I have been contemplating something recently and wanted to put it down here.
There used to be a very simple formula for making television work. And regardless of the subject of the series, it almost always boiled down to the Monster of the Week formula. In other words, the heroes of the show battled a new, fairly generic, monster. Whether this was a literal monster, ala Star Trek, or a figurative monster, ala Murder She Wrote, the idea had about a dozen different iterations and was as predictable as could be. This was different from the sitcom method in that sitcoms held that a monster was the situation the whacky protags found themselves in week to week and it was never too serious.
What really made me wonder about this structure, though, was the show Supernatural. It fits in the style I tend to write in(urban fantasy) and my sister is a fan. So I thought, “Why not?” But then, after beginning it, I realized what makes the Monster of the Week structure an impossible structure for me to follow:
That’s it. That’s the true monster in my life and no matter how much I fight it, it always wins. Wonder what I mean?
Supernatural has, as of this writing, 11 complete seasons and has just started its 12th. So let’s do the math, shall we?
11 * 23 = 253 * 42 = 10626 / 60 = 177.1
In other words, 11 seasons of 23 episodes is 253 episodes. Each episode runs an average of 42 minutes. That’s 10,626 minutes which is 177 hours. In order to catch up on Supernatural, I have to devote 177 hours of my life to it. That means, if I watch 2 hours a day, I’m 88 days from catching up. Two and half months of consistently watching 2 hours a day. I work a full time job. I have multiple kids. I have a wife I take on dates. I don’t do anything, hobbies or otherwise, two hours a day every day. Some days I don’t even watch TV. So best case scenario is that it would take me six months to watch a show that I am only passingly interested in.
This brings me to my next point.
Netflix isn’t doing away with or killing off Monster of the Week, as a formula. No, but they are exposing it. They are showing you exactly what it is. And they are doing so brilliantly and still making money off it. Through licensing shows like Supernatural, they provide people who are in college and would watch 177 hours of TV in a two week period that ability. But they are also producing some amazing series that are the exact opposite of Monster of the Week. Daredevil, just to name one, is 13 episodes and, generally, one monster. It’s all story-arc, with very little fluff. So if I have to devote 13 hours, meaning about a week to two weeks, to keep up with a quality show, do you think I’ll make room for that? Absolutely.
And all of this examination comes down to one big point:
Monster of the week was built to accommodate advertising.
Without advertising, Monster of the Week makes little to no sense. Are there shows that don’t use Monster of the Week and still use advertising? Sure. And I would say that number is going to begin growing even on standard networks. Because Netflix used to be the underdog and now they’re the leader. Quite soon, you’re going to see shows whose story arcs are long and saturated, and that only use Monster of the Week to fill in for scheduling conflicts.
Or at least I hope that’s what happens.