Monday, April 23, 2018

Binge-Waiting

I was late to the party with BREAKING BAD. By the time I started watching, the show had just completed its run. As a result I missed out on all the BREAKING BAD hubbub on social media. I was out of the loop when BREAKING BAD was “a thing.” But the good news is I was able to watch the series the whole way through without having to wait the year or so between seasons. Once I went down the rabbit hole and got hooked, I couldn’t imagine waiting a day to get back to it much less a year.

Extended hiatuses are just one of the new ways we now watch television shows (although you can’t even technically call them television shows since many you watch on your watch). What a nice luxury for the production team. They’re not on constant deadline.

But asking audiences to wait a year and sometimes longer comes with a big risk. By the time you get back they may have lost interest. In that year interim another darling or three might have come along. Ask any restaurant owner how fickle the public is.

It’s hard for a show to build momentum and losing that momentum can be the kiss of death.

Also, expectations become much higher when viewers have had to wait. If the hiatus is only over the summer the viewer might watch the season premier and go “That was okay,” but if he had to wait eighteen months he might say this about the exact same episode: “Really? I waited all that time for THAT?”

So I ask producers (and the networks and streaming services that distribute the shows), do you really need THAT much time to prepare a new season? Could you shave off three months? Or six? For sixty years broadcast network shows churned out 24 episodes a year (and sometimes 39) and produced some series with extraordinary quality. You really need a year-and-a-half to make ten? (Some shows with hugely ambitious production requirements like GAME OF THRONES, sure, but most of these shows don’t have dragons.)

I have another fear for down the line. Industry strikes. Audiences have been accustomed to seeing their shows on a regular basis, and any extended interruption was potentially very damaging to the networks. Well, not anymore. If a strike means the Fall Season starts a month later, big whoop.

But, that’s the world we now live in. However, I’m sure if we wait another year and three-months it will all change.

30 comments :

Terrence Moss said...

FOX has been repeatedly making that mistake with "Empire" -- its creative issues aside.

Michael said...

Hi Ken. Friday question...

How do you think the trend of Netflix and others to release all episodes simultaneously has changed day-to-day life in the writers' room?

Do writers have more time or less? Are more episodes complete before shooting begins? What about the lack of audience feedback and network input based on week-to-week viewing numbers?

Thanks.

BobinVT said...

The worst example of this was Mad Men, which was so great in its first few years, but in my opinion, started to lose steam after two or three seasons. But while I was losing interest, Mad Men was becoming a thing nationally. To the point that they decided that instead of airing the final 14 episodes in one year, they would split the final season into two mini seasons of seven episodes each. This forced viewers to wait two years until they could view the last episode. This definitely raised expectations to the point where it could never live up to them. Mad Men definitely was full of itself by the end.

Mike Barer said...

I've been watching old Frasier shows on Netflix, I was astounded to see 28 or 30 shows in a single season. I think in the modern show era, it's much less.

Glenn said...

We're waiting over a year for the final Game of Thrones season and it's only going to be six episodes. Considering the amount of story still to cover and the number of characters who need an ending, these better be six *damn good* episodes.

Jim S said...

There is something to be said about being able to binge a TV show. The first show I binged was "The West Wing." One December a couple of years after it went off the air, I was at a video store (remember those?) and they had seasons six and seven for sale at a really low rate. Something like $10 or $12, so I could get, forever, two seasons of the show for less than $25.

I bit and remember going home and putting on the show of season 6. Pretty good, and without commercials only 42 minutes not that long. Long story short, I ended up going to bed at 3 a.m. and when I woke up, I had breakfast and finished off the rest of the episodes. (Can you tell that I live alone and have no children?)

That encouraged me to go out and see if I could find the rest of the show on DVD for under retail prices. I did, and I feel that the later seasons were better than the early seasons. Yeah, I said that. Fight me!

But I also remember watching "Breaking Bad" from the start. Yes, it was hard waiting for the seasons to come. But it was also exciting. It was something to look forward to, and there is something to that. We who followed the show could talk about it during the down time between seasons. Anticipation built.

Now, you wait for a show, watch it in a weekend and within two weeks no one is talking about it. It is a highly-condensed experience.

I remember watching episodes of shows like "Breaking Bad" and "Justified" and waiting a week for the next episode. Very exciting. You could talk about it around the proverbial water cooler. You'd go to work and say did you see . . . ? You'd wonder what would happen.

I really believe there is something to that viewing model.

Plus, you can watch a show in discrete bites. When you have a show like "Breaking Bad" with more than 60 episodes, it can be intimidating to decide to watch it. That's a lot of time. But when you have it come once a week, you can set that time aside.

But that's me. Right now I am yelling at the kids for playing on my lawn.

Covarr said...

Anime has been doing this since forever. Sometimes it's because it's based on a manga and they're waiting for more issues to come out so the story doesn't zoom right past the source material, but that's certainly not always the case. The worst part is that they often won't even announce the second season until it's closer to release, so there's no way to tell if a show is on hiatus or canceled.

YEKIMI said...

This sort of ties in with yesterdays DVD commentaries, but some of the funniest, profane and politically incorrect commentaries can be found on the Breaking Bad DVD sets. Lots of interesting stuff that they pointed out, like flubs, trying to avoid shooting in the same areas that another TV show in Albuquerque was shooting at the same time and lots of other interesting and goofy facts.

E. Yarber said...

My best friend is a binge-watcher. A couple years ago I got her to watch an installment of THE FUGITIVE from 1963. "That was a great show," she said, "but how does the woman get back together with Kimble in the next episode?" I had to explain to her that Kimble never sees the woman again and winds up among a completely different set of characters each week with only the thinnest possible thread of continuity linking the adventures. The idea of telling a self-contained story in only one hour was a totally alien concept to her.

MikeN said...

Perhaps they should release little 10 min videos to maintain interest in the offseason.

McAlvie said...

I have to admit that I often forget about a show, even one that I really enjoyed. I watch a lot less tv than I used to, and when I do its via On Demand, so I don't even know if they advertise new seasons any more. But for a serial drama? Nope. I don't care for them anyway, and I'm certainly not going to wait around a year for another installment. I have a life, I've long forgotten what was going on.

There are a lot of things that I think networks understood better back when. They targeted the widest audience possible, they knew there were only so many commercial breaks an audience would put up with, and they knew that if they wanted you to pay attention to the new season, they needed to keep your attention during the hiatus; thus reruns, so there was nearly always something on that you wanted to watch.

I wonder if there are any statistics on how many people watched tv regularly before and after reruns became a thing of the past?

Ted said...

I felt that way about "Westworld." As much as I enjoyed the first season, I was disappointed in the first episode of season 2 last night. A lot of it might be because the writers seem to have fallen into the "Lost" trap of constantly teasing viewers with new questions about what's going on, while either postponing the answers indefinitely or having them pay off in ways that don't that aren't very satisfying. But mostly, I think, is that expectations created by excellent episodes followed by a super-long hiatus -- more than a year -- are impossible to fulfill.

Andrew said...

The gap between seasons 5 and 6 of The Sopranos was TWO YEARS LONG! If I had been a fan when it was actually airing I would have gone nuts. Fortunately I watched it all after it was already over.

I watched all of Breaking Bad in one week when I was on vacation. I couldn't afford to go anywhere. My library had all the seasons on DVD, so I didn't pay a cent. It was one of the best vacations of my life. (Maybe a little sad and pathetic too, but still, what an incredible show.)

Pizzagod said...

Ditto Ken-

There are a lot of shows I enjoy (because I've got the maturity of a 10 year old....) and when there are the "mid-season finales" and such I don't always come back and watch them. Simple as that. I don't want to get invested and wait, and then when it does come back I haven't a clue as to what is going on or why I was so eager to see it return.

All the super hero fare on Netflix is good and fun, but you know, if I don't see the next season of Jessica Jones or Luke Cage or Daredevil....meh. No big deal

Kosmo13 said...

I marathon-ed through 5 decades of Columbo on DVD, but it took about a year.

Fred Unfriendly said...

For sixty years broadcast network shows churned out 24 episodes a year (and sometimes 39) and produced some series with extraordinary quality.


I think it's clear that if we look at the 10th-best television show of 1960, or of 1975, or 1990, and compare it to the 10th-best show today, the current system of TV production is crushing the output of the past. There are numerous reasons for this, but the combination of more time and fewer episodes is (in many cases) leading to better quality.

Do I want to wait over a year for a new episode of "Game of Thrones" or "Rick and Morty"? No. Do I have literally 75 quality viewing options on 15 channels or services to fill the time, while I endure the wait? A-yup.

Rob D said...

@BobinVT, just like "Mad Men", "Breaking Bad" also had its final season split into two halves. (Eight episodes aired in 2012, and the remaining 8 were shown a year later).

Both series were on AMC of course. The rumour is that the execs were terrified that their two marquee shows were ending, with no promising replacement series waiting in the wings, so they wanted to stretch out the final seasons as long as possible. As a viewer, I found this to be infuriating.

Anyway, I like the typical cable habit of showing one season on a weekly basis each year, and the Netflix binge model is okay too, but anything is better than the big broadcast networks archaic model of dribbling out episodes in small batches over several months. That model needs to die.

tavm said...

As someone born in the late '60s, I recently became fascinated at the fact there were once a think called movie serials and that not only did you have to wait for the following weekend for the next chapter but it would last either 12 or 15 chapters. I watched a couple of them, Adventures of Captain Marvel and Captain America, in two viewings, taking a break between Chapters 6 and 7, I believe. Watching them that way, I noticed how repetitious it was with all those fight scenes and the way the cliffhangers were done. I'm now imagining kids of those back-in-the-day times discussing how could they escape those traps if it looked like they'd be killed at the end of the previous one...

Wendy M. Grossman said...

BobinVT: I think it was AMC, which had already split the BREAKING BAD final season into two, that wanted MAD MEN to do that. I don't think it was Weiner's choice.

There was an exceptionally long gap between MAD MEN's seasons 4 and 5 while they wrangled over budgets.

wg

Mike Bloodworth said...

I can't comment on cable, but with broadcast T.V. they're still dependent on ratings. A show such as GOTHAM, for example, debuts in the fall and then there's a huge gap in the middle of the year because they're saving the season finale for May sweeps. Way back in the old days I was a fan of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. But, during one summer hiatus I started watching other shows and never went back. I can't remember if any specific strike had an effect on my viewing habits, but I'm sure it must have. Finally, I'm one of the few that DID NOT like BREAKING BAD. A friend loaned me seasons one and two. Considering all the hype I was really looking forward to watching. But once I did I could barely get through the first season. And two shows into the second season I said, that's it. I can't watch any more. As I've said before, I believe cable shows have this mystique that because you're paying for them they must be better than free T.V. That's not always true. But, as I've also said its all subjective.
M.B.

Xmastime said...

I'm baffled at how the Brits do it; thanks to streaming I burn thru entire runs of classic Britcoms. But back in the day they'd get six episodes and then have to wait YEARS for more. Classic example is Fawlty Towers - 6 eps in 1975, then 6 more 4 years later. I lose my mind having to wait a few hours to catch up on shows thru HBO Now!!!! :)

Liggie said...

I recall hearing that the episodes in the final "Game of Thrones" season will be feature-length, a la "Sherlock". That's a legitimate reason for needing longer production times.

McC said...

As much as I enjoy Better Call Saul, the intricate plot details are hard to remember with such long breaks between seasons.

Andy Rose said...

I don't mind a long hiatus as long as it's predictable. But some shows' breaks get longer and longer each year. Better Call Saul ran February through April for the first two seasons, then the third season premiered April 2017. Now in April 2018, they still haven't set a premiere date for Season 4, and I'm not sure they've even finished shooting it yet. Other than a prominent character death, I can't really remember what happened last year. (Is Jimmy practicing law again yet? Are he and Kim still dating? No idea.) And I don't have time to binge, so it's a pain trying to catch back up.

Of course, that's nothing compared to Curb Your Enthusiasm, which had six years between Seasons 8 and 9.

gottacook said...

I'd say the Fawlty Towers example is too extraordinary to serve as a "classic example" of a long delay between two short-run seasons of a series. Its two writers, Cleese and Booth, were married during the 1975 season and had divorced before collaborating on the 1979 season.

J Lee said...

Anonymous Fred Unfriendly said...


I think it's clear that if we look at the 10th-best television show of 1960, or of 1975, or 1990, and compare it to the 10th-best show today, the current system of TV production is crushing the output of the past. There are numerous reasons for this, but the combination of more time and fewer episodes is (in many cases) leading to better quality.


I'd say drama is crushing it now, compared to 25, 40 or 60 years ago. Comedy? It's the one getting crushed in 2018, compared to the best sitcoms of the 60s through the 90s.

CRL said...

These days I have trouble watching random episodes of TV shows. Binge-watching has conditioned me to watch Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3........

Anonymous said...

It's even stranger with animated shows like "Adventure Time" or "Steven Universe". You'll wait for months and months, just to get five 15 minute episodes. And there's not even any set schedule for when to expect new episodes. They just randomly appear suddenly and then vanish.

McAlvie said...

JLee said ... I'd say drama is crushing it now, compared to 25, 40 or 60 years ago. Comedy? It's the one getting crushed in 2018, compared to the best sitcoms of the 60s through the 90s.

I agree with you regarding sitcoms. Drama - I think most tv was more tightly written before, and I think that took a skill we don't always see in dramas now. I'm not a prude, but I can't help but think that tv shows today rely on shock value. If the writing is good, that shouldn't be necessary. And when you think about tv dramas of the past, they were generally much longer running and had a wider audience, and they did it without having to resort to vulgarity or nudity.

Dan Ball said...

There's no way in hell that GLOW needs a full year to make eight 30-minute episodes. You're on-point, Ken. Not when hourlong shows used to crank out 20-plus episodes in that amount of time. Writers are entitled these days lol.