New Formats of Television: All At Once & Plot Per Season

New Formats of Television

It doesn’t take a historian to understand the fact that television has changed a lot since it became commercially available in the late 20’s. From black and white to color, from big and heavy television sets to LCD screens, from creating cinematic sound systems at home to the possibility of purchasing a 3D television (!) if you happen to fancy that kind of a watching experience. But technological enhancements aren’t the focus of this article, more precisely, the actual aim is to satisfy the curiosity towards apprehending the overall change of receiving television through a more psychological understanding.

Firstly, I’m not an expert when it comes to psychology but I do consider myself as a higher level addict when it comes to watching television. So I’m quite sure I have a certain insight to the process of absorbing television, may it be considered a healthy weekly program or a heavy load of shows that more than often get you emotionally attached. For some years now, I have even established a new kind of vocabulary because of watching and getting mentally invested in numerous television shows, for instance, shipping, bromance, otp and the feelings filled expression of asdfghj. If you happen to be familiar with these (to be fair, these words are of course present in the movie fan-world as well) you are certainly invested in the television universe through a show or two or more – there seems to be no limit.

Now, while technology has made possible for people to Tivo their favorite television programs, the availability of shows has become much wider and more likely to appear to a larger audience. It also increases the possibility of expanding the general viewership of any show, after recording the pilot the person already invested in the show decides to stay at home with a box of ice cream instead of Tivo’ing the program. Next day at work, the four ladies of the office decide to gossip over the latest episode of Desperate Housewives and spike an interest for the fifth one. This seems to have an important effect on the show itself because the politics behind the unknown curtain of the television world has somehow established a very cut-throat approach – if the numbers are low, no show!

Finally we get to a point that expresses the change of scenery in the television universe through two very innovative approaches, for clarity, let’s call these two “all at once” and “plot per season“. Though these formats are still relatively new, I have a feeling that they will become more popular in the upcoming years or at least they should because they appeal to the needs of the audience on a whole new level. For those fanatics who opt to enjoy a huge portion of the series (or all of it) over the weekend “all at once” means getting the opportunity before there’s even a DVD box set. Netflix’s House of Cards is a perfect example, and currently the second TV-show (in addition to Netflix’s Lilyhammer) that released all its episodes at the same time instead of following the regular week-to-week programming. There is a certain freedom of choice that comes with this format, the viewer is not forced to wait for a new episode each week and the actual watching schedule is a decision left up to the person not the program.

The second example, “plot per season” was a creative decision by two TV veterans Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, who made the choice of changing the plot of American Horror Story after each of its season. This is a whole new territory for television as well, regular series that doesn’t have to live in the constant fear of becoming uninteresting or falling into the trap of irrelevance. Though American Horror Story changes almost everything each season, including the characters the regular cast portrays, The Killing will present a new case for its returning third season. The example is not the same, obviously the successful horror series is much more radical with its changes, but it shows a need for renew story lines many of the current television series are in a desperate need for.

That being said, there is certainly room for other fresh thoughts regarding the common television formats but not all shows could be as innovative. While the examples presented here have a certain element of continuity in their story lines throughout the season, shows such as CSI, NCIS and Criminal Minds could never succeed in using “all at once” or “plot per season” as their core format. Same goes for comedy shows such as New Girl, The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother, which do get enjoyed all at once but would most likely never benefit off of it on a higher scale. Besides, for the existing shows changing their regular programming would most likely cause some confusion as the innovative formats are something to think about for the TV-shows to be created in the future.

Reason why this discussion has such importance is the way the viewers of television have changed their perspectives. Before the Internet, television was the source of news and a strong link to the things happening in the World, now, the purpose of sitting on the couch is to be entertained. For the working population, that entertainment is more than often left for the weekend which means hours of entertainment in a row – something that House of Cards thought about and succeeded. As a television addict myself, I’m also familiar with the feeling of exhaustion that comes from watching multiple seasons of the same show during a short period of time – a feeling American Horror Story did not generate. Therefore, these innovative formats, “all at once” and “plot per season” have found a way to enhance the experience of watching television shows and most likely, paved the way for newcomers to think outside the box not just with the plot but with the format presentation of the show itself.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. I think the risk with the “all at once” formula is that the show will be pirated heavily before its official air time and this is something that scares the executives from choosing this. The technology has existed long enough but we have only just seen less than a handful of shows releasing like this. I suppose what the executives do not know is that the audience that pirate shows will do it anyway when it airs.

    • Getter Trumsi

      Obviously the question of piracy is a whole new territory and I didn’t want to touch upon that topic lightly. But of course, it’s an issue with every TV show, not just with these formats.

      • I admit that I have been relying on piracy to watch my shows because most of them do not even air in my country. In return for this “free” entertainment, I pay for the DVD/Blu-ray boxes once the get releases (if I liked the show of course).

  2. Mattias Loránd

    Let us not kid ourselves. The future of Television is leaning towards broadcasting series online. If we will be sitting on the sofa and watching TV, it will very likely be a stream. This opens the discussion of what form of media appeals to an online audience. We know that Youtube is the home of very quick/short media fixes and attempt of distributing longer videos has been nothing but a failure (you can actually watch/buy full length movies there that no one is doing). When watching TV, at the very least 50 percent of the things we watch is just content that is airing that we never planned to watch – with the evolution of streaming, this may be a forgotten issue where we can filter through content and choose exactly what we want to watch. And why is this a good thing beside the obvious? Well, to maintain our interest, TV series must increase in quality. I will not be surprised if we will see more Breaking Bad contenders and less Terra Nova in the near future. Sorry I might have gone off topic but this article inspired me to rant my head off. There has been too much crap on TV lately with 99 percent of it being cancelled because it is what I just said: crap. So maybe we are in a decade were quantity ignites and quality fades… or sorry, I mean the other way around. 🙂

    • Getter Trumsi

      Well if the article inspires to rant, rant away! And yet again, I’m glad that a single topic can bring out variation of topis related to it – TV vs YouTube is definitely one of them. I myself just recently discovered The Lizzie Diaries, which is an online production of a modern Pride and Prejudice with weekly vlog like episodes. Still, I’m the kind of a person addicted to the 45-50 shows but I can see an interest towards short entertainment clips growing and growing especially on YouTube. And now I’m ranting – going to save my words for another article.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Mattias Loránd

        Ranting is my specialty! Never heard about The Lizzie Diaries, what would you compare it to? The only YouTube series that I watch is a few gaming oriented channels, particularly AVGN (Angry Video Game Nerd). He had a IndieGoGo compaign with fans funding his movie. The trailer is out and it looks like it is going to be so much fun:

        I love it when online shows get this type of growth!

        • Getter Trumsi

          I can’t really compare it to a lot of things, I don’t watch it, I just know about it. But you should check out couple of episodes, they’re really short.

      • old martin

        The cast of Lizzie Bennet Diaries is so good, Ashley Clements is great.

    • To your point, the expansion of Netflix, Hulu et al. (everything from Disney+ to Fox Nation and everything in between) have made this comment age very well.

  3. Is there any other plot per season shows out there? American Horror Story is one of my most anticipated shows and the second season confirmed how excellent it is.

    • Getter Trumsi

      In terms of changing everything, I think AHS is currently the only one. But I can’t be certain of it being THE only one in the World.

  4. I think you need an editor. Seriously, Bro, if you’re going to write something that you hope millions will read, take the time to proof your work or have someone else do it for you. Your point gets lost in the excess, meaningless verbiage and complete lack of sentence structure. I won’t even mention spelling and punctuation. Not proofing your work is an insult to your readers.

    You had a good subject here. Thank you for that, at least.

    • Getter Trumsi

      Sorry to hear that, I’ve worked hard on my English over the years since it’s not my first language. And I do proof my work as much as my knowledge allows me to, just letting you know because I don’t want to leave an impression that I don’t care about the quality of writing.

  5. Nomanland

    I’ve a few questions about the “all at once” TV shows. Did they release how well these shows were downloaded/viewed and how good were the ratings when aired? Were they happy with the outcome and are other networks looking into trying this format? And that awesome Kevin Spacey picture, where is that from?

    • Getter Trumsi

      Currently I haven’t really seen any feedback regarding their numbers but assuming that they did good since the second season is currently being filmed.
      Since they viewed the series as a 13 hour movie, I believe their outcome came across just as they wanted. Since it is a very fresh take on a format (the first Netflix series published all at once didn’t get as much media tension) I’m not sure how other networks are looking at this, probably not as excitingly as it is possible for Netflix.

      Kevin Spacey picture is the promotional image of House of Cards of course.
      Thanks for the comment!

  6. I have so far liked the ‘all at once’ format from Netflix. It was nice being able to watch the series in under a week and then move on to films and school work. I heard Amazon was looking to adapt Zombieland for TV so I’m wondering what format they intend to use, all-at-once or weekly.

    • Getter Trumsi

      Zombieland into a TV-series.. interesting.

      • Yeah, apparently they started casting already. I’m unsure if it will serve as a sequel or be unrelated to the movie.

        • Taylor Ramsey

          The zombieland show is on the shelf again. Looks dead for now.
          The all at once model is becoming even more odd. I’m not sure how house of cards was released online, but Arrested Dev on Netflix just hit all at once. All of the eps. BOOM. Odd but nice for those that would dedicate an afternoon to a show we enjoy.

  7. I enjoyed the all-at-once method for House of Cards, but when Arrested Development came out, I have to say I didn’t. Despite binge watching both series, I found that I became exhausted and fatigued, and missed so much of the content. I also suffered (despite everyone’s warnings) that I burned through them too fast, and it was all over shortly after it started.

  8. Payal Marathe

    This is an incredibly interesting article! My one suggestion, on the writing, is just to get to the point a little bit sooner. The first few paragraphs, while a good lead-in, aren’t really that interesting in comparison to the actual content of your article – innovative formats of television.

    • Getter Trumsi

      I know what you mean. I guess the style has rubbed off on me from my blog where the first paragraph is always seen on the front page and then I add a second introduction after the jump. It’s a bad writing habit.. but I’ll keep it in mind!

  9. Brett Siegel

    I think it will be interesting to see how the plot-per-season format plays out. It seems to be the kind of situation where the the risk will usually outweigh the reward. I’m a huge fan of American Horror Story, but I know several people who abandoned ship once the show revealed its unusual (and unprecedented) narrative format. It’s possible that AHS had a big enough built-in fan-base of Ryan Murphy disciples and horror fans to withstand the transition from season to season, but I’m not sure many new projects will enjoy the same level of security. The allure of competing in separate Emmy categories is appealing, but maybe not enough to test the fickle tastes of viewers.

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