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TV in Pieces

By RD Heldenfels Published: October 5, 2005

I managed yesterday to get through an episode of ''Gilmore Girls.'' It was the one from a week ago, but at least I can now watch the latest one.

It's sitting in my DVR, along with some other things from last night. I did see ''My Name Is Earl,'' although I watched the last few minutes about an hour after I saw the beginning, and ''The Amazing Race,'' which my wife and I watched around 10:30 because we had been doing things earlier in the evening.

I love my DVR, by the way. I used to be a compulsive archivist, taping things for future reference and viewing. (As you'll recall, I recently unearthed my tapes of the Indians' 1995 postseason games.) But the tapes, often unmarked, formed huge piles and I would end up never watching a lot of them. With the DVR, I have a list of what's recorded and when, and I don't have to go looking for a tape; the recording is already in the machine. The toughest part of the process is remembering which show is on which DVR. All right, that's the second toughest. The toughest is finding the time to watch everything.

Of course, the convenience of the DVR has a drawback. Since you can pause or stop a show you're watching, then come back to it later, there's a greater likelihood that you will watch things in pieces. I mentioned ''Earl.'' And during ''Amazing Race,'' we stopped watching for a bit to discuss something with our son, then went back to viewing where we had left off. The same thing happens with DVDs. I'll start an episode (Right now, I'm obsessively watching the first season of ''Veronica Mars'') and, if I'm lucky, watch one after another. More often, though, I'll start an episode, then stop to do other things, then go back, then end up stopping again.

Of course, we've done this in lower-tech ways before. VHS allowed you to play back a recorded show and stop when you needed. Commercials are also a form of TV interruptus, although that's involuntary, since the programmers are deciding when to stop things, not you. But we've all enhanced the commercial interruption with an even more significant break in concentration by using the parade of commercials to hit the bathroom or the kitchen.

Still, the DVR makes such breaks easier and so, I think, more likely. And that makes it even more important for people who make shows to keep us focused -- since we can stop and leave a recorded show at any time, and we may not come back. One reason I know how good ''Earl'' is: I really wanted to get back and see those last few minutes.

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