Netflix might have revolutionised TV watching for the 21st Century, by giving audiences content on tap, but if viewing habits are anything to go by, there is something to be said about watching TV shows the old way – on a scheduled weekly basis.
Less of a, same time, same channel each week, but more of short, watch 60 minutes worth of content to digest, absorb, and contemplate, then waiting for a few days before the next episode airs.
Yes, there is an appeal of being able to binge-watch a full season of a TV series, or stay up to date with the latest hit TV series and that’s the foundation of a great TV show, that drives conversation and gets fans talking and watching.
Of all the new shows that have popped up in recent months, there has only been one constant – the ones that get talked about among friends are the ones that are released on a weekly basis, and not unloaded all at one go.
The Mandalorian, Star Trek: Discovery, The Boys, Lovecraft Country. The latest seasons were the shows discussed among friends, as we questioned the direction of the show, where things were headed and what we could expect.
Cobra Kai, The Queen’s Gambit, Dead to Me. All great shows but the conversation around each series were less exciting. Conversations on events in the show were halted as you can never be sure which episode the other party is at. With weekly shows, it’s easier to dedicate one hour each week to commit to a show.
In the end, the cheers for the final episode of season 2 of The Mandalorian rang the loudest, as the global community of Star Wars fans all (or almost all) watched it on the same day, and could share in one of TV’s greatest reveals. That ending for The Boys? Ditto. Michelle Yeoh’s final episode on Star Trek: Discovery? Trekkies around the world celebrated in unison.
So when Disney announced that episodes of the upcoming WandaVision would debut on the streamer weekly and not as a single season from January 15, there was a sense of calm, of controlled consumption where conversations and discussion would happen on a weekly basis. Netflix might drop shows a season at a time, but Disney was taking lessons from its own backyard, because This Is The Way.
Disney+’s The Mandalorian has been a critical success, earning Emmy award nominations and a strong loyal fanbase that come alive on Twitter week after week, after an episode releases. And who could ever deny the adorable Baby Yoda (Grogu) who’s got everyone and their mothers invested in how cute the creature is, even earning a feature as TIME’s People Of The Year.
“We had discussions about [dropping the season all at once], but everybody at Disney+ had decided — and we very much agreed with — the notion of the fun of week-to-week. The Mandalorian has certainly proven this — there’s something fun to be able to follow along, to try to guess what happens next, to have a week speculating or rewatching and building that anticipation,” shared Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios.
“Part of the fun, to me, of movies, is the anticipation leading up to it, so it’s fun to get to have a ‘mini-version’ of that every week. And we did build the stories with that in mind, on all of our series.”
And Feige is definitely right. Weekly releases gives fans something to look forward to every week and it does to a rather large extent builds a stronger connection with the series.
In the case of The Mandalorian, the day following an episode is released is filled with multiple fan theories, discussions as to what might happen next and of course, a flurry of memes and conversations with your online friends.
For a world as expansive as Star Wars, viewers who are new to the franchise also have the opportunity to learn more about popular characters that have a rich history prior debuting on The Mandalorian (like with old, but new to live-action characters Bo-Katan Kyrze and Ahsoka Tano for example).
The additional insight earned within the week of waiting for a new episode allows readers to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the world that is being built in The Mandalorian, and that in turn ensures that they will come back week after week.
This format is not only seen in Disney+’s release of The Mandalorian. Remember HBO’s Game Of Thrones? The one with the flying dragons and blood spurting everywhere? Game of Thrones was a wild ride and it wouldn’t have had the strong following it had if it were released all at once.
Each episode took viewers by surprise and with how intense and crazy it can get in just one 60 minutes episode, there is plenty for fans to unpack and debate amongst each other. Game Of Thrones was so highly anticipated that spoiling an episode would lead to decapitation and harassment until the next episode comes on a week later. Viewers learn to a) keep their mouth shut regarding a spoiler and b) are more mindful when their fingers reach the keyboard.
Had Game of Thrones been dropped as a full season on HBO, there wouldn’t be built up hype or anticipation because spoilers would have made it all over social media before winter actually comes.
Like the saying goes, distance makes the heart grow fonder, and for a series where a plot advances in almost every episode, the satisfaction of watching after a week long of waiting is pure bliss. Good things come to those who wait and in such cases, it is absolutely true.
Though let’s not downplay some of the pros of having a season released all at once. It can be frustrating when an episode ends off with a cliffhanger and the ability to watch the next episode and find out what happens next right away can take away feelings of resentment and dislike towards a series.
Netflix’s Cobra Kai may not have had much anticipation built around the series and didn’t have the opportunity to grow their audiences week after week. What it did lack in buzz is made up with instant gratification that allows the show to not only get one, but three seasons up and running within a short period of time.
Another tragic example is Netflix’s Stranger Things. Every new season of Stranger Things comes with pre-release buzz that is without a doubt, deserving. However, once the season is out, the buzz dies almost instantly. The only people talking about the show are fans who have been viewers from when the first season was released or news sites breaking down strange happenings in the series.
For a show that survives on viewers that can understand the nuances of the show, Stranger Things hardly encourages new audiences as there’s no easy entry point into the show. Likewise, it’s hard to want to get into a show that only receives a week of limelight, only to never be heard of again till a new season comes 2 years later.
Whilst viewing habit and preference varies from watcher to watcher, that is not to say you can’t have some control as to how you’d like to consume your media.
Feige adds that WandaVision would still be an enjoyable experience no matter how you’d like to watch it as the episodes vary in runtime and quite literally, changes in its format and approach with each episode.
“With that said, I think it’ll be another experience — an equally fun experience — to binge them once they’re all available,” said Feige. “That’s one of the fun things about streaming — and even on the shows that I watch, as a fan: You don’t have the rules of network TV and selling ad time, where it has to start now and end now. [Episodes] can grow or shift or shrink or expand to fit the story you’re telling. Even in those first three, the lengths are somewhat different, and that will continue through the rest of the show.”
This is a relief as it curbs the argument that some episodes of a series may serve as a filler and don’t advance the narrative as much as others. Building anticipation is great, but like Feige pointed out, building a world and building stories that serve as mini-movies in each episode takes more importance for the folks at Disney+ and Marvel.
Disney+ has had great success so far with their current approach and strategy, but whether the success of The Mandalorian happens to be a struck of luck or good television strategies and story building at Disney+ still remains to be seen when WandaVision, as well as the rest of the Marvel shows, roll out this 2021.