Without a doubt, the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black has been one of the big summer success stories, across the board, and according to a recent earnings call outperformed both House of Cards and Arrested Development in terms of viewing numbers.
But while the first season, available in full on the streaming service since July 11th, has found an audience, it now hits a common problem facing this new approach to television distribution — how to keep fans excited about the show during a very long off-season.
In a traditional TV cycle, after all, there’s an expected pattern: An episode a week for a set period of time, followed by a predictable hiatus. Even fans of a show like Breaking Bad, which has had an irregular release schedule over the past few years, knew at the end of the last half-season that the show would return with new episodes in the summer of 2013.
Orange aficionados don’t have that luxury — while the second season is greenlit and underway, even creator Jenji Kohan doesn’t know when it’s returning. “All they’ll tell us is probably spring of 2014,” Kohan told Terry Gross during last week’s Fresh Air.
But is this an impossible problem? And what are Netflix and the pop culture ecosystem doing to cope? Let’s take a look.
All of Netflix’s major original series have had dedicated Twitter accounts, which are still actively updating. But Orange has pulled off something impressive thanks to a series of organized events.
For example, last Thursday, six weeks after Orange premiered in full on Netflix, Litchfield Correctional Facility once again opened up Visiting Hours.
Visiting Hours, a semi-regular effort put into action by Netflix, brought actors and fans together, via their individual Twitter accounts, to answer questions about the show using the hashtag #AskOrange.
— Orange is the New… (@OITNB) August 15, 2013
But even now that Visiting Hours are over, the account still actively replies to its fans with a mix of encouragement and in-jokes. And it’s relentless — the day after Visiting Hours, the OITNB Twitter account opened up another event/promotion, encouraging fans to show off their best #TaysteeTwist:
— Orange is the New… (@OITNB) August 16, 2013
Will the account keep things up through the spring of 2014? Who knows, but so far, those behind it don’t seem to be hurting for ideas.
Fan power activate!
One of my favorite things to emerge as a result of Orange is the Tumblr blog Books of Orange is the New Black. Running with the slogan “Because Piper Chapman is the new Rory Gilmore,” the blog’s primary purpose is to catalog every literary reference and book read on screen.
(If you haven’t watched the show, you’ll be surprised by how much material this blog has to work with; turns out, you read a lot in prison.)
“Books of OITNB” isn’t an official site from the show, but rather a fan’s labor of love, just one of the many ways that people have found to express themselves.
Also, there’s the full weight of Buzzfeed lists (some user-generated) celebrating everything from the show’s many instances of DIY to moments showcasing the show’s women of color (from which I found the below).
Between this and the Twitter engagement, the fans remain excited about the show, and that’s not all…
The coverage keeps coming
There are those who have watched OITNB all the way through once (or twice, or three times…), but some people are still catching up. And that seems to include pop culture bloggers.
Rather than receiving a major push at launch, followed by it seems like the press coverage for OITNB has only gone up since the show’s premiere. There’s no official correlation between this and the rate at which people are watching the series, but it’s not a giant leap to assume that the more people watch, the more people want to read about the show, and the more thus gets written about it.
This is yet another paradigm that’s being rewritten by Netflix — the entire concept of a PR campaign has to be completely rewritten to accommodate this new approach. But it seems to be working, as the show’s buzz grows by the week.
Just as one example: Rumors that season one regular Laura Prepon’s role would be scaled back to recurring for season two — and that she might be written off the show altogether — was covered by over 170 news outlets, as tracked by Google News.
New York Magazine’s Vulture blog in particular has taken on an Orange hue lately, with new articles at least twice a week digging into every nuance of the show, especially interviews with nearly every single cast member (including a memorable day apartment hunting with Natasha Lyonne.
Will this die off anytime soon? Maybe. But the fact is more and more people are discovering the show at their own pace right now, the Orange hype only seems to be growing. It doesn’t have the steady, predictable pace of, say, Breaking Bad — but watching it unfold is exciting.