‘Better Call Saul’ vs. ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ two business models

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By Darren Johnson

Campus News and Nu2U

The fantastic recent season of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” came and went in about a dozen hours of binge watching, and here I am, still watching the equally fantastic Season 3 of AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” which started a few months ago, its finale still not here, and I think I like the AMC model a lot more.

“Better Call Saul” and its predecessor “Breaking Bad” are what can be deemed “appointment TV” — meaning, the shows are so good, you don’t wait for them to appear “on demand.” You actually clear your schedule and watch them first-run, at the time of the week they normally appear. (The season finale is this Monday at 10 p.m. on AMC).

Whereas, a season of “Orange Is the New Black” and similar Netflix fare gets dumped all at once on their service. You feel obligated to binge-watch it, before people start to tell you spoilers. The plus of this is, Netflix has no commercials, and you don’t need those little 30-second reminders of what happened in previous episodes before each show, because you’d just watched that, nor do you need previews at the end for the next show, because you can just queue it up instantly.

Channels like AMC make their money off of commercials during the broadcast, while Netflix charges about $10 a month for their service.

I’d been frustrated with Netflix of late — their rating system seems way off since their price hike some months ago. As well, the service seems to be spending a lot of money on comedy specials, some of which seem rushed (including recent poor entries by Adam Sandler and Amy Schumer). Netflix seems to have fewer oldie-but-goodie movies now, as well. And with what’s there, it’s now harder to know what may be good because their rating system is totally corrupted. It used to be that a four-star entry on Netflix was a very safe bet. Now, it can be total garbage.

Meanwhile, yes, AMC has commercials, but some shows are so good, I don’t mind them. Companies like Apple actually make decent commercials that are watchable. You could also add “The Walking Dead” to that list, though not “Fear the Walking Dead,” which got off on the wrong foot in its first season, giving us no relatable, likeable characters. And now that show seems to be putting in more effort, but it’s too late. No one cares.

I like appointment TV. I look forward to “Better Call Saul” all week. I DVR it and watch it sometimes twice or more after the initial showing. I notice little details I hadn’t noticed before. It’s like savoring a great book by reading it slowly and carefully.

But with binge-watching TV, I rush through the episodes and feel dirty after, as if I had no impulse control. After 12 hours of “Orange Is the New Black,” I’m disheveled, with bags under my eyes, and maybe do have the beginnings of BO. The shows all bleed together. I never rewatch them. That said, the latest, Season 5, of “Orange Is the New Black” was so good that I kept clicking on the next episode — the whole season is set during a prison riot and how the show allows us to know 30 different characters is masterful, with each episode giving us a different character flashback. Season 5 is the best season of this excellent series.

I guess the directors of each series know their audiences, and maybe “Orange Is the New Black” has too many subplots to work as appointment TV. We’d get distracted by commercials and lose memory of each plot point over a week’s time.

Though “Better Call Saul” is working a miracle never seen before on TV — a prequel, bringing back all of our favorite (killed off) characters from “Breaking Bad.” And there are three or four subplots; the main plot being the transformation of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a well-meaning lawyer who has always cut corners, into Saul Goodman, a “CRIMINAL lawyer,” as meth-maker Jesse Pinkman would later peg him; while several other lawyers play it straight — his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), a former legal all-star who now has a strange psychosomatic illness; love interest Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) and others. The lawyers are jockeying. Meanwhile, in the drug world “Breaking Bad” made famous, we have Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) making his move to be a kingpin with the help of former corrupt cop Mike (Jonathan Banks) and a newcomer to this universe, the very well-played Nacho Varga (Michael Mando), who is not directly in “Breaking Bad,” but if producer Vince Gilligan creates a sequel someday, maybe Wexler and Varga will live to tell that tale. We know everyone else on the show has a death sentence, except Goodman, who is on the lam after “Breaking Bad,” managing a Cinnabon in Omaha under an assumed identity.

Because it’s appointment TV, and I have to wait to watch it — drooling like Pavlov’s dogs, watching and rewatching previous episodes all week in anticipation — I think “Better Call Saul” will burn into my brain more permanently than “Orange Is the New Black.”

And maybe AMC’s is the better business model — build fan loyalty and they will buy all your merchandise, sequels and so on. Their addicting drug is 99.1% pure, after all.

 

Darren Johnson’s writing is 99.1% error-free. He has been published all over the place. Send him story ideas at darren@cccn.us.

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