Philosophy, Psychology, Nerdisms, Writing from the Trenches

Notes on Television: Part 1 of 3 – The Case Studies

It’s an exciting time for storytelling. As the publishing industry scrambles to figure out what to do with itself, television seems to be embracing change as fast as it can. If you look at recent developments, you’ll agree.

Case study 1: Veronica Mars or How You Can Buy Your Own Happy EndingVeronica Mars

Veronica Mars never experienced the ratings that it needed to be considered a hit, but it had then what every TV show wants now: a cult following. In today’s terms, look at Community. Community doesn’t get the ratings. What it does get is trends on Twitter. Community fans are rabidly supportive. They not only watch, but they talk about the show. The watercooler has gone to the Internet and you can see exactly the impact your stories are having.

Veronica Mars shows you what happens when a rabid fan base is monetized. If you haven’t heard about the Veronica Mars Kickstarter project, check it out here. The show raised $2 million for a Veronica Mars movie in 24 hours. Their campaign is still going as of this posting at $4,332,000. The fans will get their movie.

The Veronica Mars project is still an ongoing experiment. Will the movie be successful? A Kickstarter campaign is just the beginning. The project still requires studio backing and production costs outside the purview of crowdfunding. We’ll see how it goes.

The downside of the Veronica Mars project is the possibility that everyone and their brother will call for the return of the television they think was unjustly ended.

Where’s my Pushing Daisies movie? Why can’t we have one more season of Chuck?

Some things are meant to die. Veronica Mars may be a fluke. Or it may launch us dwelling in the stagnant waters of a culture that refuses to move on. Or it could be the best thing that ever happened.

Case study 2: Breaking Bad/Walking Dead/Mad Men/cable shows

There’s an old trope about British television and how short their series are. This isn’t wrong. If a Brit show runs 13 episodes, it’s consider an overwhelming success. Fawlty Towers, considered one of the best sitcoms ever made (by the people who decide those things) only had 12 episodes from 2 seasons made over the course of 4 years.

That’s right. If you crunch the numbers, they made 3 episodes a year.

Walking DeadWhy are British TV series so short? Because they aren’t full of crap. British television is liked distilled TV syrup. There’s no fizz added.

Breaking Bad‘s first season ran 7 episodes. The subsequent seasons ran 13 episodes.

Mad Men‘s seasons are 13 episodes each.

The Walking Dead‘s first season: 6 episodes. After, 13.

Why is this a good thing? Like British television, the writers/producers/creators of these shows are trimming the fat and giving us delicious, meaty chunks of storytelling. The miniseries isn’t dead, it just bred with series television and created a new species.

Why is American television full of 22-24 episode series? Because it’s a race to 100. I’ll talk about that in a later post.

Case Study 3: Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu

Arrested Development is getting it’s happy ending and it isn’t crowdfunded. Netflix will release 14 episodes in May (that’s one month away! Be still, excitement). While Netflix is trying to temper everyone’s expectations by telling us lightning won’t strike twice, it would be interesting to know how many people signed up for Netflix because of their acquisition.Arrested Development coming in May

While the Arrested Development fan base is just as rabid as Veronica Mars’, there is a key difference. Unlike Veronica Mars, most people came to Arrested Development AFTER the show was cancelled. Key aspects of the show’s humor were in subtle jokes that were only noticed upon multiple or marathon viewings. This makes it a great show for Netflix. All 14 episodes will be available at once. How many of you will watch start to finish without a week in between?

That’s not all. House of Cards, staring Kevin Spacey (KEVIN SPACEY!) had a 13 episode run on Netflix. Just Netflix. It was made, produced, distributed by Netflix. Netflix has become it’s own TV studio, network, and station all rolled into one. It’s opening up a whole new avenue for storytellers. And, it’s gives viewers something TV networks can’t: the chance to watch your show whenever or wherever you want (as long as there’s an Internet connection {you can argue that the DVR did this, too, but you still have to wait a week [and my DVR is filled to capacity with my roommates’ shows]}).

Amazon Prime will produce a show based on the hit movie Zombieland.

Hulu is bound to get into the game soon, too (so far, their original material has been mostly shortform). They’re already working with SNL former and current cast members on development.

What’s next for online content creators? Who knows? Perhaps viewing parties will launch their shows to trending topics on Twitter. But, don’t worry. When Arrested Development hits, it will be huge.

Things I didn’t have time to talk about: Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Girls, Veep

The Golden Age of Television isn’t over. It’s going platinum.

What do you want to know about the television business? Share your thoughts below and stay tuned for the next posts.

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