Our goal is to shut down a portion of America for a whole day

February 2nd, 2013

Netflix, whose first piece of original planning is about to debut with all 13 episodes shown consecutively in a single day, are adapting the content of the show to match modern viewing habits:

"House of Cards," which is the first show made specifically for Netflix, dispenses with some of the traditions that are so common on network TV, like flashbacks. There is less reason to remind viewers what happened in previous episodes, the producers say, because so many viewers will have just seen it. And if they don't remember, Google is just a click away. The show "assumes you know what's happening all the time, whereas television has to assume that a big chunk of the audience is always just tuning in," said Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer.

I don't think the "if they don't remember, Google is just a click away" strategy is going to work very well. Imagine that you're 4 hours into a show and you suddenly realise that a particular plot development renders it important for you to know where supporting character Jim Martin works. You google to find out "Where does Jim Martin from $SHOW work". At which point you might well find that factoid, in a page which discusses just a few lines down how in the season finale it turned out that Jim Martin had shot the show's protagonist in the back and left him bleeding out in Jim Martin's office at $BIGCO. You get your answer, and an unwelcome bonus. True, there might be other search engine hits that point to a page with a detailed episode-by-episode synopsis or a fan site that has pages with profiles of the main characters, but it's still a bit of a lottery.1

Also, the whole notion of dropping flashbacks that are only there to jog our memories is a little strange. Other than a "Previously on …" stream of clips at the start of an episode, does modern TV really use flashbacks simply to jog our memory all that often? As far as I can tell, if we're shown a scene again in modern TV shows it's because we the audience now know something we didn't the first time round about why a character was doing something, or whether he or she was aware of the consequences of their actions, or because now we'll recognise who the businessman in the blue suit ducking into that limo just as the police arrived at the scene of the crime was. That's not jogging our memory so much as doling out revelations in the order the storyteller intended.

With or without the inclusion of flashbacks, I hope the "broadcast shows in continuous, multi-hour chunks" strategy fails miserably. See here and here for my views on schedulers dumping TV on us in job lots.

[Via The Morning News]

  1. If it's the first run of a show, so that you're realising that you need to know where Jim Martin works at roughly the same time as all the other viewers, it might be better to follow the principle that "Twitter is just a click away" and ask all the other fans who are tweeting-while-watching.

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