Jason Dias: Why Sunday Night?

PTSD Jason Dias existential implications of The Walking Dead
Written by Jason Dias

Why are your favorite TV shows stressing you out every Sunday night? Jason Dias has a theory …

jason-dias-anewdomain-amazon-kindleaNewDomain — It started a few years ago. The battle for prime-time slots seemed to overflow into the streets, and your favorite shows started to premiere on Sunday nights.

Never the most coveted slot, by any means.

But Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, offered cautiously in this weird slot, turned out to be smash hits.


One reason might be the way our emotions work. Emotions are based on body states but with complicated processing that develops over the lifetime. Babies can be sad or angry or happy. Adults can grieve, be mildly disappointed, experience the pain of sadness in beauty, understand impermanence. Can be disappointed or enraged or livid, overjoyed, contented.

A million synonyms that describe the wide array of feelings available to humans.

If we measure your brain or your blood pressure or other physical markers, we really cannot say what emotion you are feeling. The brain sort of measures the body state, then combines that information with situational cues and memories and conventions, and adds that all up to create the emotion.

In other words, body states are mediated by processing. You decide, at least subconsciously, how to feel.

And emotions can be ambiguous.

Give people caffeine but do it secretly, then measure their responses to potentially anxiety-provoking materials. They report greater anxiety than controls and attribute that anxiety to the material.

Stick with me just a little longer now. We’re almost there.

The genius of these television shows is their anxiety-provoking nature. Game of Thrones is all about which of your most beloved friends is next to be beheaded. The Walking Dead is much the same in this regard. Both shows made the decision that no character is safe, that even fan favorites can die. Other shows launched in this window haven’t relied so much on this existential dread, and haven’t done as well.

Now Sunday night is special. Sunday night is the end of the weekend, just a few hours short of Monday morning. Americans enjoy Friday night very much, Saturday night most of all and Sunday night almost not at all.

The dread of Monday is on us by this time. We’ve spent the day doing our laundry and cleaning our kitchens in preparation for the work week, and we know that in the morning we have to face our various bosses and disappointed customers, to drudge and slave and make money for someone else.

That anxiety is like the caffeine administered in secret. You thought it was an aspirin but no, it was NoDoz. When you watch the show, you are anxious already.

The show plays on that anxiety, builds it up, gives you a reason to feel it other than work.

I doubt programming specialists keep much track of Schacter, Singer, Cannon or Bard, actually. I think it was a happy accident that these shows landed in these time slots. All the same, I’m happy they did. I like to have a reason for my dread other than tomorrow morning.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish up my laundry and settle in to find out if Glen finally dies tonight.

For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.