By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Anyone who is addicted to a television show knows it usually doesn’t take too long to get hooked.  Netflix now understands that even better after figuring out the exact number of episodes it takes to get people to watch a full season of its most popular shows.

“It turns out that when commercial breaks and appointment viewing are stripped away and consumers can watch an entire season as they choose, you see fandom emerge,” Netflix said in a statement. “That is, 70 percent of viewers who watched the hooked episode went on to complete season one and, more poetically, when members were hooked, there was no turning back.”

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So, what keeps us coming back to our favorite shows? Good Question.

By episode No. 3 of “House of Cards,” people were on board. It was just two shows for “Breaking Bad.”  “Mad Men” took six episodes. By the 8th episode of “How I Met Your Mother,” people were sucked in.

“It takes a while to get to know people; think about how long it takes for you to become friends with somebody,” said Kevin Sauter, a communication studies professor at the University of St. Thomas. “We watch television to develop relationships with these characters. They become our media friends.”

Of the 25 shows Netflix analyzed, none of them had met the streaming service’s definition for getting hooked (70 percent of viewers finishing the entire season) during the pilot episode.

“The pilot is a little bit of a different animals than people realize,” Sauter said.

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The pilot is commissioned as a standalone episode that is judged to determine whether the program should be continued. That first program is done uniquely and is often different from the rest of the show.

“Once you get into the series, then your program takes on its own life and the characters begin to develop and the plot takes on its own twists,” Sauter said. “That’s when things begin to change.”

Shorter scenes may also make us pay more attention. Sauter said that while we might think of ourselves as couch potatoes when we’re watching television, we’re generally very actively engaged.

“Those short scenes make us stay on top of [things], because as soon as you switch to a new location, you’re asking: ‘Why are we here? What’s happening? Who’s in this scene? How does it contribute to the overall story?'” he said.

As for the tried and true cliff-hanger, it works as well today as it did when J.R. Ewing was shot back in 1980. Violence and sex are also still as popular as in the 1950s, but it appears people are more attracted to the drama and suspense around those two types of content.

And, for all of those budding television producers, what is the key to a hit show?

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“Those are unique programs, they’re very well-written, very well-produced and they have strong acting,” Sauter said. “That’s the formula, but it’s also trying to capture lightning in a bottle.”

Heather Brown