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R-E-S-P-E-C-T: The Secret of Success for "24"

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24As just about everyone knows, the season premiere of the best show on television kicked off for two nights straight on last night and Sunday night with the first four episodes.  Serial dramas are hot right now, but having mixed success as a recent article in USAToday noted.  "24" remains the gold standard in those dramas.  For those unfamiliar with the show, it follows the adventures of a secret agent, Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland), over the course of an entire day in real time.  1 minute elapsed in the show is meant to be 1 minute real time – and from my viewpoint, the show’s success stems from a single principle all the other shows would do well to learn.  The show has a respect for its viewer that is frequently missing when it comes to television.  Here’s what I mean by respect:

  1. Avoiding "dumbing it down": The show build off previous seasons, but there is no lengthy explanation of the characters relationship to one another.  Where backstories need to be filled in, they are done through scene interaction and seamlessly.  The result is a great experience for loyal viewers, and enough information to engage new viewers without making watching the first five seasons of 24 a prerequisite to understanding the show.
  2. Wrapping up storylines: Yes, it’s a serial – but that doesn’t mean every episode needs to have a cliffhanger with unresolved plotlines.  In each episode you learn something new, and if something is going to explode, it usually does before the end of the episode.  At least you know it did, and you’ll come back to see how the characters react to it. 
  3. Airing an uninterrupted season: Kicking off this weekend, the show will run every week for another 20 weeks until the season finale in May.  No long breaks, no repeats mid-season, and no artifical extensions of the season just to try and sell more advertising.  Yes, people do notice this stuff.

Contrasted with "Lost" – another highly popular TV show, the difference is clear.  There is hardly ever a wrapup of storylines until the last episode of the season in Lost, and as of writing this, the show is on a very odd three month mid-season "break" until February.  What is the marketing lesson in all this?  Keeping customers is the same challenge as keeping viewers.  Standing out from all other serial dramas is not just about great writing – the entire experience has to live up.  Respect is at the center of this experience.  As a viewer of 24, I feel respected.  As a viewer of Lost, I don’t.  It’s no wonder 24 is the best show on television.

7 thoughts on “R-E-S-P-E-C-T: The Secret of Success for "24"”

  1. You’re right in enjoying the resolutions you get from 24, I might be alone but I love the whole one answer leads to several more questions aspect of Lost.

    Both show’s require a real investment on the part of the viewer, such a large investment they’ve both been lucky to be as succesful as they have.

    Though I do like 24 doesnt it ever annoy you when they say like something something is due in the next ten minutes which always fits conviently with the last five minutes of the show?

  2. Spot on! I have seen both shows, but i decided to leave Lost behind because its storyline is confusing andlike the reasons that you have stated above.

    On the other hand, I really enjoyed 24, as its exciting, the storyline is clear but it isn’t dumbed down. Also, the show is unique in the way that its presented, ie. every minute for a minute.

    Good Post, thanks Rohit!


  3. Interesting analysis. 24 is by far my favorite show, and I’m also a fan of LOST. Apparently, the LOST producers are considering ending the series due to a lot of what you’ve mentioned.

    I’d still say though, that for ultimate results, watching the first five seasons of 24 (preferably in order) would enhance the viewing experience. 🙂

  4. Thanks for commenting:

    Kelvin – You’re right about that, but when they say that the guy has to deliver the package in 30 minutes and the episode has 40 minutes left, I check the clock and have a moment of relief that I will get to see it happen. Is it staged? Of course, it’s still TV … but I do leave satisfied.

    Daniel – Despite my criticism of Lost, I have to admit that I got hooked and now need to know what happens. Maybe I’ll try to exercise self control and wait for the DVD to come out, but it’s not likely. 😉

    Tamar – Thanks for the link, it’s a great story that I hadn’t seen – but entirely predictable. Such as waste, as when they first started that had such a loyal fan base starting communities, that it was often used as a case study for viral marketing of TV shows. How the mighty can fall …

  5. I agree with most of your comments.
    I am still a big fan of both shows. I haven’t seen Prison Break, but I hear it is also highly addictive.
    Be in touch,

  6. This is an interesting post for me. It seems like the downfalls you listed, based on the shows I have watched in my life, are common TV series marketing techniques. The “dumbing down” seems like a good way to latch on new viewers mid-season, instead of having them wait to buy the DVD’s. The cliffhanger has always been a popular choice(and still is) in trying to get the viewer to return next episode. And a mid-season break has been used to build anticipation of the next episode.

    I have never seen 24 due to lack of time, but it seems they are doing everything right… and that means that I, and many studio executives, are lead astray by misconceptions.


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A keynote speaker on trends, innovation, marketing, storytelling and diversity.

Rohit Bhargava is on a mission to inspire more non-obvious thinking in the world. He is the #1 Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of eight books and is widely considered one of the most entertaining and original speakers on disruption, trends and marketing in the world.

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