Streaming TV hit its stride when “House of Cards” made its sensational debut on Netflix in February 2013.
The network released all 13 episodes of Season 1 at once — upending the business plan that had governed the television business for over 50 years. And viewers, given the option of watching as many installments as they wanted to, gorged themselves on the addictive Washington political soap opera, sometimes spending a dreary winter weekend stationed in front of their computers.
It took that one show to make broadcast television — with its rigid timeslots — look like an exhibition in Jurassic Park.
Sure, Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services let subscribers customize their viewing, but there were trade-offs. The water-cooler thrill of talking about an outstanding episode of a show was harder to find because “House of Cards” fans, for example, were all at different points in the rollout. Once you finished the season finale, it was easy to forget about the series until it came back a year later with another batch of 13 episodes.
Binge viewing may have changed the way we watched TV, but Tuesday’s announcement that “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner’s new series, “The Romanoffs” (premiering Oct. 12) would be the first Amazon series to follow a weekly schedule indicates there has been some push-back — perhaps by Weiner, whose “Mad Men” episodic previews were so cryptic they could have been edited by the KGB (Weiner declined to comment for this piece).
The original cast of CBS’ “Designing Women” (clockwise from upper right): Jean Smart, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts and Delta Burke©Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection
The weekly format has been a success for Hulu’s “Handmaid’s Tale,” which won Emmys and became a hot topic of water-cooler conversation, and for its series “Castle Rock,” which has been renewed for a second season (new episodes premiere each Wednesday). Will “The Romanoffs” — which tells the story of people who believe themselves to be descendants of the Russian royal family and features a thousand cameo appearances — make streaming TV more of a gourmet meal than a night in front of an open refrigerator door?
Those Jurassic broadcast networks, with their old-fashioned weeknight timeslots, may have the last laugh.
Tuesday’s other news — that a revival of CBS’ “Designing Women” was in the works — made me scream, “Stop the madness!” Did Diane English, creator of “Murphy Brown,” whose reboot premieres Sept. 27 on CBS, text “DW” creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and say, “Get out that IBM Selectric, honey. We’re hot again”?
Like “Murphy,” “Designing Women,” which aired from 1986 to 1993, was a left-leaning comedy whose major joke was that series star, the late Dixie Carter, was a staunch Republican. From 1989 to 1992, “Designing Women” and “Murphy Brown” aired back-to-back in a successful pairing. But “DM” never did capture the zeitgeist as did “Murphy Brown,” with its political humor. So why bring it back? Carter’s co-stars Annie Potts and Jean Smart have jobs on other shows (“Young Sheldon” and “Legion,” respectively) and Delta Burke has been out of the picture for years. Like the planned revival of “Frasier,” it seems like one reboot too far.