Overheard at the water cooler

Friday, 4 May 2012

There are phrases whose origins fade in the rush of time, and “water cooler moment” is one of those. Apparently first cited c. 1999, it meant a prime-time TV moment that co-workers discussed the next day at the office (presumably with small pointed paper cups in hand).

Flipping forward, Twitter has been increasingly invoked as creating such “must-see” moments for a newer world — in real time, no waiting. This week, on NPR’s flagship show, “All Things Considered,” (@npratc) interviewed former NBC President Warren Littlefield, who reigned during the network’s “Must-See TV” heyday. His new book details that era, and he bemoans the loss of those “water cooler moments” in our multi-channel multiverse where we’re madly and asynchronously watching stuff constantly.

Host Audie Cornish (@nprAudie) felt bemoaning was not in order:

“When I’m watching the Oscars, and everyone is on Twitter…I do feel like I’m having a communal experience with the show — in some cases enjoying it more, because you’re having the water cooler conversation at that moment.”

“Absolutely. I agree with that”, said Mr. L., known on Twitter as @TopOfTheRock_WL.

We’re glad he concurs that Twitter has elevated the water cooler experience into the very fabric of shows. Others are noting this too. Today’s USA Today story quotes Greg Kahn, EVP of Optimedia: “The water cooler used to be the next day, now it’s while the show is going on.”

And as Philadelphia Inquirer TV critic Ellen Gray (@elgray) notes, Twitter isn’t just for viewers, either: TV showrunners and writers are on Twitter to gauge viewer feedback and try out new material.

This new wave of “Twitter TV” has given us a real driveway moment, as NPR might say — one that’s neatly summed up by Daniel Block (@spacemonkey95):

“So Twitter is the new water-cooler. … Twitter enables a truly communal viewing experience. Like never before it is possible to share a televisual experience with other viewers across the nation. I know of some people who sometimes choose to watch a programme broadcast live, rather than on a catch-up service later, because they want to “join in” on Twitter.”

- Chloe Sladden, VP, Media (@ChloeS)