Has this ever happened to you?:
It’s a rainy Saturday with not much else to do. So you plop down on the couch to watch something. After paging through the new arrivals on Netflix you strike gold. Five minutes into the new series you are hooked. You end up binge watching the entire season. When it’s done you can’t get it out of your head. Later that night you see some friends. Invariably you want to talk about this show that has become your new obsession. But nobody else has seen it yet. For the remainder of the evening you are boxed into the position of wanting to talk about the show but not wanting to ruin it for others. You start recommending that everyone watch it ASAP. You rant and rave about how great it is and tell your friends how much they will love it. But your friends seem mostly indifferent…
What gives? If this scenario sounds familiar than you are in need of The Renaissance Fan’s guide on “How to Recommend a TV Show to a Friend”. We choose to focus on TV because taking on a new TV show is a serious time commitment, but the advice in this article could also apply to movies, books, music, and video games.
First, let’s take a moment to explore your motivation in this situation. Why do you care so much that other people watch this show? For many of us the reasons for recommending shows or movies are more than a little selfish. We either A) want to have someone else around who has seen it so we can spew out all the fan theories, observations, and speculations that have been bouncing around in our head, or B) we want to be seen as someone with great taste, someone capable of making good recommendations because we understand which shows are worthy and which are not. There is also a more altruistic explanation: the people we make recommendations to are our friends and we genuinely feel like they will get enjoyment out of what we are recommending. For many people, recommending something may very likely be a mix of selfish and altruistic reasons. Take a moment for some introspection on where you fall with your recommendation habits and then let’s move on to discussing how to make that recommendation.
Make sure the recommendation is a good fit
This one should be obvious, but isn’t always. There are over 400 scripted TV shows being produced every year now. We have moved way beyond the point where you could reasonably watch all the good television being made. That means people have to make more tough choices about what they watch and everyone’s free time is more precious. As a recommender, this puts you in a somewhat perilous position. If a friend takes you up on a recommendation you’ve made, they are essentially entrusting you with a chunk of their time. That creates pressure to get the recommendation right. Give some serious consideration as to whether what you are recommending is really something THEY would be interested in, or, if it just happens to be what YOU are obsessed with at the moment. Think about if this show reminds you of anything else that you’ve heard this person say the liked in the past. That may not just be a good clue as to whether it’s a good recommendation, but comparing the two shows can also be used as a selling point.
Not all friends are looking for a recommendation right now
On a related matter, be aware that not everyone has the same amount of free time. Looking at someone’s situation might give you a gauge on how often you could recommend a show to someone, or whether you should make a recommendation at all. For example, your friend who has 3 weeks off in the winter between semesters may be more willing to hear about new TV shows than your friends who just welcomed their second child into the world a few months ago and are scrambling to keep their life together.
This may be the most important tenant of our recommendation philosophy. It is human nature to resist being told to do something. We are independent creatures and we like to believe that we are making our own decisions in our own best interests. It’s the reason that reverse psychology works much more often than we would expect it to. Fortunately, reverse psychology is typically not needed to effectively sell a friend on trying a new TV show, but there is a lot to be said about making sure you are not overselling with your recommendation. There are two fundamental reasons that you will want to use a soft touch when recommending. First, by overselling you actually risk creating a negative impression of what you are recommending. An over-the-top hyperbolic recommendation may lead your friends to think “there’s no way it’s that good”, and they will likely be right. Second, your recommendation serves not just to alert friends about something they should watch, it’s also setting their expectations for how much they will enjoy it. If you rant and rave about how great it is and how much they will LOVE it (all caps), their real-world viewing experience has no chance to live up to the hype and they may find themselves disappointed in a show that they really could have enjoyed.
Choose your words
In the same vein as overselling, avoid hyperbolic phrases like “best thing ever”, “best I have ever seen”, even if that may be true. If a show is good, call it good. If it’s great call it great. Comparisons may be more effective than just praising a show. If you compare what you are recommending to another show that your friends are familiar with you will create a positive connection between the two in your friend’s mind. That’s a win. Try something like: “I really enjoyed 30 Rock when it was on and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has the same type of humor.” That is factual, not-overstated, complimentary, and leans on the existing positive impression that many people had of 30 Rock.
A reminder is ok, but timing is key
Similar to the overselling concept, don’t be the person that frequently checks in with a “have you watched it yet?!”. If your friend has not freely offered a report back on their viewing experience then either A) they have not watched it yet, or B) they were not impressed and are not making the show a topic of conversation as a result. But, if it’s a friend you don’t see very often it is possible that it just slipped their mind, so a reminder is not necessarily taboo. As a guideline, wait 3 months before bringing up the same show with someone that you recommended it to. After that, drop it.
Deal with rejection gracefully
Maybe you make a recommendation, your friend takes it, and they end up not liking the show very much. That happens. Your first thought here should be that this is not a big deal, we’re talking about TV. They don’t like the show, but they still like you. Be graceful in your reception of this news, and know that you have two paths 1) You can use this experience to refine future recommendations to this friend, or 2) You can accept that your taste may be different enough from this friend that making recommendations to them may not be worth either of your time. In either regard, remember, you can still be friends with someone even though they didn’t like Stranger Things (though we struggle to understand how that could be possible).
Accept a reciprocal recommendation
Being the recommender is fun, but having a back and forth with your friends may be a lot more rewarding. If you like giving out recommendations, accept some in return. Try out a show that a friend recommended to you. If it’s a good recommendation let them know how much you enjoyed it (and appreciated the recommendation). By accepting reciprocal recommendations you’ll be more likely to have your own recommendations taken seriously in the future. It will also give you a better feel for what your friends like, which will make you a more informed recommender for them in the future.