Kevin Spacey has suggested we might be seeing the production of 13-hour dramas, due to the change in viewing habits:
We ‘gorge’ on series these days, for all that the BBC reported today that most people still sit down in front of the telly and watch what’s on right now. I was chatting to one of my clients this week, who said he felt his brain would have exploded if he couldn’t watch Breaking Bad as back-to-back episodes.
Right now, writers have to put in cliff-hangers at precise moments – just before the commercial break – to hook viewers into staying with the programme. It’s noticeable when the plot beats come too slowly (filling time) or a twist seems manufactured. A bit like a body wearing a wrongly-shaped corset.
This way, the story can be paced in a much more organic way – and even take the time it needs, whether it’s an hour and five minutes, or 13 hours.
But a story still needs to keep the viewer’s attention. The Victorians feared that – without a corset – a woman’s vital organs would slosh about dangerously. In storytelling terms, we don’t want 13 hours of formless tale. Our forebears knew it – Homer kept us going in The Odyssey. Cliff-hangers and reversals are a couple of standard devices for this, as are changes in tone or genre.
As Chris Fowler puts it, a story is like a pudding and, every little while, there should be a nice plum. I’m looking forward to 13 hours of these storytelling rewards.