Three new shows have managed to crack the tricky, millennial viewing bubble this season, and their success is speaking volumes about what TV audiences are craving from their shows in 2017.
So what made them the buzziest shows of the past few months? Just look at the striking similarity in the plot structures: All three of the shows revolve around a central murder that is revealed in the pilot episode. After the murder, each show basically becomes a whodunnit murder mystery that won't let the audience go until it finds out what really happened to Hannah Baker, or to Jason Blossom or at the Monterey trivia night.
It's an addicting new genre that I'm calling pilot-murder dramas, though I'm not totally married to that name since it kinda sounds like airplane operators are getting axed. A few other things these shows also have in common is the fact they all make copious use of flashbacks and they're all adapted from popular written works ("13 Reasons Why" was a hit YA novel, "Big Little Lies" was a bestseller and "Riverdale" is based off the iconic "Archie" comics).
So, why does this murder-first-ask-questions-later genre seem to be working so well? My guess is you've got to capture the viewers' attention so much sooner nowadays since there's just so much on TV to choose from, and putting the big murder in episode one immediately gets people invested.
I mean, once you know a central character gets killed, you're probably going to want to stick around to see how it went down, right? That means getting all the way to the season finale.
Of course, these three shows aren't the first series to employ this pilot-murder plot structure. Popular shows like "How to Get Away with Murder" and "Pretty Little Liars" similarly featured murders in their premiere episodes that were central to the rest of the season.
But "13 Reasons Why," "Big Little Lies" and "Riverdale" seem to have perfected the formula to keep us watching — and talking! Netflix revealed "13 Reasons Why" was its most anticipated show ever on social media, "Big Little Lies" continued to grow to new series highs up to its finale and "Riverdale" continues to trend on Twitter during each new episode.
It's also worth noting this pilot-murder plot structure is drawing audiences in no matter the network or airing schedule. The first season of "13 Reasons Why" was released at once on Netflix, "Big Little Lies" aired only seven hour-long episodes on HBO and "Riverdale" is continuing to air weekly on the CW. Streaming, cable and networks are all represented in the genre, and they've all found success in it.
Though these shows are burning bright, they also burn out fast. Audiences devoured the first seasons of "13 Reasons Why" and "Big Little Lies" super quickly, but now that their big mysteries are solved, it doesn't look good for an engaging second season. In fact, fans of both shows have mixed thoughts about even wanting second seasons — afraid that they may tarnish exceptional first seasons.
So what could this trend mean for the future? More miniseries and more book adaptations, I think. And obviously more murder, duh!