What Captures A TV Audience

TV Shows That Find Longevity

So what makes an audience tune in? As a potential fan to a show, I now have to consider not only what I might enjoy, but if the vast majority of audiences find it appealing.

Is it necessarily fair? Of course not, but understanding what specific criteria can capture an audience can save one from watching a show that is doomed for immediate cancellation due to poor ratings.

Since studying the ratings system, I apply a certain ‘checklist’ to see if I can predict if a show is actually worth committing to, or if ratings will be a major player in a quick air removal. 

I don’t think people have a set external list as to what makes a good show worth watching, and what makes a show not worth an ounce of attention. However, there are internal factors that we as people (and a television audience) admire when attempting to watch & commit to a new show. The shows that capture these hidden elements usually see the longest and greatest payoff.

A show usually sees an increased longevity if it excels at one or more of the following elements.

  • Unpredictability– This one is self explanatory, and while simple, it’s one of the most important aspects in finding a large audience. If a show is predictable, it’s ruined. It’s that simple. A lot of the time other lacking elements can be overcome, or offset by excelling in a different aspect, but unpredictability is one that is almost essential. Can a show still gather a large audience and be deemed predictable? Sure, the exceptions are usually thirty minute sitcoms, as their goal is to make the audience laugh, so unpredictability can be set aside in this specific scenario.
  • Story Development- (Not storylines, there’s a difference. A storyline is regarding the story itself). Story development is the development of leading up to said storyline. Shows that rush into storylines usually make for some lazy and almost unwatchable TV. Have you ever watched a movie or show, and ended up saying to yourself, “that felt rushed” or “that just seemed out of place.” That’s because there is a more than good chance there was some lazy story development leading up to it. The development of a story needs to be clear, thought out, and precise.
  • Character Development- No one wants to watch a show where they cant relate to the characters. They can’t relate to them if the show doesn’t develop them in a smooth, thoughtful process. Shows that take the time out to develop characters, and make them relatable usually see the most success. In fact, most shows will see cancellation after a season or two because of the lack of attention they give to the character development. Shows who emphasize character development properly can thrive on this aspect alone.
  • Storylines & Premise- This is the actual story itself. Not only what the main premise is, but the side stories the show uses along the way to garnish audience attention. A storyline is important, but it needs to develop naturally or viewers could easily be turned off. I’m a believer that a show’s main premise is obviously important to draw interest, but the development of the storytelling will ultimately be the deciding factor is an audience is retained. Think of a storyline as a subplot, and every show, movie, book, needs to have vastly differing & entertaining ones. 
  • Originality- If you can create something that hasn’t been done before or something that is regarded as too difficult, usually this will lead to a long lasting television hit. Especially today, Hollywood is just about out of original ideas, which is why we are seeing so many remakes, reboots, and ripoffs. A show in 2018 that can show originality in any form always has increased chances of being a success. Granted, much easier said than done, but when it is done, it will almost always lead to a fan favorite. 

To provide further proof, here are a list of recent shows that exemplify the factors that generated, and maintained a large audience for numerous years.

Recent Examples

Category: Comedy
Parks And Recreation (NBC- 7 Seasons): Imagine you heading into work and genuinely loved everyone you worked with. The atmosphere is friendly, your boss is a cheerful optimistic person, and your co-workers make you laugh on a consistent basis. Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? Well once you take a minute to realize that scenario is almost a pipe dream, you can instead tune in and watch Parks and Recreation. Parks and Recreation is one of those shows that is light hearted and beyond hysterical. Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, and company instantly make you not only fall in love with their on screen characters, but they make you jealous that you too, aren’t working in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. The characters have amazing chemistry, the tempo is upbeat, and aside from the critical aspects, it’s genuinely funny. This is just one of those shows you can count on if you’ve had a bad day, or if you’re in in the mood to laugh episode after episode, and who doesn’t need a good laugh from time to time?

Category: Fantasy/Adventure
*Game of Thrones (HBO- 7 Seasons): With the final season approaching in 2019, if you’re one of the few left who won’t buy into all the hype, I suggest that you buckle down, grab some popcorn, and get ready to be entertained. The show’s unpredictability sets it apart from everything else. The characters are compelling, and while the background stories might be hard to keep track of at times, as a viewer, you don’t even notice because the show’s insane amount of unpredictability keeps your attention every single episode. It’s a true masterpiece in terms of storytelling. When you combine great storytelling with an insane amount of unpredictability, you’re going to get a show that can’t be put into proper words. So while I try to explain how phenomenal this show is, it just won’t do it justice, so just watch it. My one piece of advice going in, never get too attached to any character.

Category: Dramedy
Weeds (Showtime- 8 Seasons): Weeds was a true gem that had compelling storylines, amazing character development, and a sense of unpredictability. Plenty of shows’ major flaws would be rushing a plot or lazy character development. Weeds takes those common flaws and turns it into some of their strengths. It creates intriguing stories, all while still calmly letting the audience get to know the characters on screen. In my opinion, it’s the reason the show gets so much praise. An audience has a tough time falling in love with a show when they can’t relate to characters. Weeds quickly embraces the idea that character development and relatability need to come first. The most impressive part about this aspect is that creator, Jenji Kohan is able to accomplish this within a rich, suburban town, in which creating an audience/character relationship is extremely risky and difficult. Kudos Ms. Kohan, you made it work, and the end result was spectacular.

Category: Dramedy
*Shameless (Showtime- 8 Seasons): Showtime certainly knows what viewers want when it comes to a critically acclaimed dramedy. Shameless doesn’t necessarily deliver on unpredictability, nor does it ‘shock and awe’ their audience with cliffhangers or jaw droppers. What Shameless does better than almost any show on television is character development. This is where the fantastic leads played by William H. Macy, and Emmy Rossum pay off big time. Add an outstanding ensemble, and you have a cast of characters that are all likable. Think about it, when was the last time you could say, ‘I like every character on the show (not counting the portrayed antagonist who you are supposed to dislike).’ Every character is developed so well, some over a span of multiple seasons; in the end, you find yourself falling in love with every single one of them. This goes back to me stating how vital character and story development are, as because the development of these characters were extremely thoughtful, the rest of the show just flows smoothly. Another aspect to note about this Showtime hit is it is one of the few shows on television that has actually gotten better with age. The first two or three seasons are great, but because the focus is on character development (as it should be), the storylines aren’t as strong, but that’s okay, because once season 4, 5, 6, etc. come along, the stories are ten times better, and you as an audience member are much more invested in the characters themselves because the writers took their time in setting up the big picture of the series. One final thing I note, if you are one that is easily offended, this might not be the show for you.

Category: Drama/Horror
*American Horror Story (FX- 7 Seasons): American Horror Story is on this list for two main reasons, originality and creativity. AHS delivers an intriguing story season after season under a unique anthology setting. The stories created are fictional, but creator Ryan Murphy is so clever and creative when it comes to implementing real life events into every season. While it isn’t the first anthology series of it’s kind, it is one of the few in recent memory that has found success. AHS also brings the horror genre back to primetime, another aspect that hasn’t seen much attention or success recently. So not only should Murphy be credited for combining two very difficult aspects into one, but his story development sets this show apart from most others. If you look up certain names, people, and events the show mentions, you will find that many of these characters/events are not entirely fictional. Feel free to look up Hotel Cortez (AHS: Hotel), or SCUM Manifesto (AHS: Cult) to further help prove the point. Off this basis alone, it can be easily seen that careful planning leads to the phenomenal writing, and overall development of every single season. There is now a rumor that in the end, all of these seasons will somehow connect. If Murphy can implement a believable and smooth transition in to how all these stories connect; this including an insane asylum from 1964, a nightmare of a hotel constructed in the 1920’s, a circus of ‘freaks’ in 1954, and the most recent US presidential election all connect, then this show needs to be considered as one of the most clever,  innovative, and creative pieces to ever air on television.

*Denotes show is still currently airing

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