“There’s no magic formula”: what makes a show binge-worthy?

Binge-watching TV is now a perfectly acceptable leisure activity. But what makes certain shows so addictive? CR speaks to the people making the hit shows to find out why we love them

The act of binge-watching a single TV show has weaved its way pretty comfortably into our collective conscience in recent years. While it has been possible since box sets of our favourite TV shows were made available to watch on VHS or DVD (albeit with a fairly hefty price tag), it’s with the advent of platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu in the late 00s that binge-watching began to grow in popularity and become part of the lexicon. 

This, in conjunction with catch-up TV and box sets suddenly being available online through traditional broadcasters at around the same time, has allowed binge-watching to flourish as a perfectly acceptable leisure activity. So much so that in 2017, Ofcom revealed that 40 million people in the UK have binge-watched episodes back to back of a TV show, and in January this year the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy confirmed it knew of three patients in the UK being treated for “binge-watching addiction”. 

There are various reasons why we binge watch. For some it’s Netflix’s cheeky autoplay feature making it all too easy to watch the next episode, for others, it’s a need to feel part of public conversation, perhaps more so now since living in lockdown. But what about the television shows themselves? How do you make a show that people want to watch for six or eight hours in a row? Here CR speaks to a documentary director, a reality TV producer and a drama producer about what makes a TV show binge-worthy and what kind of impact our marathon-viewing has had on television as a whole.