We are very much in the age of binge-watching, when Sunday afternoon series catchup sessions seem more deliberate than disruptive, more intrinsic than lazy. The task of watching 22 episodes of a show over the course of a television season (with commercials!) seems positively prehistoric compared to streaming services and DVR. Especially when everyone's talk about Netflix's 15 new episodes of Arrested Development, which will be released simultaneously two Sundays from now, and which you can watch in any order you please. But the major TV networks have also spent this week releasing their new plans during upfront presentations, and it turns out the dinosaurs of the lower channels are disrupting their own programming models: Indeed, from new "limited-run" event shows (and old ones like 24) to existing but evolving hits like How I Met Your Mother, the big boys are already fighting back against not-so-little Netflix.
In an effort to at least seem like they're thinking out of the box, network executives are filling their upcoming seasons, as a new feature in Variety explains, "with specials that are a little more so, as well as short-run series that have a 'watch-now-or-miss-them-forever' kind of quality." The bigwigs are also, in at least two cases, tinkering with shows to play out almost as if in real time. Perfect, you know, for DVR-ing and watching at a later date.
The Limited-Run Series
And it makes sense: try to rope in addicted viewers with a new kind of appointment television, but constrain the appointments for shorter attention spans. It's making TV essentially on the high-end cable model, but for network television. It's not really Netflix-style all-you-can TV, but it is HBO-style sit-down-and-it'll-be-good TV, where networks can hype a series for a short amount of time and then leave it be. Game of Thrones, you will remember, is the most expensive series on television—but it only hits you 10 episodes at a time, and every Sunday night.
Playing With Time
Once again, 24 was the ultimate model for this: time-sensitive TV. Two shows in the upcoming season, one old and one new, are going to try to do pull off real-time narratives... with comedy. Earlier on Wednesday we learned that How I Met Your Mother (which introduced the mother in its season finale) will, in its ninth and final season, take place over just one wedding weekend, according to TVLine's Matt Webb Mitovich. That's a big leap for a sitcom like HIMYM, which has been crawling along for eight seasons now. (But has been known to have flashbacks and forwards.) Meanwhile, the first season of ABC's Mixology will take place all in just one night, in one bar, with a bunch of singles trying to hook up. It's not quite the new Arrested Development series, what with its intersecting story lines, but it does try to subvert the typical sitcom model. We've never been big HIMYM fans, so we can't speak to whether or not the time frame will thrive. Apparently not, according to Vulture, and it doesn't seem wise to mess with something after such a long time. Mixology, meanwhile, does not look promising, but that has less to do with timeframes and more to do with the generally lame dialogue.
(Click here for complete upfront coverage from The Atlantic Wire. Up on Thursday: The CW....)