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The Online TV Revolution
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
When I first started writing this column nearly a decade ago, legally watching TV shows online wasn't possible. Slowly, over the years, that started to change; TV series that had already aired on traditional channels became available on iTunes and then Netflix and Amazon in a kind of online syndicated format.
But this year Netflix and Amazon* started something new; they debuted new series on their platforms that skipped the traditional networks altogether. While there's nothing new about original content online, what's different here is the amount of money being invested in these series, the quality of the shows and the names involved with them.
Debuting last February on Netflix was House of Cards. Starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and Kate Mara and co-produced by David Fincher, Netflix reportedly spent $100 million+ to acquire two seasons of this series. In Cards, Spacey plays U.S. Representative Frank Underwood who craves political power and will stop at nothing as he claws his way towards a future in the oval office. Wright plays his wife Claire and Mara an up and coming reporter whom Frank doles out information to, helping his cause and helping her career.
After a long absence from TV, in May the fourth season of Arrested Development became available on Netflix. Bridging the seven year gap since Arrested last aired on Fox, the new Arrested presented the Bluth family in a new light and in a new decade. While they once were a family in charge of a successful and profitable construction company, the Bluth Company collapsed in the great recession leaving the family in disarray.
I'm a huge fan of Arrested and though some thought the Netflix series wasn't as good as when it was on Fox since they were formatted differently -- the fourth season played out like one long story with episodes leading into one and other, referencing other episodes, overlapping at points -- I liked it a lot.
In July one of my favorite shows of the year Orange is the New Black premiered also on Netflix. Created by Jenji Kohan (Weeds), this series follows character Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a woman sentenced to 15 months in prison for carrying a suitcase full of drug money through an airport a decade before the start of the show. Things go from bad to worse for Chapman as she has to kiss her upper-middle class existence goodbye and experiences a culture-shock at the prison gates. Inside, she must deal with all sorts of different types of people in her new surroundings and finds out that her ex- lover (Laura Prepon) who got her into the drug trade is also serving time there too.
It's the series with the most heart of just about any show I've ever seen and is unlike anything else out there. And I can't think of another series that has a mostly female cast and is a drama rather than a soap opera.
While these new Netflix shows do have all the trappings of traditional TV — they run either 30 minutes or an hour depending on the format, all have opening and closing credits and run 13-15 episodes, about the same as traditional TV — there is one important difference here. All episodes of Netflix shows are available on the premiere date. Meaning that while some viewers will watch all of the fourth season of Arrested in a single weekend others (read me) spent more than a week working my way through it. And with a series like Orange I decided to watch no more than two episodes a week, meaning that it took me a few months to get through it.
Along with these series both Netflix and Amazon have more series from dramas to comedies and even animated series in the works too from creators like Chris Carter of The X-Files and the Worchowski siblings of The Matrix.
My one question to Netflix on all this is how long can they keep paying creators like Spacey and Fincher hundreds of millions of bucks for series and still charge a flat rate of just $8 per month for all you can stream to its subscribers? It'll be interesting if this cost rises sooner…or later. Visit me online at DangerousUniverse.com.
*So far, Amazon has aired a few pilot episodes for series, but hasn't yet debuted a full-fledged series on their platform, though several are scheduled.