The State of Scripted Television
The rapid growth of technology in recent years has directly affected Americans’ television viewing habits and patterns. Ratings for shows are going down, but the overall consumption of media is on the rise. Now American’s are able to watch TV without even owning a television set through mobile technology and online streaming sites such as YouTube or Netflix. This instant access TV causes people to “binge” watch, or consume large amounts of the same TV shows over a small amount of time. Because of this, scripted shows have to change and focus more on maintaining a continuous storyline from episode to episode, playing out more like a long movie instead of an individual show. To demonstrate this shift I will examine a new series that uses this technique, Breaking Bad, an old series that has changed to this technique, South Park, and a series in the older format, Blue Mountain State, that has ...view middle of the document...
This allows for characters to really be developed and changed throughout the duration of the show. In the series, Walter White starts off as the protagonist, and slowly becomes the shows antagonist as the show comes to a close. This engages viewers tremendously because it keeps them on their toes, unsure of what will happen. The viewer engagement is shown in the series ratings, Breaking Bad is the highest rated TV show of all time.
Older shows like South Park, now in season 18, have always approached TV in an episodic format, meaning that the episodes can stand-alone and be viewed on out of chronological order and still be understood. The show now features continuous storylines from episode to episode. Although the storylines remain congruent the shows can still be viewed out of release-date order, but one may miss details because they are carried over from previous episodes storylines.
Blue Mountain State tells the story of one of the countries most successful (fictional) college football programs and the shenanigans that they get into off the field. Previously the only real continuity between episodes was the teams record, but the show is easily watched out of order due to the actual outcome of the games having little chronological effect on what would happen after. The show followed three people that chronicled their journey from freshman to seniors in college. After the third season (junior year) the show was cancelled. The cast and crew have since started in making the fourth season into a full-length movie. Although there may not be a correlation to episodic viewing or continuous, it is a good example of a shifting trend; viewers want to see storylines in television more than ever now.
Overall, television has shifted from wait-and-see episode based viewing, to on demand continuous viewing. This seems to be an increasing trend with the addition of new shows scheduled for online streaming, like Netflix’s novel-to-TV-adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Ultimately, television allows for characters and plots to change dramatically from start to finish when compared to movies and this movement is closing the perceived quality gap between the TV and movie screens.