Multiple studies have tried to decode why ‘Friends’ was as ground-breakingly popular as it was. Perhaps new studies could examine what’s made it also one of the most popular shows on Netflix.
How does a sitcom about six perfectly ordinary 20-somethings still win, on a platform full of experimental storytelling, nudity, crime and suspense?
Part of the appeal is nostalgia. Who doesn’t want to revisit S1, with young Joey and floopy Phoebe? But a lot of the viewers are first-timers, young people who weren’t even around when the first season aired.
While ‘Friends’ is the most high-profile nostalgia hit on the web-streaming platforms, also out there are shows like ‘Yes, Minister’, ‘Malgudi Days’, ‘Fauji’ and ‘Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi’ from the ’80s, ‘Shaktimaan’, ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘That ’70s Show’ from the ’90s, ‘Hip Hip Hurray’ from the turn of the century.
“For some people, it’s the comfort of familiarity, the assurance of going back to something they enjoyed before,” says director and head of content at Amazon Prime India, Vijay Subramaniam. “Old shows are acquired by the service on the basis of feedback from the audience on various media, and that’s why we now stream ‘Two and a Half Men’, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘The Office’ and ‘Yes, Minister’. Great content is always in demand. And some of these are the TV equivalent of comfort food.”
Comedy is king
Nostalgia perhaps works best with comedy, since you can watch in small doses or in binges, pick it up easily after a gap and not have to worry about plot or continuity. Dramas can be re-watched too, for the moments one has forgotten, or the memorable ones that bear revisiting. It doesn’t work so well for whodunits and detective dramas, for obvious reasons. Good sitcoms fare best, when it comes to repeat viewing, because of all the little details in dialogue and episode-specific plot.“There is a set pattern in sitcoms. People don’t change and there is a comforting familiarity,” says film critic Baradwaj Rangan. “There is also now greater resonance in India, when it comes to American TV shows, because the world has got so much more flat.”
Older Indian shows have their fan bases too, but the craze for them is far less, admits Subramaniam. “One reason for that is how much our urban cultures have changed,” he adds. “Even the idea of the Indian village is now so different from what we see in Malgudi Days.”
Platforms like Sony Liv and Voot are nonetheless investing in old favourites from Indian TV. “Early episodes of shows like ‘Bade Achhe Lagte Hai’ and ‘Crime Patrol’ have done very well on the platform. This was the reason original versions of ‘Crime Patrol’ have been commissioned in Tamil and Telugu, which were a hit as well,” says head of original content and partnerships at Sony Liv Amogh Dusad. Dusad adds that this phenomenon of older hits make comebacks is not exclusive to the OTT world. “We have seen it in cinema and music too. Both the new and the old will continue to have their space.”