Chanelling nostalgia: Old shows find new views, new love on OTT platforms
Nostalgia is a surprisingly big hit on streaming platforms, where decades-old shows like Friends, Shaktimaan and early episodes of Crime Patrol are finding millions of takersUpdated: Sep 07, 2019, 21:18 IST
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.
- Shaktimaan (Amazon Prime): Dubbed the original Indian superhero, Shaktimaan was part of ’90s Doordarshan programming for children.
- Malgudi Days (Amazon Prime & Hotstar): This series based on Indian novelist RK Narayan’s acclaimed collection of short stories was first telecast on Doordarshan in 1987.
- Fauji (Amazon Prime): Based on the army and first broadcast in 1989, it features a very young, very early-years Shah Rukh Khan.
- Hip Hip Hurray (ZEE 5): This high school drama that originally ran from 1998 to 2001 became iconic for its complex teenage characters.
- Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi (Amazon Prime): Often called India’s first sitcom, this series from 1984 deals with a middle-class couple’s everyday lives — the husband forgetting an anniversary, a visit from the wife’s feminist friend, etc.
- Zabaan Sambhalke (Amazon Prime): Based on the popular BBC show, Mind Your Language, it’s full of silly but innocent word play, with the comedy set in a classroom where non-Hindi speakers are trying to learn the language.
- Banegi Apni Baat (Zee 5): This drama from 1994-98 is a nostalgia trip for the film buff, featuring a young Irrfan Khan, R Madhavan and Shefali Chhaya as young graduates stepping out into the world.
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 Vijay Subramaniam, director and head of content at Amazon Prime India. “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 (think, Grey’s Anatomy S1). It doesn’t work so well for whodunits and detective dramas, for obvious reasons. Good sitcoms (Friends, 30 Rock) fare best, when it comes to repeat viewing, because of all the little details in dialogue and episode-specific plot.
- Friends (Netflix): The iconic American sitcom about six friends surviving in Manhattan ran from 1994-2004. It created and then broke records for TV viewership with every new season, and is now among the most popular shows on any streaming platform.
- * Seinfeld: (Amazon Prime) A show about the life of popular comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his friends in New York, it ran from 1989 to 1997. Revisit the Big Apple before 9/11, before Trump, incels and antifa. It truly was a simpler time.
- * Yes, Minister (Amazon Prime): This cult satire classic was aired on BBC from 1980 to 1984 and has seen multiple adaptations over the years. Revisit the wry wit and sly manouverings of the original.
- * That ’70s Show (Netflix): Revisit this popular teen comedy from the ’90s, set in the Flower Power 1970s — a world of cool basements, garage hangouts, confused parents and lots of marijuana.
- * The Office (US) (Netflix & Amazon Prime): This cubicle comedy told in mockumentary format ran from 2005-13 and is still immensely popular.
“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 Amogh Dusad, head of original content and partnerships at Sony Liv.
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. And now, whenever someone wants to sit back and recollect the good old days, the shows from that time will just be a click away.”