It’s still the golden age of television. There are more TV content providers than ever and ostensibly more writing opportunities for us. Yay!!
Television has evolved from broadcast weekly TV series to binge viewing on various streaming platforms. The term ‘bingeing’ typically has negative connotations, but not so much anymore. Binge watching is the new weekly viewing.
As broadcast and basic cable networks face challenges in maintaining viewers in a plethora of TV shows, streaming services are experiencing a boon in a seemingly endless pool of specialty shows constrained mainly by bandwidth rather than viewing time.
What Is TV Binge Viewing?
Binging is defined as an unrestrained and excessive indulgence. Sounds serious.
How does the brave new world of TV writing affect us screenwriters? This not only influences the type of TV shows made in favor of more specialty TV series, but also how they are viewed. Viewers are increasingly watching an entire TV series rather than several TV shows at once. Think of it analogous to finishing one movie before watching the next one.
Although the structural tenets of writing for TV remain the same, there is one key difference- the compression of viewing time between episodes. Audiences are hooked on the first episode and are compelled to keep watching until the end of the series, often with few breaks. Think of it as a movie marathon on steroids. This means that TV viewers have less time to process, to ponder and to muse over a TV show between weekly episodes.
What Makes A TV Series Bingeworthy?
The character and series arcs become more apparent. TV audiences need to be instantly immersed in a unique world or worlds and be acutely conscious of the trajectory towards the TV series finale. Each episode is akin to a chapter in a book.
Give each character an area of expertise or personal excellence to make them stand out from their peers. This can be a female wrestler in Glow or a detective in Mindhunters.
Give them a series of situations which test their moral fortitude and boundaries. This isn’t necessarily good or bad, but something which forces them to assess their moral codes. This could be a moral dilemma, such as lying to the police to protect a loved one from criminal prosecution, or remaining silent when they know their best friend is being cheated on.
A mystery always helps create character depth. This could be something like a criminal record or a childhood trauma that hasn’t been addressed. Character reveals generate character depth and additional storylines.
It always helps sustain a series by adding an “out of character” trait. For instance, the methodical manager who throws caution to the wind and behaves recklessly on the eve of their wedding night.
It’s always interesting to view a character’s double life. What they portray publicly compared to how they behave either in private or in another social context. This creates intimacy with the audience.
Layering is frequently referenced in character development. In this case, consider how layering can flesh out the plot of your TV series.
The first stage of layering can relate to differing points of view of various characters to create subplots and additional storylines.
Layers often post organic questions to drive the story engine. Will a secret be found out? Will the criminal get caught? Will the team win the game? Story questions will also further mine the depths of your characters. What sorts of situations will different characters get into? How will they cope with the challenges? How will the characters interact with each other. These questions can be open ended or close ended. They can span one episode or several. These questions are especially important in ensemble based TV shows where audience follow several main characters simultaneously.
Posing endless questions will create fuel storylines on events, issues, strategies, upcoming episode ideas and plot twists.
The concept of TV series cliffhangers are also important here. Each episode must end on a curious plot point to invite us to keep watching. Furthermore, each TV series must end on an enhanced cliffhanger to compel the audience to stay tuned for the next season.