The importance of “Previously on…”

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TV has entered a new era of streaming and binge-watching. This has many positives, improving the writing of shows, developing story-lines which unfold over many episodes and also increasing the “must-watch” TV that prompts people to consume a whole season in one night.

Unfortunately, there is a casualty from this new, mass-consume culture that Netflix, Amazon Prime and DVRs have created – shows are removing their recaps. When TV shows were broadcast once a week, meaning that you had three or four TV shows you watched on a schedule, the recap at the beginning of an episode was vital, just to refresh your memory.

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A recap can help refresh the audience’s memory

Now that shows are consumed in one sitting, the “previously on” element has slowly died off. Fans don’t need that element anymore because they’re watching over a few hours, maybe days, rather than weeks at a time. People are keeping whole seasons to binge on their DVRs rather than wait to watch from week to week.

The issue is that the more involved and developed your TV show is, the more important the recap is. TV is moving away from the stale procedural which can be watched in any order, with a natural rest as the credits roll. Shows are now more complex, adding layers of story, call-backs to previous plots and rug-pulls which require you to have a great memory of previous episodes.

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Remind us who a character is and why they’re important

This is where the recap is vital. It never has to spoil the show, revealing too much to signpost the content of the upcoming episode, but just remind the audience of plot points or even characters. A quick reintroduction of events which may have occurred twenty episodes or even two seasons ago makes the impact of your story much more for the watching audience.

The show which would benefit from this most of all is Game of Thrones. As the series has become more complex, wider in scope and heavy with cast members, any audience member would be forgiven for forgetting who is where, what they are doing and why. The show is drawing to a close and a lot of plot threads are beginning to be tied off. This is less effective if I can’t remember who the character is when you’re resolving their story.

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Daredevil had a useful season 1 recap

It isn’t just episode to episode recaps which would be welcome. If seasons are taking a year’s break between each showing, beginning the next season with a quick “previously on” would be very welcome. Netflix has introduced this element for some shows (Daredevil is an example) but for shows as complex as House of Cards, a quick recap would be very welcome.

It is wrong to assume that recapping and offering a “previously on” is pandering. It may seem like spoon-feeding the audience but their purpose is still relevant. Even if you have binged the show over a weekend: hours, events and seasons may have passed between the relevant details needed for plots to make sense: a heads-up would be nice.

Overall, now shows have matured, the idea to remove the recaps at the beginnings of shows is a poor one. Game of Thrones, House of Cards and dramas of their ilk need a recap more than ever, giving the audience some chance of keeping up and making sense of the clever plots the shows are developing.

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Nothing wrong with a little recap


5 thoughts on “The importance of “Previously on…”

  1. It’s not like they take up a lot of show time either. 2 or 3 minutes to remind people what’s happened? Well worth it in my opinion. I always remember the Buffy and Angel recaps. Every episode with no exception! It’s just the way shows are produced these days. “Why start by referring to a previous episode when you can grab people’s attention with brand new content from minute one?” I imagine that’s the thinking.

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