[00:00:00] Jordan Heath-Rawlings: It’s been a tough week, actually a tough couple of weeks and a tough month and a tough year. And you get the idea. So last night I watched some TV.
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Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I like comic book shows Sue me and Disney’s newest Marvel series Loki launched this week. It’s a lot of fun or at least the first episode is. And the first episode is all I will see of Loki until next Wednesday, because Wednesdays as Disney’s newest marketing campaign says are the new Fridays.
This is a new approach. That is an old approach, and it is the end result of a really neat little story about how sometimes disruption is not for the better. And doesn’t [00:01:00] last. In 2013 led by a Netflix show called House of Cards, the buzziest new television series for streaming platforms were mostly dumped all at once, ready for bingeing. Bingeing was considered a huge difference maker, driving people to streaming platforms and away from cable TV. The premise was simple. You could watch the whole thing every episode right now, all in one sitting, stay up all night, stay in all weekend. Do whatever you want to do. And now eight years later, one of the world’s biggest entertainment giants has been taking its newest must-see programs on its streaming platforms and building advertising campaigns around the fact that no, actually it’s not all yours. You have to wait a full week between each episode. Sorry, not sorry. So what happened to bingeing? And are we better off [00:02:00] without it?
I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings. This is The Big Story. It has been a tough week and we just want to talk about some TV. We’ve got Norm Wilner here. He is the senior film writer at Now magazine. He hosts two podcasts, one called Someone Else’s Movie is available on this network and another through Now magazine is called fittingly enough, Now What? Hey Norm.
Norm Wilner: Hi, how are you doing?
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I’m doing okay. I’m looking forward to talking about the fun world of TV after the week we’ve had.
Norm Wilner: Yeah. Uh, escapism has never really been quite so important. Has it? It’s just. It’s been a miserable week.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Yes. Um, and we are now speaking of weeks, we are now going to talk about the fact that we are now waiting weeks again, for episodes of some TV shows, including one we’ll get into a little bit later. [00:03:00] First. I just want to ask you, do you remember when binge releasing TV shows became a thing. And was there one or two shows that kind of really started that trend?
Norm Wilner: Yeah. Well, I think it was House of Cards. I think that was the first. That was the first one that was a hit. That was the first one that became a sensation. Netflix released an entire season of a political show, starring Kevin Spacey, which, you know, now nobody remembers it all. It’s just a casualty of early everything and also Kevin Spacey, but that was a huge, huge deal when it happened.
And the idea that you could watch the whole thing in two days, if you really committed or even you could do it in one day, if you were really, really committed. Yeah. That was seen as revolutionary. Um, and at first I remember a lot of negativity, people saying this is too much. There’s no, there’s no point why people can’t possibly.
And you know, of course within six months it was. The new normal and networks were [00:04:00] scrambling to figure out how to deal with it. And the very fabric of production had changed and it had, and not for the better, I don’t think because the value of releasing stuff over time and the network model or the conventional or legacy model or whatever you want to call, it gives, shows a chance to learn what works and adapt to fan feedback.
Particularly important for comedies, which I think is a reason you don’t see a lot of pure comedy shows ordered for, uh, for streaming series. Um, you learn what works with chemistry. You learn, which actors can handle, which roles. I mean, look at an ensemble show like, uh, Parks and Recreation, really where the first season, the first six episodes is just they don’t know what they had got. And then by season two, it’s like, oh, Chris Pratt can do anything. And Aubrey Plaza is an invaluable reactive player. And Nick Offerman is doing so much more than we thought he was going to do. And like, if they’d done a 13 episode order and had to release the whole thing at once, they would never have [00:05:00] been a second season.
They’d be, it would have been dead. And instead you can. Go with the reaction. You can, you can respond to what the show wants to be. And what we have now is the binge model where here’s an entire season of a show. We have had no notes. We have had no network, uh, telling us what might or might not work. We’ve done no testing. We’re dropping it the way we want to do it. And sometimes it works and sometimes you can tell it really doesn’t.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Why has it, or had it, I guess, as we’re going to talk about if, if the tide is now turning back, but why did it become such a dominant method of release? Cause you know, to your point, it actually makes most of the things associated with the show. Much more difficult.
Norm Wilner: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and it also, it kills momentum, uh, which was something that no one noticed apparently for years, the idea that you would release a show or a movie and just. Blanket the world with it. And sure. Everybody talks about it for a [00:06:00] weekend. And then no one talks about it, even though it’s still there and it’s still being watched. And there are people who could still discover it. If something isn’t constantly churning in the public eye. It may as well, not exist.
Uh, last July, there was a show on Netflix called Warrior Nun, which was kind of a Buffy knockoff based on a comic book. It’s very, it’s fun. It’s very silly. And again, it takes half the show to figure out what’s going on and how to best use the actors. But once it comes together, it was a lot of fun and I was recommending it to people. Uh, and then that was in July of last year or June. And then they just announced the showrunner. The creator just announced that he’s shooting season two. And I thought, I completely forgot about that show. Did, did Netflix pull it?
And then I looked and it’s still there, but you know, how did he rolled out those 10 episodes? Over 10 weeks, it would have run straight into September or late August. And it would have been given the opportunity to find a much larger audience that would now be excited about a season two as it is. If you miss the conversation about it that weekend. [00:07:00] It was like, it never happened.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So why is it like that though? What, what prompted the advantage? Yeah. What, what is the reasoning? Cause like, you know, studios are not stupid. Um, well, I mean, we can argue that point, I guess, depending on what studio you’re talking about, but you know, this is a business and it’s, TV’s made a lot of money for a long time and they wouldn’t be binge dropping series. If they had all this evidence saying it was the wrong thing to do. So why did it take over.
Norm Wilner: I think it was the impulse towards disruptive behaviour that dominated all of the last decade where it’s like, we can do this now. And because these streaming services are not using a commercial model because they don’t need to be, um, structured around keeping people’s interests constantly on a given thing.
It’s not going to make any difference at all. If they release all 10 episodes or all 15 episodes of something, At once or rule them out and then [00:08:00] charge ad rates that can spike because the show’s a hit, you know, it was a huge deal when Friends was Friends in 1995 and six, I guess, diet Coke sponsored a shot or something. And it was some big deal, but they had these massive ad campaigns and it was a huge revenue driver for the show, obviously because they had a massive audience. So the massive audience thing has changed because everything’s so fragmented now. And a streaming service runs on subscribers, not on ads. So.
Netflix and Amazon and, well, I guess peacock still does in the states, but the, like the various streamers, they don’t care about it. Whether or not a show gets more popular over time. They want to have the footprint that weekend and dominate it and then have something else the following weekend. And because Netflix and Prime and now Disney with the Marvel and the Star Wars franchise, because they are capable of putting out a new thing every week that is going to be that big. If they structure it properly, it’s just. Become the normal. Why not? Why not just [00:09:00] put out an entire show every week or two or three and then two or three features if you’re Netflix and you know, one of them is going to catch it doesn’t matter if they all do. And what ends up happening is. One thing does click if the timing is right or the thing from Amazon clicks that week, or the thing that Apple clicks that week, and then the streamers don’t care because next week is a whole new game with the reset.
And the one thing Disney has done really, really smartly Apple does it too, but not with every show. Uh, the one thing Disney has done is create the event television thing, by making sure they Dole out their big deals slowly. Regularly and, uh, hypefully. Hypefully,, is that a word? I think it’s a word with as much hype as possible, which brings us to look
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I want to ask you if there was a moment, uh, when it seemed to you like the shift backwards [00:10:00] towards weekly or doled out shows began because about two years ago, I guess maybe a little more, uh, we did an episode of this podcast at the very end of Game of Thrones, and we kind of marked that as. This might be the last weekly television, everybody watches together and discusses it the next day.
Norm Wilner: Appointment viewing we called it.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Episodics. Yeah, exactly. And you know, I know it’s a little bit different when they drop on demand episodes weekly, but it’s still the same. Like you got to wait for it and spend your time in between talking about it.
Norm Wilner: Oh yeah.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Model. When did that start to shift back? Was it Disney Plus?
Norm Wilner: Um, it might’ve been, I’m thinking like the Mandalorian was probably the first. It was the first Disney show that was week to week. Um, and it was the first Star Wars television property, which was a huge deal at the time. And probably still is like that show [00:11:00] represents a shift in the way the property of Star Wars was, was being treated. And, and now they’ve announced like 18 more Star Wars shows. Uh, so that’s going to. Blunted, but at the time it was a huge, huge, huge deal. Um, maybe Westworld was still doing it, I think because all the other HBO series and the HBO wasn’t doing the binge model, it never did.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right.
Norm Wilner: So it was just the Game of Thrones had built so much momentum into that ending that. It was unfathomable that you would miss it if you cared, even though the show was just a shadow of its former self in the final season, and no one was happy with the way it ended, it was still a huge, huge thing, you know, and network television was still doing it. Uh, I was watching The Good Place, like live basically just week to week because it was such a fascinating narrative and, and kept doing weird things.
But I think if Game of Thrones was the end of the conventional model, The Mandalorian was [00:12:00] the fall of 2019. And, um, I think that was the thing that really snapped it back. That really made people really, cause it was the killer app for Disney Plus it was the reason you have a subscription and then it was a mystery because, you know, I cannot think of a better concept for getting nerds to come back week after week, then what’s under the helmet. What an ingenious pitch. I think it was. Matt Zoller Seitz, a television critic in the states who said that when the second season finale dropped and the big reveal of the mystery of the Jedi was revealed, he said, you know, congratulations to the Mandalorian for doing the thing it was always going to do, but making me think it was going to do something different.
It’s just, that’s what you want in a show. I think for television, like The Sopranos or The Wire. It shows you the possibilities in this massive world that you’re navigating, and then it gives you the thing that kind of is the only thing it could give you in The Sopranos. It’s the way it ends in The Wire. It’s the fact that the system always wins in The [00:13:00] Mandalorian. It’s the revelation that this person, of course, it’s this person, it was only ever going to be this person doing the thing that. Is the only thing the show can do based on the way the show is constructed, that is in a weird way, what episodic television is all about.
And if you’d dropped all eight episodes of the Mandalorian to binge on people would have got there and been dissatisfied with it immediately, as opposed to taking the time and thinking and just mulling over what’s going on. And then the ending feels satisfying. And I think that’s the most important thing about episodic television is that it’s designed to be paced.
There was, there was an entire season of Luke Cage. Where every episode, it would come back to two characters, two of the villains sitting in a room, and one of the villains saying, I don’t think I want to do this anymore. And the other villain saying, no, you have to every week, except it wasn’t every week, it was every hour and it got so boring. So fast. That if you’d stretch that thing out over a couple of months, maybe it wouldn’t have been so annoying. Maybe it would have been a necessary pause in the pacing of the episode instead, [00:14:00] because we’re supposed to gun through these and eat them in an entire weekend. All you can see are the flaws and that’s something that a slower rollout doesn’t do.
With WandaVision. People were creating fan theories and. Driving themselves into pretzel knots, trying to come up with explanations or the significance of every character when they’re not, you know, always right. And then people got mad at that, which perpetuated the discourse. It kept it alive every week. There were more fan theories and recaps and breakdowns.
And the following week, the show would do what it was going to do anyway. And people would say, no, it means this and this. And it was incredibly nerdy and kind of exhausting, but it’s. Genius from Disney’s perspective because every week there is a new burst of activity on social media and legacy media, trying to figure out what this thing means.
And now with Loki, they’re sort of pinballing all over the sci fi universe of, of the world on top of the world that they’ve already built in the Marvel [00:15:00] universe and it’s insanely complex and incredibly convoluted, and that is going to make people talk about it all over again. So again, they’re getting what they want. If they had released this in a weekend. It would be over in a weekend instead it runs for what is it, eight episodes. It’s going to go on straight into, uh, the beginning of August. I think.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I’ll add one more thing before we move on. And, and I get your review of Loki, uh, which I also watched the first episode of to prepare for this conversation because it’s not often that I can, uh, just watch Disney Plus and call at work. Um, but if the Mandalorian which I watched and enjoyed had been a binge drop. I never would have watched it because I’m busy and I’m a dad. And I would have watched the first episode and it would have been spoiled for me on Twitter and the conversation would have moved past me and I wouldn’t get to participate in it. And then I’d say, oh, why bother? Which is exactly what happened to me with The Queen’s Gambit.
Norm Wilner: Yup. Yup. I did not enjoy The Queen’s Gambit, so it’s a poor example for me, but I can think of half a dozen other shows that I haven’t even [00:16:00] gotten into because I didn’t have to review them. And it’s just. Too intimidating.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Yeah. And it’s over before you can, yeah. It’s over before you can actually bother to make it a part of your watching life.
Norm Wilner: Right. And when you say over you mean culturally over cause it’s still there.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Yeah.
Norm Wilner: That’s the other thing, right? All of these shows are still floating around on their respective services waiting to be seen or discovered. Um, I’m thinking about the other thing that works for something like the Mandalorian was when Paul Sun-Hyung Lee from Kim’s Convenience showed up and Canada went nuts. And if that, again, he shows up he’s in a couple of episodes. He comes back, um, in the second season, he’s in the, I think the third one and then pops up again in six or seven. And everybody just got to enjoy that at the same time, but it wasn’t muffled under all the other Mandalorian coverage that would have happened in a binge model. Right? Like it was a sensation in Canada. It was a major story. [00:17:00] And I think if it had happened, While all the other “Mandalorian is back” coverage was happening. It would have been a drop in a bucket. Instead. It got to be the story.
Um, Evan Peters shows up in WandaVision as Wanda’s dead brother, Pietro or Pete in the, in the version of the show. And it’s a huge deal because Evan Peters played a different version of Quicksilver in the X-Men movies.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: It’s like a nice little Easter egg for, for geeks who are sticking through this.
Norm Wilner: Right. Which is all that it is in the show. It was, Hey, we can cast him. It’ll be fun. In what happened because it was midway through the season and it, again, it was being released week to week. That became a massive story on every nerd site, because does this mean the X-Men are going to show up? Does this mean it’s a connection.
If you release the entire season on one day, it burns out. The discourse dies and you don’t have the pop culture, SEO, social media domination that you’re seeking. And so the genius of Disney is they’ve gone back to the original, wonderful world of [00:18:00] Disney every Sunday model. And they roll stuff out slowly and they keep people talking.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: And Loki launched this week and the campaign for it. And this is why we’re doing this episode explicitly leaned into, uh, anti bingeing. And so the tagline is Wednesdays are the new Fridays, Friday being when their previous weekly episodes used to drop. And I just think it’s fascinating that we’ve gone full circle from Netflix pitching. Like you can watch everything you want right now. That’s the selling point to Disney now pitching as an enticement. Like no, we’re not going to give this to you, except on Wednesdays. It’s 180 degree turn in terms of how these shows are marketed.
Norm Wilner: And it’s just evolution of marketing period. It’s, it’s not even, it’s, it’s not a regression because if you argue that they’re going back to the appointment viewing model, then they would release them at the same time everywhere. And you’re like at 9:00 PM, wherever you are in the world, instead they drop them at [00:19:00] midnight Pacific, which is 3:00 AM in Toronto. And. I mean, there are people who stay up to watch every new episode. Um, Disney has just found a way to remind people that, you know, sometimes the old ways are best. It’s okay to, to slowly work through something. It’s okay to deliver something slowly.
Uh, I was astonished, but also not surprised that when WandaVision came out as a weekly. There was a little wave of journalists, writers anyway, people online who were being, I think the only word to use is pissy about being denied the experience of bingeing, because that’s what they wanted. They wanted to watch the whole thing and they didn’t want to wait. And there’s somebody who wrote, I don’t know, 1200 words about it. And I read those words and all it comes down to is I want what I want now. And it’s the same people who say, I’m going to pirate this movie. If it’s not available in Canada, in a theater.
[00:20:00] And you know, it’s fine. People are entitled. People have spent the last five years having everything they want at the touch of a button instantly. I understand the mentality. I don’t respect it because ultimately. The show doesn’t belong to me. I am watching someone else’s work. And if that person or that network or that studio, or that massive entertainment conglomerate chooses to release it week to week, I don’t actually have an opinion that matters. It’s not my call. And with WandaVision, that argument, and it’s going to happen again with Loki, the argument that I want to be able to see this whole thing right now. It means the show is working. It means you want the answers. It means you want to continue watching it. And that means, unfortunately, the multi mega million dollar entertainment conglomerate is winning because they want you to keep watching and you can’t pirate it because they’re not releasing it.
And so you have to wait, maybe you pirated on the week. I don’t know how [00:21:00] these guys work, but what it does is scarcity creates demand and. A property such as this, which is just a great big Lego play set for nerds. Uh, watching probably the most entertaining. Definitely the, I was gonna say possibly the most beloved character in the Marvel universe. I’ve been saying that a lot, it’s either him or Tony stark, but definitely Tom Hiddleston is the most fun actor of the entire project and they killed him and he’s back and it’s great. And. I am. I’ve seen the second episode because they provided the first two to reviewers. So next week is going to be a weird dull week for me. But yeah, I’m looking forward to it because it’s a chance for creative people to make very silly things with a lot of money behind them. And you can argue that a mass media doesn’t need more giant fantasy projects, but. That’s the dominant narrative right now. And I still get to watch whatever else I want to watch.
It’s it’s not that these things [00:22:00] obliterate all other culture. Clio Bernard was one of my favourite filmmakers. Just has a movie announced at the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes, I just found out today and I’m overjoyed that I probably get to see that at TIFF, but. Also, you know, there’s Loki for people who want Loki, it’s not like the entire collective works of Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick have been erased by the existence of these things and Scorsese and Kubrick made some pretty commercial stuff themselves.
Um, but the idea that people are salivating week to week to watch, uh, someone who 15 years ago was an obscure Shakespearian actor dressed in a funny costume and yell at special effects. I do think that’s kind of great. I’m kind of happy everyone’s getting paid for this.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Last question is Loki worth waiting. Uh, for each week you mentioned you’ve seen the first two and you like it. Um, I’ve seen the first one. I thought it was lots of fun to your point, a giant Lego set for nerds, but a beautifully designed one.
Norm Wilner: Yeah, the, the production design gets really fun. In the second episode, they come up with more stuff, including glimpses of the future glimpses of the past. [00:23:00] Uh, I am not sure. What I even want to disclose, because I don’t want to spoil it for anybody. Um, yeah. It’s it’s I found The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Um, it was okay, but it was political. Its politics were muddled. Then it was kind of gray in that Marvel house style. Shows like Loki and WandaVision are. Not as, as rooted in the Marvel studios house style they can be more playful, they can be bright and silly and weird and scary if they want to be. And. Apparently they can cast whoever the hell they want, which is why you have this, um, amazing supporting cast for Tom Hiddleston to annoy. And you can see it going in other directions. You can see, like, I don’t know that this show is going to be the one that does the thing where it delivers the only thing it could possibly deliver, because it. Right off the bat. It tells you that it could go anywhere and do anything. The influences are, are everywhere and all over the place. And I’m very curious to watch it because I enjoy watching the people behind it. And you know, it’s 45 minutes [00:24:00] of diversion every week. I’m perfectly happy to do that. I don’t know that I would be as excited if it was six hours of diversion all at once.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: It’s exactly how I feel. Thanks Norm. Thanks for this. Uh, thanks for not spoiling the second episode, cause I’m looking forward to it.
Norm Wilner: I would, I would never.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Norm Wilner of Now Magazine and of Someone Else’s Movie, which you can listen to right here on the Frequency Podcast Network. That was also The Big Story, more from us, as I tell you every single day, it’s all at thebigstorypodcast.ca. You can find us on Twitter at @TheBigStoryFPN, and you can email us thebigstorypodcast, all one word, all lowercase, @rci.rogers.com [click here!]. And find us on your favourite podcast platform. Subscribe, follow, friend us, review us, rate us, like us, whatever they tell you to do, just do it.
Stefanie Phillips, Ryan Clarke, and Claire Brassard produce The Big Story. And I’m your host, Jordan Heath-Rawlings. Thank you guys for listening. Stay safe this weekend. Be well. We’ll [00:25:00] talk Monday.
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