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Online TV series are old hat

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader


We live in a world where new TV series are being created not only by network and cable channels but via online services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon as well. What's amazing is that all this -- from the creation of shows to how we consume content via our TVs, tablets, smart-phones, game systems, etc., etc. -- has all come about in the last decade.

My question is if the way we consume TV entertainment is radically different than it was 10 years ago, then why are these series that are create specifically for these online services structured the same way and have all the same restraints that traditional series do too? What I mean by this is that most network and cable produced dramas are about an hour long and comedies about 30 minutes long. These shows have credits at the beginning and endings of episodes and series seasons last between 10 and 24 episodes depending on the show.

Which structurally is mirrored by the online shows, too when they don't have to.

The idea that a show has to be either 60 or 30 minutes long is one born of the early 20th century that's still used today. It's a way to fit single episodes neatly into a specific time-slot where shows begin and end at the top and bottom of the hour for scheduling purposes. And the beginning and ending credits of shows are there to let viewers know that what they've just watched has ended and something new is about to start.

But none of this stuff is really needed for shows that we watch online.
Opening credits are redundant when I'm the one choosing what to watch. Do I really need to know that I'm watching House of Cards when I'm the one who clicked to watch that exact show in the first place? That information, opening credits specifically, just aren't needed on online shows.

And shows being either 30 minutes long or 60 is redundant as well. When I first heard that Netflix and Amazon were working on original programming I got excited to see just what they were going to do differently with the format. The sky was the limit for how they could "play" with the medium since the shows would no longer have to be formatted to fit into a particular schedule anymore.

If a series creator wanted an episode to be 15 minutes long then why not? Or what about an episode being six hours long too? Any limit given to an online series would be an self-imposed one since it's the user who decides to watch a given show rather than a given show airing at a particular time and filling a particular slot.

No one tells book authors how long their chapters have to be, yet with all of the online shows that I've watched with big names attached they've all been essentially network format shows that just so happen to be online. I guess on one hand this makes sense. Creators are used to making shows a particular way, in a particular format that are a certain length and that have beginning and ending credits.
But almost none of this, except end credits, is necessary with the online series.

I'm really interested in the next filmmaker* who figures out a way to do something new and unique with the online format that couldn't be done via traditional TV. It's like when feature films first started being created and the stories that were originally told in that medium were staged* and shot to look like a stage play since that's what they were used to back then.

It took some true visionaries to realize the possibilities that film allowed them that hadn't been done before turned the medium from something old to something new and modern. I think that same sort of thing needs to happen to the online series too.

Right now while the quality of some of those shows might be spectacular, structurally they're old. And when some talented filmmaker comes in and takes the online format to the next level that's when things will really start to get interesting in the online space.

*Using old words to describe something new.

Visit me online at DangerousUniverse.com.

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