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question of the day: Is Arrested Development on Netflix the future of “television”?

Arrested Development Netflix

I’ve never seen even a single episode of Arrested Development, but if the rabid fandom begging for its return weren’t enough to get me to take a peek, the intriguing way in which it finally will return may. From Lost Remote:

This week Netflix announced that the cult hit show Arrested Development will return with 14 episodes in May after seven years off the air….

In May, Netflix will release all 14 episodes at once, instead of one at a time. Some fans will binge through all 14 in a day or two. Others will spread them out over several weeks and savor each episode. If you think times zones were a challenge for social TV spoilers, Arrested Development could be a nightmare.

Take that unconventional, non-linear storytelling approach and consider Hurwitz’s writing style — “pleasantly dense,” Bateman explains — and it reduces the danger that seeing a handful of tweets will ruin an episode or more. You won’t know which episode someone is watching, and context will be difficult to jam into 140 characters as “maximum surprises” abound. Good luck spoiling that with a few tweets.

There’s also less of a motivation to tweet while you watch if others are not watching in sync with you. That’s why I think it’s safe to predict that viewing parties — physical and virtual — will abound across the country.

Cory Bergman at Lost Remote goes on to call this strategy “one of television’s big innovative moments,” and I agree. If it works, it would be a radical gamechanger for how we think about television as fans. The best modern television has become far more novelistic in recent years, and this makes the debut of a new show more like the debut of a novel, something that fans will digest at their own pace that is not being dictated by the show’s creators or by the network airing it.

Is Arrested Development on Netflix the future of “television”? If your favorite show were released this way, would you watch all at once or dole out episodes slowly to savor them?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)


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  • Ecquinn

    I think the Arrested Development super season is a exception not the rule.

  • RogerBW

    Releasing directly rather than via the crumbling TV infrastructure is great.

    I know quite a few people who do like to binge on an entire season, so clearly there’s demand for the all-at-once approach, even though it doesn’t work for me. I’m interested to see, though, whether the producers and script-writers cater for this, for example by putting in fewer “previously, on $SHOW” segments and other reminders of the ongoing plot that are needed in a once-per-week format.

  • Danielm80

    I think this is the perfect way to release Arrested Development, since it’s a cult show that already has a small but loyal audience. Other shows may benefit from a more gradual rollout, so that they can develop an audience slowly over time, as more people start to hear about them. But we’ve reached a point where shows like Family Guy and Futurama can become hits after they’ve already been cancelled, because people watch them on Netflix and in syndication. That’s really gratifying–to me, at least–because I tend to like obscure, cult shows and hate most of the mainstream hits. I’m glad that the little shows have a better chance of becoming successful, now that it’s easier to make a profit marketing to a niche audience. But each oddball show needs its own oddball type of marketing, and the Arrested Development strategy won’t work for all of them. And, sadly, even in a niche-friendly marketplace, I’m not counting on seeing new episodes of Firefly.

  • RogerBW

    Of course there won’t be new episodes of Firefly. The sets have been chainsawed, the cast and crew have gone on to other things rather than turning down work on the off-chance that a miracle might show up. It’s TV. It happens.

  • Danielm80

    Well, I was joking about Firefly. That was the joke: Firefly is really, really dead.

    I thought it was funny.

    But if someone really thought the show would make a profit, they would find a way to build new sets and reunite the cast. They did it for–what was that show?–Arrested Development.

  • Jurgan

    This is pretty much how I watch all TV today.  I can’t keep up with TV schedules today, so I usually just wait until the end of the season and work my way through Netflix or DVD’s at my own pace.  For instance, I’m on season 5 of Dr. Who.  Sometimes I’ll watch one episode a week, and sometimes I’ll power through five episodes in one night.

  • Patlandness

    I feel the need to say that the original 1960s Star Trek is *the* show that created the trend of cancelled, low-ratings TV series turning into something lucrative and popular.  It never gets much in the way of credit in its influence on television for phenomena such as this.

  • http://twitter.com/RothAnim Jonathan Roth

    I think the “all at once” formula is a bit odd, but might work. 

    One of the downsides with our culture of personal choice is a lack of shared experiences. We no longer live in a world where everyone is going to watch “I Love Lucy”, or “same bat time, same bat channel”. We now Tivo, or Netflix, or Hulu or pirate, meaning even if a group of people watch the same show, they could be watching it anywhere from a few days before it officially airs, or months after the series has ended. 

    Still, the length of a record album was dictated by the data capacity of the medium, and some artists took advantage of the format to create concept albums. The iTunes culture pretty much destroyed the album allowing everyone to create mix-tapes at well, much the the anger of the concept-album creating musicians. The sad truth is that customers didn’t generally care about concept albums, the just liked the music, and preferred to create playlists that were significant to the listener, raher than the creators. 

    It’ll be interesting to see if the ritual and shared experience aspects of watching a series over time goes the way of the concept album in the age of increased personal choice. 

  • RogerBW

    What I’m seeing in this regard is micro-communities – a bunch of people who know each other already, who agree to watch a particular series or film by a certain date, some of them together and some separately, and then chat about it afterwards.
    (Hmm, something for flickfilosopher.com? A “film discussion club”, perhaps for subscribers?)

  • http://twitter.com/RothAnim Jonathan Roth

    Kevin Spacey’s Netflix original is being released as a super-season in February as well. Can’t remember if this is how they released Lilyhammer, but it certainly seems to be the direction Netflix wants to try for original content. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=1186107134 MarkyD

    I don’t know what the future of television is, but I DO know that I far prefer to be in total control of the process. I hate having to be sitting in front of my TV at a prescribed time in order to watch a show I’m interested in. Not to mention the commercials. Because of this, I really only watch a couple shows routinely. Otherwise I’ll get the dvd/Blu and watch it at my leisure.
    Even when in total control I never binge. I have much better things to do than watch TV all day/all weekend. I might watch one or two episodes a week.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Still, the length of a record album was dictated by the data capacity of the medium, and some artists took advantage of the format to create concept albums. The iTunes culture pretty much destroyed the album allowing everyone to create mix-tapes at well, much the the anger of the concept-album creating musicians. The sad truth is that customers didn’t generally care about concept albums, the just liked the music, and preferred to create playlists that were significant to the listener, raher than the creators. 

    Actually it was the CD burner culture that doomed the concept album. Not that most people who made mix tapes and mix CDs hated concept albums. But let’s face it. Most albums in that era consisted of a few good singles and a lot of glorified filler. Good concept albums like Hotel California and Dark Side of the Moon were more often the exception than the rule. Once in a while, you came across a decent album with enough good songs to give you your money’s  worth but for the most part, you were better off buying singles back in the days when  those still existed. And it  always seemed like an odd coincidence that mix tapes and mix CDs came into being shortly after the CD single and the old-fashioned 45 ceased to exist.