The Top 10 Time-Shifted TV Shows of 2012


Breaking Bad

As parting shots go, it’s hard to top Mike Ehrmantraut’s weary valediction to an increasingly reckless Walter White: “Shut the fuck up and let me die in peace.” Indelible moments like this have helped make Breaking Bad the most time-shifted series on the tube. According to Nielsen, the show’s overall deliveries jumped 130 percent thanks to DVR devotees. 


Mad Men

Season 5 of Matt Weiner’s ode to the intersection of Eros and Mammon was characteristically rife with dark portents, and the last scene of the finale was no exception. After depositing his wife Megan at a screen test, Don Draper eases into the amber-lit solitude of a Midtown bar. A blonde approaches, and his deliberate nonanswer to her kittenish “Are you alone?” suggests that Mad Men’s displaced hero is about to walk away from yet another seemingly well-constructed charade. No. 2 on Nielsen’s list, Mad Men gets a 127 percent lift care of the TV time machine.


Warehouse 13

This Syfy series is particularly DVR-worthy, as the season finale was filled with so many WTF moments that a single viewing couldn't possibly do justice to the intricacies of the Mobius strip plot. Thanks to time-shifting, Warehouse 13 enjoyed a 127 percent boost in overall deliveries, which suggests that more than a few Warehouse 13 fans watched Evil Artie unleash the orchid's deadly contagion on their own schedule.


Covert Affairs

After three seasons of American television’s favorite parlor game, Will They or Won’t They?, the adorbs CIA buds Annie (Piper Perabo) and Auggie (Christopher Gorham) finally kiss, providing a romantic jolt for fans who’ve been rooting for a clinch. Only trouble is, poor Annie’s in a coma, and that moment on the dance floor was just a flickering of her subconscious. Legions of fans are likely to relive the scene in advance of Covert Affairs’ fourth season; in fact the series more than doubles its live deliveries (+117 percent) via the DVR.



In an episode packed with neck-snapping plot twists—Hardman wins the managing partner vote only to be scraped off the ceiling with a spatula by the end of the hour—the Harvey and Mike stoner interlude was a nice, laid-back touch. Not only did fans get to see a less buttoned-up senior partner (“Harvey Specter doesn’t get cotton mouf”), but the writers managed to work in great stoner humor, inside jokes and, during an exchange about his emotionally castrating mother, a touch of pathos. Per Nielsen, Suits gets a 110 percent lift from time-shifting, but this episode was probably closer to 420.



♫ “Disarm you with a smile / And cut you like you want me to…” ♫ Justified fanatics who’ve been around long enough to remember Smashing Pumpkins may have had the Chicago rock band’s 1994 single ear-worming its way through their skulls after watching supervillain Robert Quarles get separated from his left flipper. After a season of choppin’ pig parts with his nasty looking cleaver, Ellstin Limehouse finally sinks the blade into the other Other White Meat, bringing a close to one of the most fascinating character arcs in recent TV history. Thanks to riveting episodes like this, Justified gets nearly as many live viewers as delayed; time-shifting accounts for a 108 percent increase in the show’s overall deliveries.


White Collar

Are viewers who overindex on DVR playback particularly susceptible to having daddy issues? In the Season 5 finale of USA’s White Collar, a series that sees its total viewership jump 108 percent thanks to time-shifting, Neal struggles with the revelation that Sam is his real father. Par for the course on this list—troubling father figures and surrogates haunt every show in the top 10. If this slideshow had a theme song, it’d be Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.”



The last time the Fringe gang broke on through to the other side (as it were), fans were treated to the giddy and visually stimulating episode “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.” But this trip down the rabbit hole is a far more unnerving affair. After downing the titular Black Blotter, Walter (John Noble) has a full-on Terry Gilliam-style Monty Python visitation, embarking on a fractured animated sequence in which he takes a ride on a cow named Gene, alongside a dog, frog and seahorse. While this was what '60s acid heads referred to as “heavy,” it was right in Fringe fans’ psychic wheelhouse. After all, 106 percent of the Fox show’s eyeballs are a result of time tripping.


Sons of Anarchy

“Otto” is one of those rare names that functions as a palindrome, but good luck pronouncing it or any other word after you’ve voluntarily bitten off your tongue and spat it against the glass of a police station interrogation room. For a guy as damaged as Otto was, what a better way of saying, "I’m not talking," than literally removing the organ that articulates speech, Sons of Anarchy executive producer Kurt Sutter explained after the Season 5 finale. (Sutter also happens to portray the steadfast Otto.) While Sons regularly stomps all comers in its Tuesday night time slot, live viewing accounted for a little less than half of the show’s total reach in 2012.  


American Horror Story

That American Horror Story: Asylum dominates its cable adversaries in the Wednesday 10 p.m. time slot, live ratings only tell half of the story. Per Nielsen, the second incarnation of the loony and terrifying AHS more than doubles (+103 percent) its deliveries among total viewers thanks to the all-powerful DVR. Time-shifting is probably the most user-friendly way to consume Ryan Murphy’s phantasmagoria—if nothing else, the pause button affords AHS fans a chance to get up and swallow a few Ativan to forestall the inevitable Bloody Face-fueled panic attack.