Why do some television shows captivate us? What makes an audience so loyal that it will tune in religiously every week to watch the new episode?
There has been an upward trend in communities of passionate television show followers, especially with the powerful rise of sites like Netflix, which lets a viewer watch entire seasons before the new one premieres. Shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Homeland are just some of television’s most followed shows. They average millions of viewers for each episode and even have talk shows after each episode finishes.
According to an Entertainment Weekly article by James Hibberd, the series finale of Breaking Bad shattered records with 10.3 million viewers tuning in to see how the saga of Walter White would end. AMC charged up to $400,000 for each 30-second commercial spot during the finale. That number is getting close to Super Bowl heights in terms of cost.
There has to be a reason these television shows hypnotize viewers into a cult-like following. It is not by chance that millions like a show just because it is good entertainment. The recent trend of shows gaining popularity is related to anti-heroes and social media. These two factors, which seem to be drawing viewers in, are good for the evolution of television.
An anti-hero is defined as a central character in a story, movie or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes. This means that instead of a pristine character who saves the day, some of the anti-hero’s actions can be borderline villainous. At the end of the day however, they will make the right decision restoring them in the audience’s eye.
Examples are Bryan Cranston’s character in Breaking Bad and Andrew Lincoln’s character in The Walking Dead. Both characters have had to make dubious decisions throughout the run of their respective shows, but both remained in the limelight and drummed up millions of viewers each week. This is a positive change from the one-dimensional characters plaguing basic cable. Audiences are craving complex characters to match increasingly in-depth storylines.
Social media is complementing many shows, which elevates them to new heights of fandom never reached by series aired before the advent of Facebook and Twitter. Fans can follow their favorite actors from the show and learn more about the show through them. Online features allow viewers to follow along while the newest episode of their show is playing. An example of this is AMC’s Story Sync. This specific feature prompts users with questions and trivia that connects to the streaming show.
The more interactive a show is with its viewing community, the more loyal the fans will be when returning each week to watch. This is also a positive for the viewing community because, as television races to compete with streaming sites, they need to keep upgrading the way fans can stay in contact with their favorite show.
As the acting, writing and production of a show evolves, so does the technology that surrounds it and how fans are connected to it. There are almost unlimited possibilities to how a show can stay in contact with its fan base. The use of anti-heroes and social media are positively changing the evolution of television, so in the words of Walter White, “tread lightly” because a show could suck you in and grab your attention and devotion at any given moment.