I’ve never been one to watch a lot of television but, like everyone else, started binge watching during the early days of the pandemic. Soon, I was faced with a dilemma: how long should I give a popular TV series before abandoning it for something else?
I decided to follow the Rule of 25 for TV: Don’t waste more than 25 minutes on a show or movie you don’t enjoy.
The rule recognizes that, among all of the bad content available, there is good content out there – you just have to find it. In science, we would say the signal-to-noise ratio is low. The key is not to waste too much time watching things you don’t enjoy.
As the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, “You can never read bad literature too little, nor good literature too much. Bad books are intellectual poison; they destroy the mind.” The same idea applies to television –perhaps doubly so.
The inspiration for the Rule of 25 for TV came from the author and librarian Nancy Pearl who coined the Rule of 50 for books. Pearl suggests reading the first 50 pages of a book and then deciding if it is worth finishing:
“And if, at the bottom of Page 50, all you are really interested in is who marries whom, or who the murderer is, then turn to the last page and find out. If it’s not on the last page, turn to the penultimate page, or the antepenultimate page, or however far back you have to go to discover what you want to know.”
The Rule of 50 for Books has a twist: as you get older, you should read fewer pages before you abandon the book. In Pearl’s words:
“When you are 51 years of age or older, subtract your age from 100, and the resulting number (which, of course, gets smaller every year) is the number of pages you should read before you can guiltlessly give up on a book… When you turn 100, you are authorized (by the Rule of 50) to judge a book by its cover.”
A similar approach could work for television. Subtract your age from 100, divide by two, and the result is the number of minutes before you give up on a show.
So, why is the limit for television half that of books? It’s somewhat arbitrary but the heuristic works. Movies reduce book content by about 50%; the average 100-minute movie covers about the same ground as a 200-page book. After 25 minutes, you’ll have finished an entire episode of most 30-mins shows or watched the first two acts of an hour-long episode. You’ll know enough to know whether you like it.
Don’t keep watching a show (or reading a book) if you don’t enjoy it. Even if you’ve invested more time than you wanted, avoid the sunk cost fallacy. Life is too short to finish a bad book or bad show.
Embrace the Rule of 50 for books and the Rule of 25 for television.
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