The Evolution of TV: Is “House of Cards” a TV Show or a Book (What!?!)?

House-of-Cards-PosterAs “TV shows” begin to release via digital distribution models (such as House of Cards), it begs the question, “Are these shows still TV shows?” The phrase “TV show” refers to the medium that the story is being released on  (TV), so can House of Cards be considered a TV show when it’s released digitally? As more and more stories are crafted for digital distribution, can we continue to call them TV shows?

For the purpose of fitting into an existing industry model Netflix would want House of Cards to be called a TV show. In order to be considered for awards such as the Emmy’s, they need to adhere to the old model and call themselves a TV show. But if we are to evolve towards embracing new modes of story telling, can we really continue to call House of Cards a TV show?

“Episodics” and Binge Viewing

It would be more apropos to consider House of Cards an “episodic” than a TV show. Digital episodic storytelling is more like storytelling via books as the story is told in chapters (or episodes), and the viewer can consume one episode at a time or one after another.

Which brings us to this supposed “new” consumption pattern known as binge viewing. Which, if you think about it, isn’t that new. Typically, when someone is engrossed in a book and stays up all night to get to the end, we don’t call this binge reading. We call it reading an amazing, engaging, compelling book that you can’t put down. So why is it different when we watch amazing, engaging, compelling audiovisual stories that you can’t turn off?

Old and New Storytelling

So in effect, digital episodic storytelling such as House of Cards returns us to storytelling (and story consumption) that has been in place for centuries. Creating chapters/episodes, audiovisual stories can be consumed all together or a little at a time.

When we look at it like this, how does this change how we conceive of storytelling – from creation to distribution? Hopefully it encourages storytellers to get out of the limiting box of TV storytelling (one episode a week) and embrace the freedom that exists in episodic digital storytelling.

Therefore, House of Cards is not a TV show but a digital episodic story, told and distributed in a way for audiences to consume all “chapters” in one sitting or to spread out over time … just like a book.

Any other ideas of what to call House of Cards other than a TV show? Does “digital episodics” resonate with you?

6 thoughts on “The Evolution of TV: Is “House of Cards” a TV Show or a Book (What!?!)?

  1. Episodic sounds like a much more inclusive term. But your point about the Emmy’s is a good one. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

    • Yes, it will indeed be interesting! It will probably take some time to evolve into a new system. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  2. We don’t call this binge reading. We call it reading an amazing, engaging, compelling book that you can’t put down. So why is it different when we watch amazing, engaging, compelling audiovisual stories that you can’t turn off? It isn’t. At what point did we stop calling movies with sound “talkies?”

    • Right! We evolved eventually with talkies to movies, I’m sure we will soon with digital episodics, or whatever we end up calling it. Cheers!

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  4. Fantastic post. It has a natural resonance, too, because, as a writer, when you say you write for television, you say you either write long-form (TV movies, miniseries, etc) or episodic (essentially shows), so it would seem an easy and natural evolution to drop the term “TV” in favor of episodic. Of course, the terminology matters for the Emmy’s and Golden Globes and the Guilds would also have to do some thinking. At the last Golden Globes, for example, some programs were in the Series category and others were in the Mini-Series category for no discernible reason. It turns out it was a credits issue. Going from memory here (so this may be less than 100% accurate :-), but if the show had a Created By credit (like Nic Pizzolato’s “True Detective”) it was a TV Drama, but if it did not (like “Fargo”) it was a mini-series, and this despite the fact that these two shows have the exact same format (anthology series that will reboot each year with a new cast and storyline).

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