Plunkett on TV: Why binge viewing is anti-social (media)
There was more to the return of Twin Peaks and House of Cards than the joy of millions of fans eager to find out what Agent Dale Cooper and President Frank Underwood did next.
The two hugely popular drama series, which were both back on our screens last month [May], neatly illustrated how a series is scheduled impacts on the way it is discussed on social media.
Put simply, so-called binge-watching - one of the most discussed TV phenomena of recent years - is almost wholly incompatible with that other great TV trend du jour - talking about your favourite shows on Twitter.
While every episode of Twin Peaks is forensically examined and pulled apart online after each week’s episode on Sky Atlantic, House of Cards has been inconspicuous in comparison.
Why? Because all the episodes of the Kevin Spacey drama are made available in one go, making spoiler free discussion impossible because no-one knows who’s watching at the same time, or how far they’ve got.
My alma mater, the Guardian, and its sister paper the Observer, was typical. Twin Peaks is the subject of a weekly episode “catch-up” blog generating hundreds of user comments each week.
House of Cards, meanwhile, merited only a first episode review, said the Observer writer Barbara Ellen, “lest I be sent to the entertainment critics division of Guantánamo Bay for the crime of blurting out spoilers”.
“Binge-watching is a very trendy phrase but as far as I’m aware the biggest shows in the world are traditional weekly serial dramas and I don’t think that will ever end,” says Boyd Hilton, entertainment director at Heat magazine.
“The brilliance of watching a big show on a linear channel is being able to talk about it on social media afterwards. People love talking about TV on Twitter. Weekly recaps of big shows, with in-depth analysis of very episode, has become such a big thing, it’s a huge growth area.”
The third and final series of ITV’s Broadchurch was a classic case in point, consistently among the most trending topics on Twitter after its broadcast every Monday night.
The Olivia Colman and David Tennant drama had an average overnight audience of 7.4 million, consolidating to 10.7 million, with the live audience for its finale 20% higher than the series average.
Luke Knowles, editor of thecustardtv.com, says: “The great thing about social media, specifically Twitter, is that we can all share our theories and favourite moments with like-minded people. Social media is all about the here and now and it allows everyone to be on the same page.
“When the whole season of a show is dropped in one go, people might rant and rave about why everyone should be watching, but it’s not as satisfying as being part of the bigger conversation you get on a week to week basis.”
Plus, he adds: “The best TV needs time to breathe. You need to really think about it. Sometimes the minutiae of the plot would be completely lost if you raced through six episodes in one sitting.”
TV will remain a mixed ecology and the binge-watching phenomenon is unlikely to go away anytime soon. But neither is the appetite for delayed gratification and the desire to discuss our favourite shows beyond the confine of our sofas.
No spoilers! Six dramas to talk about on Twitter
Twin Peaks - Sky Atlantic
The year’s most anticipated TV comeback, David Lynch’s surreal drama changed the TV landscape first time around and returned for another helping of cherry pie a quarter of a century later
Fearless - ITV
Helen McCrory stars as a lawyer working to free a man she thinks was wrongly convicted of killing a schoolgirl. Written by Homeland’s Patrick Harbinson, it co-stars Michael Gambon and John Bishop
Handmaid’s Tale - Channel 4
Elisabeth Moss stars in this adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s harrowing novel in which women are enslaved, raped and mutilated in the service of men
Better Call Saul - AMC UK
The acclaimed Breaking Bad spin-off starring Bob Odenkirk as lawyer Jimmy McGill, already available in the UK on Netflix, makes its UK TV network debut at the end of this month [JUNE]
Jamestown - Sky 1
The story of the early days of the first British settlers as they embark on new lives in America, Jamestown has already been commissioned for a second series by Sky 1
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders – W
Gary Sinese stars in this tense procedural drama about an international unit of the FBI, currently in its second series on UKTV’s W