explained why nostalgia isn’t the primary motivation for returning to these shows.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What did you find motivated people to revisit certain media?

Going into this, I thought that it would be nostalgia because that would have seemed like the most logical reason. Participants would say [shows were] like comfort food. They would go back to something that was familiar, and they knew they liked it, but they didn’t necessarily remember the details of why they liked it. They knew that it was a funny show, but they couldn’t really remember exactly what was funny about it, or they knew that it was a movie that made them feel good at the end, but couldn’t remember the details. They enjoyed it that much more because now they were rediscovering it as if it were new because they couldn’t remember exactly.


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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sikiladi
    Mar 03, 2023 @ 11:12:47

    Interesting write up. It really makes me think about why do i like to watch old shows like “Mind your Language”, ” Charlie Chaplin” etc. I think it just takes me back to the happy age of being carefree and enjoying the silliest of funny moments.



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