Consumer demand will decide TV’s future

By Jonathan Edmondson

In 2012, 132 pilots were made. From those pilots, 35 were picked up for a series, and a mere 13 were renewed after the end of the broadcast season. Of those 13, a majority did not perform well enough to warrant a second season. With interest rapidly declining, and ratings checking in at all-time lows, the entertainment industry is now faced with the task of deciding how to change the future of television. Luckily, Oscar winner Kevin Spacey has the perfect solution.

With the debut of Netflix original series, many predict a change in the entertainment paradigm. (AP Photo)

Spacey, who stars in and is the executive producer for the Netflix original series “House of Cards,” urges the rest of the industry to follow in his successful footsteps. He urges the importance of story and describes the freedom a platform like Netflix gives to promising new shows. Giving one example, he notes the fact that his series was immediately picked up for two 13-episode seasons without the tedious, often convoluted pilot episode. Skipping this initial step allowed the writers to immediately begin telling the story.

It amazes me that, in today’s diverse world, so many programs that appear on both cable and network television are simply hackneyed attempts at entertainment. Trying to distinguish differences between the seemingly hundreds of criminal shows is an impossible task. They are all virtually the same. Newer shows, such as “Mistresses,” “Scandal,” and “Revenge,” even sound alike in title. In an industry that is supposedly elitist, how hard is it to find a writer with original story ideas for broadcast and network television?

When the Emmy nominations were announced in August, I was pleased (but not at all shocked) to see “House of Cards” dominating the drama category with a total of nine nominations. “Orange is the New Black,” a Netflix original series that debuted this summer, is earning equally rave reviews and is predicted to sweep next year’s Emmy’s. What both of these shows have in common are exactly what most television shows are missing: a raw story and easy access to the whole season.

Now, that is not to say that network and cable shows do not have their fair share of talent. But what Netflix series have that the other programs don’t is freedom. Nudity, profanity, drugs and more are all fair game on platforms such as Netflix, HBO and Showtime. All of the aforementioned items are simply facts of life and help relate us to what we are watching. These shows emphasize story and contain some of the most brilliant writing I have ever seen for a television show. Each script contains fresh, new ideas that are neither predictable nor boring.

In addition to quality, these Netflix series offer something that network shows cannot — quantity. All 13 episodes are put on Netflix.com at once, allowing viewers to decide when they want to watch the seasons. The only things Americans like more than a good story is the freedom to watch it however and whenever they want. Instead of waiting a week (and sometimes longer due to a hiatus) between episodes, viewers can “binge watch” and get fully absorbed in the stories and characters. Americans are known to have short attention spans, and many people I know have lost interest in even their favorite shows because of delays. However, everyone I talked to who has seen “Orange is the New Black” watched all 13 episodes of the first season within a week or two. The series is just that good, and the ability to watch all the episodes at once is an added tactic to get fans addicted.

My hope is that the entertainment industry opens its traditional eyes and realizes that what people want is an original, captivating story. In order to achieve that, writers need both the freedom and the correct platform to do so. Whether it be Netflix, HBO or any other premium network, writers need to abandon trite ideas and take risks. “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” are controversial even in their calmest episodes, but that is part of the allure. If other writers do not catch on soon, viewers will rapidly lose interest in basic broadcast television shows and opt for the deeper, sophisticated content available on other platforms. Writers need to have a little more faith in their viewers and realize that all they really want is a good, raw story. One they have never heard before, and one that will absorb them into an alternative universe, just long enough to escape their own struggles.