The immersive challenge of the hyperserial narrative

This passage from pg 333 of Tim Wu’s The Attention Merchants connects to my analysis of cultural binging. It brings to life the specific cultural characteristics which encourage binge watching, even if they don’t create it:

While House of Cards might have made binging mainstream, in the decade before, writers of shows were inventing what Vince Gilligan (of Breaking Bad) termed the “hyperserial.” Unlike the dramatic series of old, this kind made sense only to those who committed to every episode and indeed multiple seasons of viewing. For television, this change was radical. Let us remember that back in the 1950s, early programs—variety shows mainly—lacked plots altogether. The first plotted shows were, in the language of programming, “episodic.” And so a viewer could tune in to any episode of I Love Lucy, or Gilligan’s Island, knowing that only the plot was (in the first case) breaking into show business or (in the second case) getting off the island; any particular episode was merely a freestanding enactment of that story line, the principal aim being to showcase the characters, who, oddly, never learned. At the end of every episode (or, in an exceptional case, every few) the show would reset to its eternal starting point, like a video game returning to its starting screen for a new player. In a hyperserial, the plot, like that of a long film or novel, has more of the flow of life. Each installment has its consequences; characters might disappear or reappear; a larger story is actually told. The press of characters and incident can vary; some hyperserials, like some lives, are easier to drop in to than others. But like any good story they are nearly impossible to understand from the middle.

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