Netflix has announced that it will be experimenting with the release schedules of two reality TV shows, The Circle and Too Hot to Handle (via The Hollywood Reporter). Instead of releasing all of the episodes at once, it will release them over the course of a month, with each show having a batch of episodes released on Wednesdays, then releasing the finale by itself at the end of the run. This means you won’t be able to binge all of the episodes in a single weekend... and that may be a good thing.
These shows aren’t the first time Netflix has broken away from the binge model it popularized, in which all of the episodes of a show are released at once. It has released episodes of cooking competition The Great British Baking Show and music contest Rhythm + Flow on a weekly basis. With The Circle and Too Hot to Handle, though, Netflix is making a statement that it’s experimenting and trying to give people time to “dissect and dish” the events of the show. In other words, it’s giving people time to gossip about what happened and what could happen next.
There is a benefit to having people talking about your show for a month, rather than only for a weekend. Netflix arguably ran into this problem with The Witcher, with the show’s writing seeming better suited to weekly viewing rather than an eight-hour marathon. That’s especially true for a reality show like The Bachelor, with drama ratcheting up until a big finale. That’s the type of thing you’d want to keep people talking about — and maybe subscribing to your service to see what all the fuss is about.
That’s the type of effect Netflix could be trying to replicate. Reality TV lends itself especially well to a slow burn, keeping the internet buzz alive. Imagine if Tiger King had been released over a month or two, instead of all at once. While The Circle and Too Hot to Handle probably won’t become cultural touchstones like Tiger King did, there is a chance the release schedule will let them become bigger than they would’ve if we had all watched them over a weekend and then moved on.
I’m not trying to say that Netflix will (or should) switch to the weekly release model for its future narrative shows. Yes, Disney was very successful using that model with The Mandalorian and WandaVision, but those shows also had a lot going for them, and Netflix has a history of successfully releasing narrative shows all at once: the aforementioned Witcher series was still well-received, and Stranger Things was an inescapable cultural force for a while there. It’s also worth noting that narrative shows and reality TV are very different formats, and it could make sense to have different release plans for them.
The Circle is a game show about being isolated in an apartment and using only social media to connect with others (weirdly prescient for a show that first aired in 2018), and it will start showing on April 14th, with the finale releasing on May 5th. It seems like Netflix is planning a similar release schedule for Too Hot to Handle, a show where people try to date each other without any PDA, but the company hasn’t released exact details about it yet, other than a release window of “June.”