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Is 'hate watching' a new social TV sport?

Watching spectacularly bad TV shows for the sheer pleasure of mocking them with your friends is not new — remember Mystery Science Theater 3000 mocking bad movies? — but the advent of social media may have turned it into a sport for a small group of TV viewers. Now there’s a term for it, “hate watching” and the occasional #hatewatching hashtag, to boot.

It’s unclear where the term “hate watching” began, but a New Yorker column by Emily Nussbaum, “Hate-watching Smash,” has popularized it. That story sparked a Slate podcast, then a Slate column and now an AP column, “How to find joy in TV you scorn.”

AP columnist Frazier Moore found a hate-watching example stretching back to the pre-social 90s — a snarky weekly email written by Ian Ferrell that dissected episodes of Melrose Place. “The Melrose Place Update team of expert analysts works overtime to ensure each reader receives the news and commentary he needs to transform Melrose Place from one of the most reprehensible shows on television to the ‘hoot and holler’ farce it deserves to be,” wrote Ferrell in a third-season email we unearthed on Speakeasy.org.

It’s hard to tell if hate watching is a trend per se, other than the natural emergence of behaviors that come with blending social media with television. Mentions of the hashtag are few compared to many, with the exception of #hatewatching trending when the New Yorker and Slate stories hit.

Besides, does it matter? Negative social buzz may not be a good thing, but “hate watching” is an entertaining activity — driven by short Twitter wit — and by extension it could drive a little viewership on its own under the umbrella, “all publicity is good publicity.” Regardless, it looks like this could be getting more mainstream press than the phenomenon represents.

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