It’s summer which means a hiatus from most TV shows. It’s too nice to be inside glued to the TV and with access on mobile, there’s no compelling reason to expect entertainment delivered exclusively via a television. Hello YOUTUBE!
The summertime is also great for analysis and reflection. Looking at what makes a show popular is a great way to reverse engineer success for your own projects.
As a TV addict, I can tell you a lot about why certain shows captivate their audience. When you’re looking to create a cult following, learn from what gives these shows’ their competitive edge.
Game of Thrones, Outlander, True Blood & The Walking Dead
This is what happens when you adapt a book or comic series which have devout and loyal followings. These shows, on various levels, have a tremendous audience. It’s no coincidence that these shows also appear on cable. Some stories lend themselves better for storytelling on premium cable. It’s not always about budget. Just imagine watching the Red Wedding on network television? *exactly*
Teachable moment: STORYTELLING is key.
These shows prove that the story is what matters the most. On the left you have the hardcore book or comic fans and on the right you have the people who could care less about the book or comics. The one thing they have in common is a passion and love for the story and its characters. A little, or a lot, of sexploitation doesn’t hurt either.
Scandal & Grey’s Anatomy / Pretty Little Liars & The Vampire Diaries
This is what happens when you reinvent the soap opera genre. On one side we have two shows that are emotionally driven with diverse casting and gut wrenching storylines. On the other side we have two millennial driven shows that connect to a younger audience.
Teachable moment: CHARACTER is key.
With these kinds of shows, audiences gravitate towards the characters more so than the storyline. Olivia Pope is not a character. She’s your sister, BFF, sophisticated aunt, professional mentor or savvy boss. Klaus was such an interesting character that he got his own spin-off series, The Originals, which is also doing pretty well.
This is what happens when the moon is full, Mercury is direct and the stars align perfectly. This show stands by itself. Rarely has a new show gone from 0 to 60 in such a short time. We can break down the show but what makes this work is pitch perfect casting, writing and scoring.
Teachable moment: SOCIAL COMMENTARY is key.
This is the kind of show that dominates social media. You either watch it live or you avoid social media until you catch up. Most episodes will start trending on Twitter within 15 minutes or so. The conversations are not only lively but sometimes just as entertaining as the show itself.
Creating a cult following for your project is going to vary. While you don’t have to be a copycat of what’s already successful, you can look at what makes them work. Reverse engineering is not a simple process but hopefully these breakdowns help give you some insight into how you can leverage the teachable moments for these successful series.