Home / Industry / Media /  Binge watching is changing definition of seasons on TV: Christopher Keyser

Mumbai: Christopher Keyser is an American producer and writer of prime-time dramas. He is best known for creating Party of Five, an American teen drama series. Keyser, who is also the president of the Writers Guild of America, was in Mumbai to conduct screenwriting workshops at Ficci Frames 2015, a three-day annual media conference.

On the sidelines of the event, Keyser spoke about his upcoming projects, the new formats emerging on television with the advent of companies such as Netflix and Hulu and why crime dominates the American television scene. Edited excerpts:

What’s driving growth in American TV?

One of the things driving growth in the American television market is the global market. American television is more driven by international markets, I don’t mean it is focused specifically for selling to a global market but the economics of American television are so much better because of distribution to a global audience. It’s a big deal for writers because companies spend money on production as they recoup that money because they can sell their shows literally to billions of people.

What are your future projects?

I’m shooting in Morocco and Budapest for a show called Tyrant that airs on FX in June for its second season. I have got a project in development based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Last Tycoon, which will be a dedicated online show on Amazon if we go through the whole process. I am also developing a TV show project with writer John Grisham.

What are the new formats emerging on television?

One thing that’s going on right now is, American TV was always 22-episode seasons; now, there is the rise of the 13-, 10-, 8- or 12-episode seasons. I think we are moving in that direction; in part driven by the idea that people can binge-watch those, you watch all episodes in one shot. That I think is the largest thing, episodes themselves don’t seem to be changing in format very much, they are still an hour long or half-hour long. I don’t think that’s changing, but the definition of the seasons is certainly changing in part because viewers watch them in different ways.

Because it has many shows television has become the equivalent of many movies from the point of view of production value. That’s because HBO is spending huge amounts of money on Game of Thrones. TV is also increasingly taking up a lot of the movie audience because people are not only seeing the scope of things they see in movie content, they are also seeing depth of characters and story that you only get in ongoing drama.

How different is the work done by Netflix and Hulu in this space?

Those seasons are shorter, you are not going to see Amazon do 22-episode seasons, they’ll do more of them and they’ll be shorter series. From the point of view of content, they are among the most aggressive for innovative and surprising content because they need to get eyeballs and differentiate themselves.

Why do crime shows dominate American television?

They do, but I think there are a couple of genres that do very well—medical dramas, cop dramas, legal dramas. Yes, there are a lot of broadcast network shows that are about crime, that’s true: CSI, Law and Order, etc. I don’t know from a numerical point of view whether it’s literally dominated by it. It’s a large percentage of the pie, because these things work, they have built-in stakes and they do have higher viewership.

Is your content based on gut feeling or do you do audience research before planning shows?

I would say most of it is intuitive, but networks certainly do research. They do testing; they’ll particularly test pilots but they’ll also test episodes and sometimes, based on those tests, they’ll give notes that suggest that storylines are working or not working. I can’t tell you how any individual show or writer responds to those necessarily.

Overall, it’s both, but you could argue that testing for pilots gives them some information, if the testings really worked they’d have a higher success rate when they put their shows on air.

I think there is a real value as well in making sure what you think you are conveying is actually being conveyed (to the audience).

So, I wouldn’t necessarily decide a storyline based on research but it’s valuable for me to know—what I thought worked, the audiences are confused by it. It tells me that they are not getting what I am trying to convey. That’s valuable. Movies do constant testing all the time.

What’s your all-time favourite American TV show?

When I was growing up I loved a show called Thirty Something and a family drama series called Wonder Years. I also love Game of Thrones, Mad Men and The Sopranos.

There are so many great shows, there’s no limit to it.

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