As a marketing major, many of my classes deal with how and why people make decisions about which brand or product best meets a particular need. In the case of television, this translates to examining how or why people choose their programming, and what makes a show popular or not. Of course, everyone has varying criteria for what makes a good or entertaining show, but I thought I’d take a couple minutes here to try to explain why I watch the shows I watch.
Smart is the New Funny:
I’d venture to guess that the large majority of the half hour comedies I watch fall into the category of smart-funny: shows whose humor incorporates an element of intelligent thought. Stuff like social commentary (Parks and Rec with soda sizes and the park versus Paunch Burger), pop culture illusions and tie-ins (Community‘s Abed’s intense love of Cougar Town and respective back and forth cameos) or subtle long-running jokes (Community and Beetlejuice or Dwight’s shocking success with attractive women) are shows that require at least a little thought to get the full extent of their humor. That helps keep me more engaged, and I appreciate the little nods and deeper bits long after their first airing.
Character-Driven Crime Solving
I don’t watch many of your killer-of-the-week type shows for one very simple reason: too many of them focus on the crime-solving and don’t develop the characters’ interpersonal relationships or backstories. On shows like NCIS, it’s rare for a case to involve any aspect of a main player’s personal life, and that makes it difficult for me to identify and relate to the characters. After all, I certainly don’t spend my days in a crime lab with a mass spec; I spend them watching and writing and obsessing about television.
Shows like Castle, Bones, and USA’s splattering of light crime dramas all bring in an element of intimacy, and that’s what keeps me watching week to week. I’m much more interested in the give and take between (only mildly reformed) criminal Neil Caffrey and FBI agent Peter Burke on White Collar than any sort of caper the two might be solving. Likewise, it’s Castle and Kate and Javi and Ryan’s relationships outside of the squad room that I really care about, not the details of that week’s murder . It’s so much more captivating to see how private problems and personal dynamics play into crime solving than splatter patterns and calculating time of death.
Continuity and Investigation: Fan Reward
Let me just state for the record; I’m not a casual TV watcher, for the most part. Those fans you see on the internet, following the show’s stars on Twitter and dissecting every single aspect of every second of airtime—that’s me. Because of that, it logically follows that I like shows that rewards fans like me by actually paying attention to continuity and by planting clues for only the most dedicated of fans.
This means shows like How I Met Your Mother, which uses subtle background clues and early revealed hints that help fuel fan theories. They are sometimes subtle things, like the items on the shelves behind Ted’s kids as he tells them the (very, very) long story, or the long-standing theory that the mother is Ted’s “perfect” Love Solutions Match in season one when he stands up for Robin. How I Met Your Mother is excellent at continuity, and everything that happens on screen happens for a reason. It’s the kind of thing that really fuels devoted fans and keeps them interested in an almost decade-long tale.
BBC’s Sherlock is another great example of a show that rewards super fans. It’s been almost a year and half since the second series ended and Sherlock “died,” and the internet has produced no shortage of theories about how he managed to survive a three-story fall. Rather than playing a bait-and-switch and refusing to confirm or deny anything, series creator Steven Moffatt announced there are clues we’ve all missed, that no one has been right, yet. That incited a frenzy to solve the mystery, and it’s hopefully enough to keep us enthralled until the series resumes.