"On one level, Mare of Easttown was a smashing success," says The Washington Post's Steven Zeitchik. "The Pennsylvania-set crime series starring Kate Winslet inspired numerous memes, truckloads of media coverage and even a Saturday Night Live parody after it debuted on HBO in April. More importantly, thanks to its head-fake mysteries and town with more secrets than beer bottles, the show quadrupled its audience between its premiere and its finale. That’s the good news. The bad news is that its audience began modestly enough that even with all that growth, the finale was watched by only 4 million people over Memorial Day weekend. For all its buzzy enthusiasm and hardcore fan interest, the Mare finale was not seen that weekend by nearly 99 percent of Americans. The television hit — the most abiding of entertainment traditions — appears to be dying. That isn’t to say shows don’t have fans; they do, and some of them are more passionate than ever. But according to its long-standing definition — a universally recognized show that gathers a large, verifiable audience and becomes unavoidable in all the places people talk about television and endures well beyond its run — the TV hit is vanishing. That is true not just, as is commonly lamented, on broadcast, but also according to the lower standards of subscription television. Just two years ago, HBO’s Game of Thrones gathered 20 million viewers to watch its finale. Nothing on the current pay-TV landscape would stand a chance of coming close." Even streaming shows with a lot of buzz like Ted Lasso, WandaVision and Hacks aren't considered universal hits, even though they've all "gained cultural mind-share." "If you watch these shows, it could seem like people are talking about them everywhere you go," says Zeitchik. "But 'seem like' and 'actually' are not the same. Viewership numbers for many of these series are fundamentally unknown. The fact that people are talking about them everywhere we go may say less about the shows than how, in this age of echo-chamber social media, most of us, figuratively speaking, aren’t going very far." Casey Bloys, content chief for both HBO and HBO Max, says he believes the demise of the broad TV hit is a legitimate phenomenon. “Viewers have a lot more choice, and that’s going to have an effect on the attention any one show commands,” he says. But Bloys doesn’t think this necessarily means catering to narrower bases. “When you’re developing, you never think ‘it’s just going to be a single, so I’ll stop there,'” he says.
TOPICS: Mare of Easttown, HBO, HBO Max, Game of Thrones, Casey Bloys, Peak TV, Prestige TV