Netflix, Hulu, HBO: the rise of high stakes television

Posted on Nov 5 2013 - 9:18am by Casey Holliday


Full disclosure: I watch a lot of television. An Apple TV with Netflix, Hulu Plus and HBO Go is probably the greatest productivity killer ever invented.

What am I watching? The high-stakes serialized drama, which has steadily increased in popularity in recent years. “Lost,” “24” and “Prison Break” were first, introducing season-long and series-spanning plots, proving that audiences could have an attention span for more mature television.

But what differentiates these from previous dramas? Moments big enough to be the season finale of earlier dramas are now the commercial breaks, with showstopping moments occurring every episode.

“Scandal,” “Revenge,” ‘Game of Thrones,” “American Horror Story” and “Dexter” are just a few examples of popular high-stakes dramas. Their social media presence is unavoidable (to people who tweet spoilers: I hate you), precisely because every episode attempts to be as explosive and surprising as the last.

Of course, some shows take it too far. Anyone who still watches “Pretty Little Liars” will tell you how ridiculous its out-of-left-field revelations every episode have become. One of the main complaints about “Lost” is how complicated and tangled its plot became (though it’s still the greatest television show ever created).

When a show is able to walk the right line, though, what can be produced is truly special. “American Horror Story” has become a hit because of its twisted story, showering the viewer with horrifying reveals every episode.

As college students, we are already limited with our time, especially time to sit down and watch television. The same can be said for most of America, and networks realize that capturing and keeping the viewer’s attention every single episode is now essential to succeed. We’re going to spend our time on shows that give us something to talk about and anticipate every week.

These kinds of shows also lend themselves extremely well to binge-watching, the recent phenomenon that Netflix tapped into by releasing the entirety of its original shows at once. Most people I’ve talked to watched all of “Orange Is the New Black” within a week of starting it.

The “one more episode” mentality is exactly what these shows are appealing to with great success. My Netflix instant queue is sad evidence of that fact.


-Casey Holliday