The formula for making “bingeworthy” TV is very similar to what they used to get kids coming back to the Saturday afternoon serials in the 1930s or ’40s. Back then Commander Cody, or whoever the star was, would be wrestling for control of a small plane, say. The episode would end with the plane crashing into the side of a mountain. Heavens! We must see what happens next!!
Next week, the episode would resume with the struggle on the plane. But this time, before the plane crashed, we would see the hero win his fight, grab a parachute and jump off the plane.
The same concept is at work in modern day stories, perhaps with a little more sophistication. One episode ends with a dramatic reveal or our heroes in jeopardy; we look across the room at our partner and say, “Heavens! Shall we go to the next one and see what happens?” A nod, another episode begins, and the binge is on.
In a recent article called “Are You Not Entertained?” Mark Manson writes about how our dramas, our music and even our politics are being designed to be as addictive as possible, based on what will get the most likes and what will keep you watching, listening or otherwise paying attention.
I have always been attracted to the new and unusual and weird, not the standard fare. Back in eighth grade I went nuts over “Yellow Submarine” and “Good Vibrations” precisely because they didn’t sound like anything I had ever heard before.
I don’t know if experimentation in the arts is rewarded anymore, unless it’s an experiment in coaxing people to come back again and again. Where have you gone, Lennon-McCartney, Brian Wilson, Joe DiMaggio and the like? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.