It is difficult to keep fans loyal to a show when there are so many other options available. The task becomes even more difficult when a series goes on a long hiatus. Viewers get distracted by other shows and may have a new favorite by the time that old show returns. Networks have scrambled to find ways to keep audiences wanting to come back after these long breaks, which shows take for all kinds of reasons. But there are shows that know how to use these breaks to their advantage.
Most of the big network shows follow a similar pattern. They begin in the fall, take a long break over the holiday season, then return sometime early the next year. Many shows air their Christmas episodes closer to Thanksgiving. The reboot of “Doctor Who,” however, takes prime real estate in that season of reruns. Every year, it airs an episode on Christmas Day. For a show with a completely erratic schedule, fans know they always have a December 25 episode to look forward to.
Basic cable stations like TNT also take advantage of the offseason. The series “Major Crimes” only airs during the holiday and summer seasons. This takes advantage of viewer distraction. The long hiatus between its own episodes is filled by all the regularly scheduled programming available. Fans don’t really have time to miss the show. When the regular season winds down, viewers excitedly remember “Major Crimes” will be picking up again.
Crime-of-the-day dramas and sitcoms have an easier time with a long hiatus. Fans can easily return to the show any time. For series with season-long arcs and complicated plots, however, an extended break can kill the show. When post-apocalyptic drama “Revolution” took a four-month break after its first season, viewers lost the fragile grip they had on the winding plot. They weren’t eager to start all over again.
“LOST” made wise use of the “recap” episode. Several series have clips or written recaps on their websites, but “LOST” would air a special episode on TV. This hour-long recap would carefully explain all the crazy plot points before diving into new episodes. Even viewers who thought they remembered everything would pick up new details.
Many cable stations have the scheduling room to re-air some or all of the previous season before the new one starts. This works in two ways. Viewers can catch up with any episodes they missed, and get invested in the series again. Airing several episodes in a row on a weekend also catches the eye of anyone scanning the TV schedule. For fans who might only watch the station for that one show, this is a noticeable reminder that their favorite series is returning soon. The major networks have even picked up on this tactic, re-airing midseason finales in the show’s timeslot or on special nights to lure viewers back.
TV shows have a huge presence on social media. The official accounts share behind-the-scenes photos, sneak peeks, and host show-related message boards, games, and apps. Actors live-tweet episodes and give added insight to their characters. Fans feel invested in the show, and it helps keep them loyal during long breaks. This is especially important for the newer style of limited-episode series that have huge gaps between seasons.
Starz has done a brilliant promotion job for its period drama “Outlander.” With an incredibly long wait for fans between last September and this April, the network has kept them in anticipation with “Droughtlander.” On the fourth day of each month, Starz gives fans another sneak peek at the upcoming season, the link shared on every social media outlet. Each clip is introduced by a member of the cast. It’s really tough to give up on a show when gorgeous Sam Heughan (Jamie) implores you to “stay strong for us.”
The beauty of a catchy phrase like “Droughtlander” is fans pick up on it. The hashtag keeps the show alive on Twitter, so anticipation increases month by month.
— Dede (@Frasers_Ridge) February 4, 2015
Building a quality show definitely helps maintain ratings after a long break. “Homeland” is such an interesting, complex story that it keeps viewers thinking and talking about the series long after the season has ended. “Penny Dreadful” has fans continuously trying to unlock its intricate mysteries and ties to famous gothic lore. “Supernatural” has reinvented itself more times than even diehard fans expected, and still finds ways to surprise them. Keeping a series unpredictable is a solid way to get your curious audience to return after hiatus.
Successful series tend to combine as many of these efforts as possible. Even the best show requires some publicity to remind viewers when to tune in again. While an attack on all fronts might seem wise, the networks have to be careful not to wear out their welcome. The trick is to balance show momentum without giving up too many secrets and draining all of the suspense out of upcoming episodes.